How to Judge Kindergarten Readiness

by Heligirl on June 27, 2011

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

How do you judge kindergarten readiness?

Judging kindergarten readiness is an important parenting issue that is more complex than chronological age or simply being able to recite letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Kindergarten readiness is a combination of a number of factors. Rarely will a child be completely ready or unready by the time they’re the age the school district will allow them to enroll. In fact, most kids will fall somewhere in between.

I chatted with Janet Jenness, a preschool teacher and parent educator at the South Seattle Community College Parent Cooperative Preschool Program, to explore this issue further and get her professional advice.

Janet encourages parents to learn about all the readiness factors (not just academic) and work alongside their children to help them learn what they need to know for kindergarten. However, she also cautions parents to understand that it isn’t right or wrong if their children don’t start early or need to start later than others their age. Everyone is individual and the end goal should always be to put your child in a position to succeed.

When it comes to readiness skills, however, Janet encourages parents to look beyond the academic.

“There are a number of academic requirements for kindergarten, and your school district will share those with you, but you really want to make sure you look at social skills,” she said. “These are so important for success in kindergarten and life, really. These social skills have to be learned. They don’t come naturally. So working with your child, including enrolling in preschool, will provide the best preparation for kindergarten.”

Janet will sometimes encounter a parent with a child born early in the school year (September or October) who wonders if the child should test into kindergarten early. The Seattle School District requires children to be 5 by August 31 to start kindergarten in September, but does allow for children with birthdays in September and October to test early. Kids that test in early will turn 5 shortly after starting kindergarten, rather than just before their 6th birthday, the time they’d start if they followed the requirements.

“I really encourage parents in these situations to look closely at the social and emotional readiness for kindergarten,” Janet said. “To me that really is the biggest part of being successful beyond preschool. Can your child handle disappointment, take turns, negotiate, solve problems with peers, work and play well in a group, wait patiently for their turn, raise their hand to speak, wait for others to finish speaking, handle transitions well, be separate from their parents, work independently with a level of autonomy, follow directions and cooperate? It takes time and practice to learn these skills. Preschool is an excellent environment to learn and practice these skills, and sometimes testing out of preschool early isn’t always best for the child.”

There are several resources out there for information on kindergarten readiness. Here are two that I’ve found considerably helpful because they not only give you some measurable skills, but they also share how you can take action to help your child learn and develop these skills.

First is an incredible resource I discovered a couple of years ago and refer to every six months or so just to observe how my kids are developing their school readiness skills. It’s a website called Getting School Ready and it’s chock full of insight and advice. This website includes a downloadable PDF that points out the skills a child needs to be ready to succeed in kindergarten and how we can help them learn these skills. But I must emphasize it’s important to use these guides as a way to help your child naturally build these skills, rather than to push your child to get in earlier than he or she would otherwise be ready.

If you’re a list person, you’ll like this second resource. I received this from one of the parent educators at my preschool. This is more general, but it gives you some ideas. This list came from a larger handout with suggestions on how to help your child. I’ve turned that document into a PDF you can download here.

Social Development

  • Able to trust other adults and children
  • Able to play with, not just next to, other children
  • Able to learn and play in a group

Emotional Development

  • Some degree of independence and self-direction
  • Self-control or ability to delay gratification (even briefly)
  • Reasonably confident and willing to try new things
  • Interested in school and in learning new things

Language Development

  • Able to understand directions
  • Able to express needs
  • Able to communicate with adults and other children
  • Can express thoughts in sentences
  • Reasonably broad vocabulary

Motor Development

  • Can run and jump (if not handicapped)
  • Sense of spatial awareness and balance
  • Shows right or left dominance
  • Has self-help skills: dressing, eating, and toileting
  • Able to manipulate small objects
  • Can copy simple symbols
  • Can hold a pencil appropriately

Intellectual and Academic Development

  • Able to focus and concentrate on an activity for 10 to 15 minutes
  • Understands that letters stand for something
  • Understands that printed text is spoken language written down
  • Have had experiences with environment (grocery store, post office, library, department store, etc.)
  • Can follow simple directions and remember simple routines
  • Able to stick with and solve simple problems

On a more personal side, after speaking to so many preschool teachers and parent educators on this subject because my own daughter is in fact a September baby (as was I), I’ve really become a strong believer in what Janet says about social and emotional development.

Engaged kids who are read to, offered lots of learning opportunities, play outside or in indoor gyms a lot, learn their basic pre-reading and math skills (letters, numbers, shapes and colors),  and have self help skills will most likely be kindergarten ready academically and physically. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is taking the considerable time and effort to work alongside them to learn how to negotiate, take turns, problem solve, handle disappointment, follow directions and the like. This is where preschool and positive discipline is so very important. We can use this time to teach these life skills in a way that will not only prepare them for kindergarten, but arm them for a life of success and strong belief in themselves.

As a parting note, after speaking with Janet, I received a link from her to an NPR podcast about a study regarding preschool. A group of inner city children were split in two groups in the 60s. Half went to preschool. Half didn’t. The preschool group is now more successful, more likely to have a job, and more likely to stay out of trouble with the law. And those preschoolers that are employed make more money than those who didn’t attend preschool.

