One Advantage of Preschool: Being Ready for Kindergarten



What your preschooler needs to know to succeed in school

Evan will be five in November and has completed one year of preschool. He can write his name, knows most of the alphabet and can count to 10. Two advantages to preschool is that children are used to the "learning" atmosphere and generally have a leg up on learning when they enter kindergarten.

Many parents struggle to figure out if their child is ready for kindergarten – especially those who don’t send their child to preschool and have no real measurement for his or her readiness. Kindergarten, for many, is the first year of formal schooling and the start of an academic career. So, before sending them off on the school bus, parents should consider if starting school is the best option for their child.

A child who’s picking out backpacks and school supplies in June might be telling you in no subtle way that it’s time for school. One who doesn’t have fine motor skills or doesn’t use words to communicate just might be saying she needs more time to prepare.

For a child with no preschool experience, school readiness “depends on how much the parents do with the chidren at home,” says Eva Ramos, director of Prime Time Early Learning Center in Middletown. “Even if they’re home with mom and dad or a sibling, they don’t get the interaction with peers. Kids in preschool are aware of what will be expected of them in kindergarten.”

Educators say attending preschool is the first choice, but it’s not critical for success in kindergarten. “It’s just not possible for everyone to go. So, we love for them to be socially prepared,” says Tara Hollifield, a kindergarten teacher at Highland Elementary School.

Social skills can be learned in other settings besides preschool, says Laurie Lochner, who also teaches kindergarten at Highland Elementary. Social gatherings, play groups, music classes, story times, and gym classes “all help teach kids how to take turns, how to get along, and how to share,” adds Lochner.

Jennifer Goodwin of Mount Marion, says her kids never went to preschool and all four have been outstanding students.

“I always got them out for playgroups with other kids and we participated in every reading program we could at our library or other places,” she says. “At home I taught early reading skills, identifying letters and numbers. I felt it was my responsibility to get them ready for school.”

Kindergarten is about more than academics, experts say. Teachers aren’t expecting children to walk in the first day knowing how to read, write, add, and subtract. But, they will check to see if a child can identify colors and shapes, recognize some numbers and upper and lower-case letters, participate in group activities, and begin to show independence, among other things, say Margaret Latino and Jean Rauschenbach, both kindergarten teachers at Vassar Road Elementary School in Poughkeepsie.

A child with a birthday close to the kindergarten cutoff date of December 1 may benefit from waiting until the next school year. If he’s the youngest, it might not mean so much now, but it might make a difference during the 13 years he’ll spend with these kids. Being older usually means having more experience and being more mature – both physically and emotionally.

Parents may worry that peers will pick on the boy who is the youngest and smallest in the class or the girl who is tall and bigger than the other students. A child could catch up to the older students, but when?

Educators say each child is different. “It’s always more beneficial to keep a child back earlier than to try to fix the problem in second or third grade. The earlier you do it, the better,” says Ramos. “Not being ready can lead to frustration – if they can’t keep up – and a lack of self esteem.”

A child who isn’t ready for school can also require more attention from the teacher, which throws off the pace of the entire class, says Rauschenbach. Preschool is a great way to prepare kids for kindergarten and also helps them deal with separation anxiety and work on social interaction, including sharing, listening, cooperative learning and following directions, she adds.

For those who choose not to send their child to preschool, “it is especially important to involve the child in playgroups [where they] will be exposed to some of the benefits of attending preschool,” says Latino. “The parents can work on the academic and social readiness skills at home.” Read with your children, says Hollifield. Expose them to the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and playing games. Let them use clay, practice cutting and drawing.

“We don’t expect kids to have already mastered everything,” she adds. “That’s why they come to school. They can have fun while they’re learning. Most times, if they’re playing and having fun, they don’t even realize they’re learning.”

Parents can contact your local school district to set up an assessment by a kindergarten teacher. Find out what teachers look for here.

This is a good way to find out where your child is in relation to his or her peers. Parents can work on language skills by talking, reading and singing with their children. They can also give them directions to follow to strengthen listening skills. Count and identify objects in your enviroment. “These steps all lead to a child becoming ready for kindergarten,” says Latino.

In the end, no one knows your child better than you, so you should feel comfortable making the decision.

Liz Consavage Vilato is a freelance writer living in Dutchess County.