As our children approach 4 years of age, many of us begin to ask ourselves questions about our children and their readiness for kindergarten. Many parents struggle with the answers to these questions because they may hear conflicting advice from family, friends, and professionals. These questions usually fall into several categories:
What does my child need to be "ready" for kindergarten?
Kindergarten has changed from when we were in school. Kindergarten previously lasted for two to three hours a day and focused primarily on the development of social skills. Today, many kindergartens last a full day (approximately 6 hours), have a major focus on reading and writing skills, and require significant amounts of seat work. This has implications for what skills our children need to have acquired prior to starting kindergarten.
What can I do to help my child be ready for kindergarten?
- Children need to be socially and emotionally ready for school. This is one of the most important areas of readiness for children. Children need to be able to cooperate with their peers in group situations and activities. Children also need to be able to control their impulses and be able to relate to non-family authority figures.
- Children need to have acquired motor skills. Motor skills include large muscle activities necessary for walking in a straight line and throwing a ball. Motor skills also include small muscle skills such as drawing, coloring, cutting, and beginning handwriting.
- Children need to be cognitively and intellectually ready for school. Intellectual readiness is a term used to describe the learning skills a child needs to make a smooth transition into kindergarten. These skills include knowledge of colors, numbers through 10, at least some of the letters of the alphabet (e.g. particularly the letters in his/her name), and shapes. Other skills that children need are the ability to assemble simple puzzles, answer questions about his/her environment (e.g. how many legs does this spider have?), and understand similarities (e.g. how are an apple and an orange alike?), differences (e.g. how is an apple different from an orange?), and opposites (e.g. ice cream is cold, coffee is hot).
- Children need to be curious and eager to learn. Our children will be most successful if they learn to ask questions, think independently, and be creative. Our children need to be curious about the world, interested in how things work, and know how to creatively approach problems. So, if your child asks you a question like, "Do mosquitoes sleep?", resist the urge to answer (you may not know anyway!) or to give them the answer right away. Instead try asking them, "What do you think?" or "Where do you think we could find the answer to that question?". By doing this, you are encouraging them to think for themselves. This also helps build a child's self-esteem!
Children need to enjoy learning and reading to be successful in school. The two best
activities we can do with our children include:
What characteristics do I need
to look for in my child's day care center or preschool to make sure my child
will be exposed to what he or she needs?
- Encouraging their curiosity about the world they live in. For example, if you are on a walk with your child and spot a cocoon, ask your child what they think it is. Discuss with them the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You may even want to watch the cocoon with your child over the next few days. Then, the next time you see a butterfly with your child, ask them if they remember where butterflies come from. This type of dialogue with your child stimulates curiosity. It encourages them to ask questions about the world they live in and it helps prepare them for school.
- Reading to our children so they discover the joys of hearing stories, learning about the world, and using their imagination. You can even start reading to your child in utero, before the baby's even born! Young children love being read to and looking at picture books. You can encourage their language development by asking them to describe the pictures to you. As they get older, children enjoy turning the pages of the book as you read to them. This engages them in the story. To encourage your child's social and emotional development, you can also ask them questions like "How do you think that made him feel?" or "How would you feel if something like this happened to you?" For a list of great books to enjoy with your child, click here.
There are two critical concepts for how a child learns:
- Children learn best when they are developmentally ready, which is NOT
necessarily predicted by a child's chronological age, and
- Children learn best in enjoyable environments that provide positive
So, look for an environment that:
Why is it important to choose a high quality program?
- Follows your child's lead in terms of when they are ready to learn
- Focuses on learning in a positive, fun, play-filled environment
- Builds social-emotional skills, motor skills, and intellectual skills
- Encourages children to ask questions and be curious about the world
- Works with you around your child's individual characteristics and needs
High quality early education supports healthy development and early learning for preschoolers, providing children with a foundation for school readiness and academic success. Early learning experiences outside the home also allow children to build trusting relationships with adults other than their parents, and with other children their own age. The preschool parents choose for their child to attend can have a strong impact on the child's future academic success. Recent research suggests that children who attend preschool are more likely to do well in school, perform better on tests, and have greater success getting into college. Generally, children who attend high quality preschool programs:
What are the signs of a high quality program?
- Demonstrate greater social skills throughout their school years
- Have higher self-esteem and value achievement more than children who do not attend high quality programs
- Receive higher scores on tests of thinking ability and language, and maintain intellectual gains later on in school
- Excel in reading and math skills, and are better prepared for school
- Demonstrate better classroom behavior
- Are less frequently held back or assigned to special education classes
- Have better school attendance rates, and are more likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher learning
How do I choose a preschool program?
