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 to be eligible varies widely from state to state. For instance, 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 the school district to decide. Private schools can set their own dates to define who is eligible. Click here for a complete list for all states.
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. Through later interactions, I understood that the kids' parents had voluntarily held them back a year before putting them in kindergarten. This practice of redshirting is more common in economically well-to-do areas and can be attributed to parents giving their kids an additional year to develop social and cognitive skills or 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, which is lower than some earlier studies reported. The long term data on 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 would like to let their kids wait a year to mature and be among the oldest kids in the class before enrolling them into kindergarten.
Based on my experience as a parent, the early months of kindergarten largely focus on helping the child settle down and are not very academically demanding. The child will learn to write his or her name and is expected to start some basic reading, which progresses 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. The teachers also focus on the child's ability to listen and follow directions, as well as his or her social interactions with classmates, including self-control and ability to work cooperatively.
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.
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. Helping them become familiar with the school through visits can allow them to 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 her jacket and clearing up his table.
Have playdates: Setting up playdates with other prospective kindergartners in the community can help your kid 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 daily work routine: Getting your child to sit for ten minutes a day, probably a week or two before school starts, and tackling a worksheet or trying to read on her own can help her develop the habit of sitting down for a short while and working on a daily basis.
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 for your child into kindergarten.
Bassok, D., & Reardon, S.F. (2013). "Academic Redshirting" in Kindergarten Prevalence, Patterns, and Implications ). Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
Deming, D., & Dynarski, S. The Lengthening of Childhood. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, 22, 71-92.