Kindergarten is a milestone in your child’s education.
For many kids, it is the first step into a regular school after the familiar and cozy environment of a preschool. Here’s a look at some of the factors that will come into play when your child enters kindergarten.
In the US public school system, a child has to be five years of age to enter kindergarten. However, the actual date by which the child has to turn five varies widely from state to state. In most states, kids have to turn five by September 1. Some states, like New York, use December 31 as a cutoff date, and others, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, give a range of dates and leave it to specific school districts to decide. Private schools can set their own dates to define who is eligible.
On my son’s first day of kindergarten, I noticed that there were a couple of boys in his class who seemed older and bigger than the others. I later discovered that those students’ parents had voluntarily held them back a year before putting them in kindergarten. This practice, called redshirting, is more common in economically well-to-do areas. It can be attributed to parents wanting to give their kids an additional year to develop social and cognitive skills, or wanting to give them an edge in sports.
A recent paper by Bassok and Reardon estimates that, nationally in the US, around 4-5.5% of children delay kindergarten. Long term data on the value of redshirting is not compelling in either direction except in the case of sports, so it is up to parents to decide whether or not they want their child to take that extra year and be among the oldest kids in the class.
Based on my experience as a parent, the early months of kindergarten largely focus on helping the child settle down. This time is not very academically demanding; the child will learn to write his or her name and is expected to start some basic reading, which will progress to comprehension later in the year.
Math generally begins with an understanding of quantities and numbers, and gradually progresses to simple addition towards the end of the year. More importantly, kids start learning how to do a little bit of work every day. This can be in the form of a short homework assignment, or a reading log that they need to maintain.
Throughout kindergarten, kids are encouraged to become more independent and manage their daily tasks, such as clearing up after their work, tying their own shoelaces, and so on. Teachers also focus on student’s ability to listen and follow directions, their ability to work cooperatively, and their social interactions with classmates.
Gross and Fine Motor Skills
Physical education and gross motor skills are honed during gym and recess times. Teachers also focus on fine motor skills such as the ability to zip up a jacket, the correct pencil grip, and holding and cutting with scissors.
What You can Do to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten
While most kids smoothly transition into kindergarten, especially if they have been going to a preschool, here are some steps that you can take to make the journey a little easier on your child:
- Visit the new school (more than once if you can): sometimes, if kids are transitioning from a relatively smaller preschool, they can find it daunting to be part of a large school. Help them become familiar with the school through visits so that they feel more comfortable once the term begins.
- Encourage independence: allow your child to start doing some tasks on his or her own, such as putting on a jacket and clearing up the table.
- Have playdates: setting up playdates with other prospective kindergartners in the community can help your child socialize and start the new school year with at least a couple of familiar faces in the classroom.
- Get involved in district level sports: this is a great way to meet other kids from the same district, and also helps your child become comfortable in a larger group environment.
- Practice a daily work routine: starting a week or two before the beginning of the school year, have your child sit for ten minutes a day and tackle a worksheet or attempt independent reading. This will help your kindergartener-to-be develop the habit of sitting down and working on a task.
As always, keep an open line of communication with your child’s teacher. That, along with a little bit of preparation, can go a long way in facilitating a smooth transition into kindergarten.