I have worked in a range of preschool throughout my career, with a variety of early childhood learning philosophies.
Some embraced the concept of a Kindergarten readiness assessment or ‘test’, while others simply despised the idea.
In my experience, there is not necessarily a lot of value to a testing system, however it is executed.
But sometimes the parents, especially those of children who are a little slower to develop, want an objective means of determining how their child is likely to adapt to the big school environment.
In other articles, I offered a long list of factors that are worth considering in determining a child’s readiness for Kindergarten.
A parent reading that list could easily feel overawed, so here I have summarized it down to the essential elements of Kindergarten readiness.
Remember: what the child is is far more important than what the child knows.
Accordingly, if you are able to answer ‘yes’ to most of the following questions about what the child is, then you can approach school with confidence that they will be fine – what they know will improve quickly once they are there.
- Is she emotionally and physically independent for her age?
- Does she trust adults outside the family enough to separate from their parents to them, and respect their authority and directions?
- Is she self-confident and secure in the love of and understanding of her parents, and able to get along well with other people of all ages?
- Is she willing to take turns and cooperate with others most of the time?
- Does she demonstrate curiosity about the world around her, and a willingness to participate in new activities, including as part of a larger group?
- Is she able to communicate verbally with others?
- Does she enjoy creative activities, like music, stories and imaginative play?
- Is she able to concentrate on an activity that interests her for fifteen minutes without getting distracted?
- Does she usually finish the tasks she starts?
- Does she usually tidy up after herself and demonstrate respect and care for the equipment and toys she uses?
These questions can form a teacher’s basis for their conceptualization of a child’s readiness, but it’s just a start. It’s crucial to look holistically at the child relative to both the Preschool and Kindergarten environments. Sometimes, it takes moving up to the big school for a child to thrive.
While I would ordinarily discourage the use of ‘testing’ or ‘assesment’, I think there is a place for this kind of holistic assessment – and it certainly helps the parents as well.
So when you’re planning your approach to formulating ‘transition to school’ statements or recommendations, I would suggest two things.
One, that you approach your recommendation holistically, aligned with your early years teaching framework, and not in a ‘check the box’ fashion. And two, that you undertake the process twice a year, in order to provide a benchmark for each child’s progress towards Kindergarten.
That way, not only will you have all the information you need to explain to a child’s parents exactly how they are traveling, but you will be able to benchmark their progress over a defined period of time, which is a great indicator of likely future success.
Potential red flags / areas of concern
Notwithstanding everything I have said about different paces of development – how this is entirely normal and no major cause for concern – there are a few key factors that can indicate that perhaps a child is not ready to move up to the big school.
Factors that might raise questions about a child’s readiness include:
– Social or emotional immaturity or insecurity; if a child is experiencing problems in the Preschool environment, these issues will likely be exacerbated significantly by being plunged into a much larger, more complex, Kindergarten environment.
– Problems with attending Preschool; once they enter Kindergarten, a child is on a track to the next year, then the next, and so on. If they are unable to attend classes for any reason, it can be very easy to get left behind. Ensure they resolve their attendance issues before signing up to Kindergarten; this can involve a difficult conversation with the parents.
– Behavioral problems; if a child is acting out in Preschool, this behavior is likely to worsen in Kindergarten as they get less one-on-one attention. It is disruptive to the learning of the other children, so it can help to give children with behavioral issues an additional year of closer attention at Preschool, perhaps growing in maturity, before moving up.
– Speech or language difficulties; Preschool is the place to work on basic communication and language skills. If a child is struggling, it can be beneficial to consolidate their ability before moving up to Kindergarten, where they risk missing out on learning opportunities and being behind from the very beginning.
– Significant difficulties in one particular area of development; while there are no hard and fast rules about readiness to commence Kindergarten, if a child is lagging significantly behind in one area, they may be better placed to receive the remedial attention they require in the Preschool environment.
– Being younger than most other children in their class; even when especially precocious, there is no assurance that a younger child will manage as well, socially and emotionally, as their peers. There are many examples of children overcoming their young age in order to make friends, although you will need to be quite confident in their social capacity because it can be traumatic for a child to be held back after they enter school, while their peers continue on without them.
Again, these are only factors and you need to consider these against the whole universe of other variables before coming to your final determination.
Children are more likely to be successful at school when they are independent and self-confident, have a positive self-image, feeling accepts and respected by others. Children who are motivated by interest in language, who have an ability to concentrate and whose parents show a real interest in schooling.
A child’s emotional and social maturity is probably the most important factor in school readiness. Children need to feel happy, secure and confident if they are to learn successfully. We also need to consider whether a child is ready for academic learning. Children need to feel competent and confident to retain interest in learning. Long-term learning and behavioral problems can begin in Kindergarten if children do not feel successful at school.
The preparedness of the child is only one half of the equation. The other half is the fit between the child and the environment within the Kindergarten they’re entering.
For example, it’s important to consider:
– What kind of kindergarten program the school has – at what point do they introduce the formal academic work? Is it gradual, focusing on the pastoral aspects primarily at first, or is it more regimented? How does that structure fit with your child?
– How large is the average class size? A smaller class size might be preferable if your child is in need of any additional attention.
– How does the school cater to individual difference and needs (to the extent that these relate to your child)?
– Does the school have the capacity to provide additional support to children who are experiencing any difficulty?
– Is the school equipped to handle children with special needs?
– How old are most children in the class? Where does your child fit in? If your child has a ‘borderline’ birthday, falling close to the younger side of the cutoff, then it is worth considering holding back for another year.