On Kindergarten Readiness: A Pediatric Nurse Practitioner's Perspective

by Kimberly Meehan

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I advise all my parents to forget about cut off dates, as those are truly arbitrary. Instead, I ask them to look critically at their child to determine whether now is the time to start or not. Many people feel that delaying the start sends a signal that their child is not intelligent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many aspects to consider when getting ready for K, and the academics are only one subset.

1) Behavior: is your child able to sit, focus, stand in line, etc.? Many kids need to work out their excess energy before being required to sit for school. Nothing is harder for a 5-year-old who would rather climb, swing and run than to sit and listen to do well in school. So if your child really seems to have that energy drive, consider letting them take a year to run it out and mature.

2) Attention: Can your child follow directions, how long does your child stay on task, how interested is your child in completing academics, art projects, etc.? Some 5-year-olds couldn't care less about making a snowman, which doesn't help their fine motor skills develop, and sends a message about sloppy work being okay.

3) Social Skills: Forget academics. Any kid will tell you school is about friends. How does your child do with sharing, making friends, imaginary play, interactive play, how does he/she resolve conflict, how does he/she handle frustration. Even K kids develop a rep — and reputation is really hard to undo once had. So if there is any question in this area, the best preventative step is to wait out a year and let maturity play its part. It may not cure the problem, but it will help.

4) Academic Readiness: How ready is your child to learn letters and numbers? Some K classes are learning to read, tell time, add and subtract! Some kids just couldn't care less about their ABC's at 4 or 5, and there really is no need to push it. Maturity often solves the problem.

5) Adolescence: Silly to think of high school in K, but the reality is that the experience in K and those early years sets the school tone for middle and high school, where of course the social and academic stakes are much higher. If you have to battle your child now to focus on school stuff or deal with a miserable child having trouble making friends, it is unlikely to get easier with the passage of time since the work load becomes greater and harder.

Time is a friend and not the enemy. The notion of kids being the oldest or older than their peers is largely passé. Kids don't care. This is one of those "pick your battle" opportunities. I don't know of a single child who lost by starting K late, but I know many who would have benefitted from that extra time to just be a child. The question is not so much "Is she ready for K?" but "What choice is likely to afford us the greatest opportunity for overall success in school — academic, social, self-esteem, independence, etc.?"

[Kimberly Meehan is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Massachusetts General Hospital. This essay originally appeared on PEP-L, an e-mail list for parents of children adopted from Eastern Europe.]

copyright (c) 2003 by Kimberly Meehan 

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