Throughout the preschool year, we work on a wide range of developmental areas through our activities and games. Children develop these skills at different rates according to their own strengths and interests, but in general we would hope to see development in the following four areas to ensure they have the best chance of success in their transition to Kindergarten:
- Personal and Social Skills
- Physical Skills
We do not expect every child to tick every single box. I have included this list with some reluctance, because the last thing we want to do as teachers is to reduce the process of transition to a simple, one-dimensional checklist.
But, by the same token, I want to ensure you, as a caring parent, are able to make the best possible assessment of your child’s readiness. And after 35 years of moving children up to the big school, I think my guidance is pretty well-refined. Please note the below factors are non-exhaustive and situational; the individual developmental progress and needs of each child must always be paramount and may well go beyond these factors.
Language is central to everything we do in school. Your child’s ability to communicate, both with their teachers and their peers, is critical to their success once they enter Kindergarten.
In particular, as they are likely to be entering an environment where they receive comparatively less attention from their educators, the ability to communicate their own needs is important, rather than expecting their teachers to be able to anticipate these.
Specifically, we would look at the following attributes in determining Kindergarten-level language ability:
- The ability to ask and answer simple questions
- The ability to talk to other people about familiar objects and events
- The ability to use sentences longer than five words in length
- The use of pronouns, like ‘we’, ‘I’, ‘she’, ‘you’, ‘him’, ‘her’, or ‘them’
- The ability and willingness to make their needs known (e.g. the need to go to the bathroom)
- The ability to follow simple instructions (e.g. to change clothes or pack up toys)
- Uses books for enjoyment or for looking at pictures
- The ability to identify pictures in books, magazines and other media
- The ability to make up stories based on pictures they look at
- Uses a variety of media (pencils, crayons, paint, etc.) to draw, scribble or write
- The ability and willingness to join in when singing familiar songs
- The ability to pay attention to a story and then answer questions about the content
- The ability to initiate conversations with both adults and other children
- The ability to use sentences that include the words ‘and’, ‘because’ and ‘but’
- The ability to understand negative sentences, which contain the word ‘not’
The ability to understand basic math concepts is central to the Kindergarten experience. At Kindergarten, their teachers will expect some familiarity with the principles of numbers, shapes and counting.
Of course, they will build on these simpler concepts throughout the year but the basic foundation should be in place before they enter Kindergarten.
So when we are assessing the level of math comprehension in preschoolers, we would consider factors including:
- A recognition that numbers can be used to count
- The ability to count to ten
- The child’s use of terminology, including: ‘more’, ‘less, ‘many’, ‘a lot’, etc.
- The ability to recognize objects in a group that are different
- The ability to differentiate between different basic shapes
- The ability to differentiate between opposites; for example: ‘over’ and ‘under’, ‘heavy’ and ‘light’, ‘short’ and ‘long’, ‘day’ and ‘night’, ‘over’ and ‘under’, etc.
Personal and Social Skills:
These skills are, in my view, among the most important. Your child’s ability to coexist with their classmates and excel in all academic areas of development is premised upon their ability to be independent and to play well with others in an environment where everything – toys, playground equipment, books, the teacher’s attention – are shared among the whole class.
At their most fundamental, the important skills we would assess in terms of readiness to enter Kindergarten include:
- The proven ability to use the toilet independently
- The child’s ability to say their own name and address
- The ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar settings and experiences
- The ability to recognize their own name
- The ability to complete a task and then clean up afterwards
- The ability to play cooperatively with other children, including patience, turn taking and sharing
- The ability to sit still and concentrate on a story for a few minutes
- The ability to attend to an activity or set task until it’s completed to a reasonable level of accomplishment
- Curiosity about the world around them
- The confidence to be away from parents/family in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people
- The confidence to approach and talk to a new teacher
- The ability to share an adult’s attention with other children
- The level of participation in imaginative play
- The ability to initiate play with other children
- The ability to make friends in the preschool environment
- A willingness to separate and to be happy in a learning environment
- The ability to take care of their own belongings
- The ability to cope with frustrations and failures
- The ability to handle mild criticism without becoming upset
- The ability to remember simple instructions
- A willingness to respond to greetings from others
- A good level of table manners
- A strong level of auditory and visual discrimination (e.g. the ability to tell the difference between words – both written and spoken – that are similar)
- The ability to sit with their peers or friends and actively engage and remain focused without becoming easily distracted or a distraction to others
- Independently makes choices to seek out new challenges and experiences.
A great deal of the child’s physical development – gross motor and fine motor – happens in the preschool year, as many of our activities are targeted at improving these skills, and we raise the difficulty as the year progresses.
By the time they enter Kindergarten, they have usually developed a repertoire of fine motor skills and improved their coordination through outdoor play, dance and games.
In addition, they have had a lot of practice in the physical skills required to be self-sufficient when they reach Kindergarten. Accordingly, we would look for the following traits in a child ready to enter the next level of their schooling:
- The ability to use scissors to cut paper along a straight line
- Enjoyment of a range of indoor and outdoor play activities
- The ability to independently put on and remove clothing including shoes, socks and sweater
- The ability to handle doing up and undoing buttons
- The ability to handle blowing their own nose
- The ability to make and design objects using a variety of materials
- The ability to hold and control a pencil or a crayon using the correct grip
- The ability to pack their own bag and know which is lunch and play lunch
- The ability to open and close their own lunch box
- The ability to last the school day without requiring a nap
- The ability to climb up and down stairs
- The ability to hop 4 or 5 times
- The ability to throw and catch a plastic ball
- The ability to thread beads
- The ability to build towers with blocks
If your child does not demonstrate all of these characteristics yet, that if completely fine. I do not want to present these factors as though they form some kind of checklist, but which a child will either pass or fail.
Indeed, most children will not have met all of these factors by the time they leave Preschool; the odds are that you didn’t, yet you turned out just fine!
But what is important is our awareness of the specific areas where your child might develop from additional attention – and working with your child’s teachers (both Preschool and Kindergarten) as early as possible to ensure they receive the support they require to develop in those relevant areas. It might well involve activities at home, as well as in the Kindergarten.
If you do have serious concerns about how well your child will adapt to the Kindergarten environment, it is critical that you raise them with their Preschool teacher as early as possible. They will be able to advise you.
But regardless of the input you receive from teachers, you still need to make the decision that makes you comfortable that your child is receiving the best education possible. If you are left in any doubt, undertaking another year of Preschool in order to allow your child to further develop before entering Kindergarten can only help them in the long run.