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Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? 12 Ways to Know for Sure

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We’re wavering on a pretty big decision this year. Our daughter has a fall birthday, meaning that in most traditional public school settings, she’d be nearly six before she entered kindergarten — next year. Although some states offer a January 1st cut off date (see the full list here), most kindergarten cutoffs are before her birthday in November.

As a former PreK and kindergarten teacher, part of my job was to hold an open house prior to school starting, and watch the children whose parents wanted to send them to the next grade. As a private school, we weren’t looking at age so much as we were considering their emotional and physical readiness. Some children were older, some were quite a bit younger. I often had children 16 months or more apart in the same class, which at first presented its own challenges. Yet as the year went on, each found their own rhythm in our room and among their classmates.

However, we chose to homeschool. Since we live in Texas, there are very minimal requirements on us, and we could start this year or next with our daughter. Texas public schools may allow a child to enter younger than five, following these guidelines:

A student younger than five years of age is entitled to the benefits of the Foundation School Program if:

(1) the student performs satisfactorily on the assessment instrument administered under Section 39.023(a) to students in the third grade; and

(2) the district has adopted a policy for admitting students younger than five years of age. (Citation: TEC §42.003, (d))

As each state’s requirements are different, you’ll want to search “kindergarten early entrance in (state)” to check yours.

When teaching, I began to see older children enter my class. Much older. The popular things these days is to “redshirt” your child, meaning to hold them back an extra year and give them advantages in almost every way over younger peers. This might be ideal for children just not quite ready for kindergarten on many levels, but in my and several others’ opinions, it presents many issues later on for many children showing full kindergarten readiness.

So what is a parent to do? Perhaps your child has a fall birthday, or a summer one but seems young for their age, or you know they’re ready but your family seems hesitant that they should go. If you are able to have a choice in the age your child attends kindergarten, here’s some of the things you should be looking for to help them have a successful year:

Does your child …

  1. Draw a self-portrait with lots of details — a head, body, arms, legs, hands, feet, and facial features?
  2. Notice small differences in shapes, pictures, or the sounds of words (cat/cup)?
  3. Tell a story, often while pretending to “read” a book?
  4. Retell a story or personal experience to you in sequence?
  5. Distinguish beginning sounds in words?
  6. Recognize sounds using letter flashcards?
  7. Know numbers from 1-10 (out of order)?
  8. Follow basic directions (under, around, above, etc.)?
  9. Recognize rhyming words?
  10. Begin to write letters and numbers?
  11. Use the restroom independently?
  12. Exhibit self-control and a cooperative nature?

While your child doesn’t need to have every question checked off with an enthusiastic “YES!” it is important to know that if many of these are hesitations, you might want to consider a year (or another) of PreK before enrolling. If you feel your child is ready and you’ll be placing them in a public, private, or charter school …  talk to potential teachers and the principal. Attend an open house. Ask parents who had younger children in the room in previous years how it went.

The most important part of this all is to remember that there are benefits and drawbacks to each and every scenario. So if you simply can’t change anyone’s mind, or you feel as though you made a mistake later on, know that each of these paths would have it’s own ups and downs. Make the more informed choice you have based on the knowledge of your child and the school’s policies.

As for us? We’re heading down the early kindergarten path at the moment because I feel she’s ready for the challenge and new material. If it turns out to be over my daughter’s head — we’ll wait another year.

Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, Still Standing Magazine, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post, with smaller glimpses into her day on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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