Kindergarten Readiness

Dear Cathi,

My 5 year old is finishing Pre-K in a couple of months, and I’m not sure if he is ready for kindergarten. His teacher tells me he has all of his academic skills. As a matter of fact, he is ahead of his peers in reading and math. My concern is with his social skills. His teacher tells me that he typically plays alone on the playground, and he’s not really getting invited on play dates or to birthday parties. He seems like he’s in his own world sometimes. Whenever he is frustrated, disappointed, or doesn’t get his way, he is inconsolable and has a total meltdown. His preschool teachers are so patient and understanding, but I’m worried he won’t get the same kind of attention in kindergarten. He’s got a September birthday, so I could keep him in pre-school for another year. But then will he be bored with the academics if he’s a year older than his peers? What do you think?

Concerned Pre-Schooler’s Parent

Dear Concerned Pre-Schooler’s Parent,

You are not alone with this question about your child’s kindergarten readiness. Children develop differentially, excelling in some areas, and struggling in others. Since you’ve already been debating this, you know there is no shortage of information out there on what your child needs to succeed in Kindergarten and have likely already been checking things off your readiness list: Ready to read? Check. Prints his name. Check. Counting skills? Yup. Simple arithmetic? Bonus check.

It’s tempting to just stop here. You know he has solid academic skills so he must be ready.

Not quite. Social readiness is just as important as academic readiness. Your kindergartner’s day will likely be longer and more stressful. He’ll be acclimating to a new teacher, classroom and classmates. Kindergarten also means navigating a host of new social and emotional experiences. He’ll be much better able to adjust to his new environment if he’s had experience managing his emotions, learned how to follow simple directions, practiced sharing space cooperatively and worked on the give and take in social relationships.

Before you panic about not having time or the know-how to take this on, remember that during his first 5 years you’ve already been modeling the behaviors you want him to have. Every time you listen without interrupting him, express your own feelings appropriately and are able to find a place of calm when you’re angry or frustrated, you are teaching him by example.

And there is more that you can do to help him.

Over the summer, let your son do more things independently. Mastering skills helps foster his self confidence and his ability to manage his emotions. By demonstrating that you’re there to help if needed, and by praising his efforts — to clear his plate, brush his teeth or put his pajamas on by himself—you’re sending the message that you’ve got faith he’s capable and ready to tackle certain tasks on his own. In addition, carving our space for quiet time at home allows him to self-manage by learning how to access his imagination and entertain himself.

The more independent your child becomes, the more familiar he’ll be with following instructions. You’ve already been explaining how to do things—it’s a natural part of parenting. As kindergarten approaches, become more conscious of breaking down tasks into specific directions: what are the necessary steps for tying his shoe, setting the table or feeding the dog?

You’ve already introduced your son to the concept of sharing; now is the time to practice it more often! Model by showing him the upsides of sharing. Ask how it makes him feel when you, or someone else in his life, offers to share things with him. Engage him in activities that require cooperation like cooking or playing a game. Encourage him to see how important it is when he does his part.

Practice showing your child the benefits of give and take and ask him how it feels when everyone works together to make something. Reciprocity is learning to exchange things with others for mutual benefit—a big part of the world inside a kindergarten classroom. The more your son experiences the flow of social interaction, such as the back and forth of a conversation or learning when it’s time to take his turn in a game, the more comfortable he’ll feel with reciprocal interactions in kindergarten.

When your son feels more confident and adept at expressing his feelings with words, he won’t get swallowed up by his emotions. He’s young and needs time to understand it’s okay to express himself and he’ll learn how to swim with the current of emotion, rather than struggle against it. So, if his new kindergarten friend decides to sit in his chair or takes the book he’s reading out of his hands, instead of melting down or lashing out, he can learn to ask for help in solving the problem and trusts that conflict can be worked out.

If you feel that your modeling and practice efforts are not enough, you may want to consider a more formal social skills training program such as In Step’s Kindergarten Readiness group, or our Stepping Stones Social Skills group therapy program. In both of these groups the focus is learning the necessary skills for school readiness. In our Kindergarten readiness group the therapist breaks down the skills into manageable chunks that are easy to learn and then to practice at home.

Trust your son’s preschool teachers to advise you on his readiness for Kindergarten, Besides you, they are the most qualified to gauge your son’s social, emotional and academic development in comparison to his peers.

Good luck!