- Licensing and Accreditation. Preschools that are licensed by the state must comply with the state's laws on health, sanitation, and safety. Accreditation by an organization like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) operates as a kind of quality controller: the standards that must be met to obtain accreditation represent good quality programs.
- A low teacher-to-child ratio. For two and three-year-olds, NAEYC recommends at least two teachers for every 10 to 14 children. For four and five-year-olds, NAEYC recommends two teachers for every 15 to 20 children. Generally, the lower the ratio, the more individualized attention each student will receive.
- Experienced and educated teachers. At least one teacher in each classroom should have a degree in child development or early childhood education. Teachers should also be participating in continued education classes if possible. All staff workers must undergo a background clearance as well.
- A healthy and safe environment. The children should be under adult supervision at all times. The classrooms should be safe and contain only age-appropriate materials. There should be enough usable space indoors and outdoors so children are not crowded, and all areas should be kept reasonably clean. The school should also be secure and have fences or other barriers around the outdoor play area to prevent children from running out into the street.
- Openness. The school should have an open-door policy allowing parents to drop by, and parents should feel welcome to visit and observe classroom activity. A school that does not encourage openness with parents may have something to hide.
- A good classroom structure. High quality programs are structured enough so that the children cannot wander if they are not sure what to do, while also allowing enough freedom to let the children explore their learning environment.
If you have decided that your child is ready for preschool, there are many different types of programs to choose from, and several questions you should ask. Here is a list of tips to help you find the right preschool for your child.
- Other parents are a valuable resource, so talk to several parents that you encounter: in the neighborhood, at parks, or in playgroups. Keep a list of the schools that those parents mention. If things work out, your child may already have a buddy at his new school, and you may be able to form a carpool with other parents.
- Many preschools have their own websites that contain lots of helpful information - take some time to log on to the Internet and explore all the schools in your community.
- Make appointments with several different schools to visit and take a tour. Take note of the whole environment, and see if the classrooms, bathrooms, and play areas are clean. Ask about their safety, security policies, and teacher credentials. Carefully observe how the teachers interact with the students, and how children interact with one another. Keep in mind that the quality of your child's educational experience will depend most of all on the people working with him or her. If the teachers are warm and nurturing, then your child is likely to thrive under their care.
- Inquire about tuition fees, which often range from $100 to $600 a month or more. Most schools also require a deposit to place your child on their waiting list.
- Ask any and all questions that are important to you. Click here for a list of questions to ask when visiting a potential preschool.
- When you have narrowed your choices down to one school, take your child and go back one more time. Ask to sit in and observe a session, and see if the teacher encourages your child to participate, and if your child feels relatively comfortable in this new setting.
- Lastly, go with your intuition. Pick the school where you feel most confident and secure about your child's education.
to view the resources used to provide this guide to choosing a preschool.
What type of program should I choose?
As you may have heard, there are several different types of preschool programs for you to select from. As you explore various schools, ask yourself which program would work best for your child, your family, and you. Your child's personality will play an important part in your decision, because the school you choose should fit with his temperament and interests. You should also consider your comfort with each school's style of instruction, philosophy of nurturing children, and the steps it takes to achieve its goals. To view each of these different programs, click the links below.
If my child has a fall birthday, what should I do?
Remember that readiness to learn is not related to a child's chronological age. This
means that parents need to consider:
- their child's developmental readiness in the areas mentioned above,
- what the birthday requirements are of the school(s) they are considering, and
- the demands that will be placed on the child in the kindergarten environment they will be entering.
You and your child's teacher are the best judges of your child's developmental level. Some schools also do developmental testing as part of their admissions process. It may be helpful to know that some boys are about 6 months delayed in terms of their social-emotional development and their small muscle motor skills compared with girls.
Regarding birthday requirements, many private and religious schools have birthday deadlines that occur during the summer before school starts or in the early fall. In many parts of the country, children attending public schools must be 5 years old by September 1 of the entering year. Most public schools in California still use December 2nd as the cut-off for Kindergarten although many private and parochial schools use a summer date. Your school district may have different rules about birthday requirements and it is always a good idea to ask at your local school.
Lastly, consider carefully the demands that will be placed on your child. As kindergarten becomes more academic, children are required to do more fine motor and seat work. In addition, many kindergartens are moving from a half-day schedule to a full day schedule. It may be worth considering giving your child the gift of time if he is not ready for these demands. You are the best person to make this
decision since you know your child's skills. Other helpful people include your child's preschool teacher, your child's physician, and personnel at the kindergarten your child will be attending.
Copyright © 2008, CASRC, all rights reserved.