Readiness for school not always about age
It is nearly time for another school year. Registration, buying school supplies, getting a physical, updating vaccines and picking out school clothes are all a part of the ritual of going to school. Many of you may be asking yourself if your youngster is ready for kindergarten.
Readiness for kindergarten is about more than your child’s age. At his kindergarten physical, which you should schedule before school starts, your child’s health care provider also will be considering social, emotional, language and physical milestones.
Social skills that are important for starting school include playing in a group, sharing and taking turns, following rules, and listening to and following simple instructions. If children know their name and age, and have learned to respect other people’s property, it can make kindergarten more enjoyable for your child and for everyone there.
A child who is emotionally ready for kindergarten has some degree of self-control and can wait a short period when there is a delay.
She usually will feel comfortable in a group, be confident enough to speak up for herself and show signs of independence and self-direction. Children do better if they are willing to ask for help when necessary.
Having language skills to express needs clearly to adults and other children is very important to doing well in school. Can your child express himself in short (five- to six-word), complete sentences?
Many of the physical milestones we look for at 5 years of age will enable your child to have more fun. Being able to hop, skip, run, kick a ball and jump, and having a sense of space and balance will make the playground safer and more enjoyable.
A child needs to be able to wash her hands, feed herself, put on and take off a jacket and shoes, and use the toilet on her own at school.
Doing these things now will give her a greater sense of independence.
We look for fine motor skills at the kindergarten physical. Can your child hold a crayon or pencil and draw a person that has three parts—such as a head, body and face? The ability to concentrate on an activity increases with age, but a good goal for kindergarten is being able to work on something for 10 to 15 minutes.
Other useful skills for kindergarten include being able to remember simple routines (put your book away and then sit down), holding a book correctly and listening when someone is reading.
Every child develops at a different rate. Children who have most or all of the skills described above are likely to be ready for kindergarten.
If you have doubts, talk with your child’s health care provider, current preschool teacher or the future principal and kindergarten teacher. If you still have doubts, you can wait a year.
For specific concerns, talk with your child’s health care provider about whether any developmental, hearing or vision problems may need further evaluation and treatment.
To improve social skills, consider having her start preschool if she has not been in preschool already.
Limit the television time your child has to 30 minutes or less per day so that her brain develops normally and she has time to do the things she needs to do to prepare for school. Make sure your 4 to 6 year old is getting more than 10 hours of sleep per night.
Seeing a child start kindergarten is exciting for parents. Getting a good start means making sure your child is ready so that it is an exciting time of learning and making new friends.
Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.