It’s fascinating stuff if you can take 20 minutes to listen.

Stephanie asked this question on the Heligirl Facebook page in response to a new regular feature here on Heligirl called “It Takes a Community.” Each week I’ll dig into my positive discipline resources or find an expert to interview to help answer your questions or tackle the issues you’re having, then I’ll open the floor to comments where I hope you’ll join in to share your insight, advice and experience in the topic. It takes a community to raise a child, and support a hard working parent.

Sound off: What do you think about the advice above? If you have kids older than kindergarten, how did you know they were ready? Did you test your child in early or hold your child back? If so, how did that work out? Please join me in offering Stephanie more insight into kindergarten readiness.

Welcome to those popping over from BlogHer! This article was featured on BlogHer Family today.




Krista June 27, 2011 at 6:03 am

I’m saving this post. Chessa’s birthday is at the end of September, so she will be one of the oldest in her class. Mine is also at the end of September but I went early so I was one of the youngest. We’ve already talked about it and Craig is glad she’ll be one of the oldest, but I did really well as the youngest and I think we’re taking a risk that she’s going to be bored. I know she’s too young to tell yet, but now I know what to look for in a few years.
Krista recently posted: My stubborn, headstrong girl

Twitter: Heligirl
June 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

Thanks Krista. I’m the middle of September and I started early too. I hated being a year behind my classmates to drive, vote and drink. I did fine academically, but I’ve been thinking with how there is so much more to learn and do these days in K-12 from when we were kids, letting my daughter enter just before she turns 6 isn’t such a bad thing. But you’re right, the only way we’ll really be able to tell is looking at their readiness the spring before when testing in takes place.

sybil June 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

My littlest girl is starting at an SPS in the fall. She will be 5 mid-August and she is emotionally ready, pretty much socially ready and according to your list academically ready (though I was a little nervous about her struggles to learn her letters, your list eased that for me!)
She was born 10 days before her due date. I wish she was five days late so that I could have an excuse to keep her home with me for one more year– but that is purely 100% my selfishness talking. She is so independent and is going to love K and do great. My older daughter has a June bday and we sent her to private school for K and it was a rough year. She was not emotionally ready, but it was a year of growth for all of us.
Thank you for this post!

Twitter: Heligirl
June 27, 2011 at 8:28 am

Thanks so much for sharing this Sybil! It’s so individual, isn’t it? I so know your thoughts about wanting to keep your girl home one more year. I’ve been having those lately as my daughter will reach the test in time for SPS next spring. I’m not ready for her to be gone every day yet! Of course, it will be her readiness that makes the call, but I’m grateful she might still be home another year. 🙂 I’d love to hear about your issue with your older daughter. What were the signs she wasn’t ready for kindergarten?

Stephanie June 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for the great article. It’s a little complicated for my Oliver. His birthday isn’t until November 6, but here in British Columbia kids enter school according to the calendar year. So if a child turns five during 2011, then he’s allowed to start in September 2011.

Even though the research seems to prefer holding younger boys back a year, to give them a boost, we’ve still enrolled him for kindergarten. Since I work (I’m a teacher) I won’t be able to offer him another cozy year at home with Mom. The choice is another year of daycare or begin kindergarten. We do have questions about his emotional readiness, but since he’s already had five different daycare providers, the deciding factor for us is consistency of care.

The upside will be having him educated in the same K-12 system where I work. There is strong accountability among staff, and excellent interventions. Also, staff are familiar with the difficulties our family has faced this past year. Oliver’s little brother had open-heart surgery… lots of doctors, lots of hospitals, and this has been rough for normalcy at home, rough on Oliver, we think. We are hoping for the best, and prepared to receive honest feedback from his teacher.

Twitter: Heligirl
June 28, 2011 at 8:20 am

Thanks so much for this question again Stephanie. It was interesting hearing how they consider kids for kindergarten in B.C. I suppose for Oliver that would be similar to a child born in July starting in September in relation to the age of classmates. I’m curious how different kindergarten is there compared to the U.S.

I’m so very sorry to hear about Oliver’s brother. What a stressful and concerning thing for all of you to manage. My heart goes out to you. I hope all is going well now and you can look forward to a sense of normalcy.

It sounds like you’ve been doing your homework and are ready to stand by your little guys as he embarks on this new adventure. I honestly think arming ourselves with information and staying involved with our kids’ teachers, then making decisions to change if there is an issue, is the best we can do.

Thanks again for the great question!
Heligirl recently posted: How to Judge Kindergarten Readiness

DrJulieAnn aka The Modern Retro Woman
Twitter: DrJulie_Ann
June 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I’m so glad you’ve shared the importance of emotional and social readiness in addition to academic readiness for kindergarten. I am an educational psychologist and am always concerned when parents enroll their child in school clearly before the child is ready…”But he can count to ten and recite his ABC’s” not understanding that there is a whole lot more to kindergarten than academics!

Stopping by from SITS and Stumbled 🙂
DrJulieAnn aka The Modern Retro Woman recently posted: Modern Retro Recipe: Sloppy Devils

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