With summer rapidly approaching, many parents start to think about when their young children should start school. A lot of parents ask the question, “How old should my child be when he starts school?” But I think the better question is, “When will my children have a strong enough foundation of skills to be successful in school?”
There are several things to consider when deciding whether your child is ready to begin school.
1) Assess Your Child’s Maturity
One of the most important parts of a child’s readiness to start school is his social and emotional development. Does he separate easily from you? Can he play comfortably alongside other children? Does he accurately communicate his needs with words? Does he know how to take turns and share? A lot of success in school depends on being able to work smoothly alongside peers, so strong social skills are a must!
2) Assess Your Child’s Basic School Skills
While children develop on their own schedules, a child should have basic skills in a few keys areas before he begins a preschool or kindergarten program. For example, a child should be able to run, jump, and maybe skip. He should be starting to hold scissors or a pencil with the correct grip. He should be starting to learn some of the letters and maybe identify some of the sounds each letter makes He should recognize numbers and be able to count a small group of up to 10 or 20 items. And, he should be starting to identify rhyming words or at least be able to identify words that begin with the same consonant sound (like bat and ball).
3) Complete a Kindergarten Assessment
There are many wonderful (and free!) kindergarten assessments available online. These assessments ask a series of questions about your child’s existing skill level and will give you direct feedback on you child’s existing skill level relative to what will be expected of him in a preschool or kindergarten classroom. With this information, you can also identify the areas where your child may need a little extra practice before school starts in the fall.
4) Ask Your Child’s Current Teacher
If your child is in a daycare or enrichment program, your child’s current instructor is a fantastic resource. This person views your child within the group of same-aged peers every day and he or she will likely be able to provide you with an accurate measure of how ready your child is for a school program.
5) Throw a Playdate
If your child is not in daycare or an enrichment program (or if you just want to see his social skills in action for yourself!), you can get a great sense of his ability to work well with his peers by hosting a play date. Does your child play comfortably alongside his friends? Does he share materials feely and wait his turn while others work? Does he show empathy for others? Is he able to do many of the same things that his peers are doing?
6) Forget Everything Else and Trust Your Gut
There are so many things to consider when making a choice about when your child should begin preschool or kindergarten and there’s rarely a clear-cut answer. Some three-year-old children are ready for a full-day preschool program while other children are not ready for full-day school until they are closer to 5. Just remember that when your child is comfortable, he will likely thrive. And you know your child best, so trust your instincts.
The author is a former lawyer, now stay-at-home mom to two amazing boys. Her mom, Renee, is a retired kindergarten and preschool teacher. Visit them at www.schoolsparks.com, a totally free resource of information and tools to help parents prepare their children to start preschool and kindergarten ready to succeed. They offer a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to see if their kids are ready to start preschool or kindergarten and over 100 free printable kindergarten worksheets to help children develop critical skills.