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by Keith Kanner, Ph.D.
One of the many tough tasks facing parents is determining whether or not their child is ready to go to Kindergarten. In most cases, the primary concern is age, with anxiety that perhaps their child is either too young or too old and a fear that the decision will have future negative effects for their child. But more important than age is a series of developmental achievements that are necessary for a successful Kindergarten experience which far outweigh the child's chronological age.
The six developmental areas that must be considered for "Kindergarten Readiness," aside from age, are as follows:
1. the child's capacity for self-control and emotional-regulation
2. the child's capacity to separate from their parents
3. the child's level of social relatedness
4. the child's understanding of morality
5. the child's level of fine and gross motor integration
6. intellectual capacity
Self-control & Emotional-Regulation: The Kindergarten-aged child should be able to calm themselves down and self-soothe during times of mild distress. This developmental achievement is one that is typically the outcome of toddler-hood and is an essential milestone of early childhood. This capacity does not mean that the child is free from complete distress during anxious times, but is indicative of a child who when faced with stress, internally goes into an automatic state of emotional recovery and slowly overcomes their plight.
Capacity To Separate From Parents: The Kindergarten child needs to be able to separate from their parents and last an entire day at school. This process usually takes a week or two for most children to be able to master for it is a significant transition from most preschool and pre-kindergarten experiences, but the child needs to have this degree of maturity in order to manage the time component of the kindergarten year.
Social Relatedness: Sharing, taking turns, and being able to sustain a short-term conversation are important social requirements for Kindergarten. Most children at this age are shifting from what is termed parallel play to cooperative play and in order to be able to participate in group activities the child must be able to also compromise and be sensitive to others. Obviously, these social skills are enriched further in the Kindergarten and grade school years.
Morality: Having a basic sense of right versus wrong and being able to follow rules are key elements that are necessary for Kindergarten success. Although the child's conscience is still being formulated, by this time it should be becoming progressively internalized and guide the child to make good decisions when faced with dilemmas.
Fine & Gross Motor Integration: Being able to bounce a ball, hold a pencil, be fully toilet trained during the day, and have average balance and coordination are important areas of physical readiness for the Kindergarten-aged child. Many schools expect that the child can also write their own name and have the ability to write letters and shapes.
Intellectual Capacity: Average intelligence, knowledge of shapes, letters, and sounds are frequent intellectual milestones that many schools look for in their assessments. In addition, the child should be shifting from magical to reality-based thinking as they are entering the Kindergarten year.
These areas should be taken into serious consideration by any parent before sending their child off to Kindergarten, and far outweigh age in terms of whether or not the child will have a successful year. Most educators and psychologists believe that children who fall on the borderline of age for Kindergarten should be encouraged to go forward if these developmental achievements have been met. Keeping a child back when they have the developmental maturity to succeed, unless some other special condition is present, often leads to boredom and frustration and can additionally affect self-esteem.
If concerns are still present, check with your local school principal for further assistance in assessment. Many schools have certain measures that can be given to the child to help better determine if they are ready for Kindergarten or not.
Keith Kanner, Ph.D., is a licensed and board certified clinical child, adolescent, and adult psychologist and psychoanalyst and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego. He hosts Your Family Matters, an online program on wsRadio.com.
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