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One of the biggest decisions a family makes is when to start their children in elementary school. Of course many children of working parents are old pros at being away from family and home due to participation in daycare or pre-school programs. But for those who have been home with the family until they are five years old it is a big step. For those having fall or winter birthdays the decision can be even more difficult as they need to assess whether or not the “young five year old” is ready for the rigours of kindergarten.

Gone are the days when Kindergarten programs were full of play stations. There used to be painting, dressing up, pretend cooking and so forth as the main offerings in a kindergarten program. Story time and snack rounded out the day. But in today’s more academic environments, children really do need to have some background experiences to be ready for the reading and writing learning that will begin on day one of kindergarten.

Each school district or state will have its own guidelines to follow for entrance requirements, but the family is the best gauge for learning readiness.

There are several main learning arenas to be assessed. They are social readiness, literacy readiness, which is mainly reading and writing, but also includes listening and speaking, and then there are math readiness which includes number sense, experience with patterns and so forth and finally physical readiness. At least minimum competency in all of these developmental areas is important in determining a child’s readiness to enter a kindergarten program. Remember that mastery is not expected before beginning the school process, but some level of exposure to and practice in each area of development is helpful. 

Here are some entry level expectations that will help you to see where to bolster your grandchild’s skills or possibly to help you determine that another year of growth would be beneficial for him or her. It is a wise family that will give a young child the necessary time to grow and develop to ensure maximum success later. And, as most educators will tell you, boys often benefit from beginning their school years when they are a little older as sitting still and attending are, in general, more difficult skills for them.

Social Readiness:  Can your child separate from parents or other adult figures easily and cheerfully? Can he speak clearly to ask and tell? Can she take turns and solve problems as they arise without anger or tears? Can he complete simple tasks, do chores, and follow simple instructions? Is she curious about the world around her? Does he respect adult leadership and know basic manners?

Reading/Writing Readiness:  Has he heard many, many books read aloud? Can she enjoy books by herself, looking at pictures and “telling” the story? Can he recognize familiar words such as STOP or McDonald’s? Does he know his alphabet? Has she had lots of experience with writing, colouring and art materials such as paper, pencils, markers, crayons, staplers, scissors, etc.? Can he “write” messages by scribbling on paper and can she draw simple shapes and figures? 

Math Readiness:  Can he count to 10 or higher? Can she recognize numbers to 10? Has she had experience with matching shapes, pictures, or ordering them in a pattern? Can he duplicate patterns such as red, blue, red, blue? Does he know the days of the week, or the months of the year? Can she sort items by shape, colour, size, etc.?

Physical Readiness:  Is your grandchild getting adequate rest, nutrition and health care? Can she sit on the floor with a group of children and “manage her body?” Can he line up to move to another area? Can he hop, skip, tiptoe, run, jump and climb? (large muscle) Can she do puzzles, and handle classroom materials easily? (small muscle) Does he have bathroom skills in place? 

All of these areas of learning are developmental—your grandchild will not be perfectly skilled in all of them. They are general areas to assess and to support as you prepare for school years. Kindergarten teachers are well-trained to recognize serious academic or social needs that may require some remediation. Do not panic if your five year old cannot yet tie shoes or skip perfectly, just begin to teach him. Don’t fret if your little one misses w and x in the alphabet, just sing the song several times a day for practice. School should be a wonderful place of learning and fun. It helps to know when to begin the process—the optimal time for your grandchild.