Kindergarten readiness: Help your child prepare

Kindergarten readiness might be more important than you think. Find out how you can encourage your child’s development and school success.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your child is old enough to start kindergarten — but is he or she ready? Recognize the factors that might affect your child’s kindergarten readiness and what you can do to help him or her succeed in school.

Why is kindergarten readiness important?

Kindergarten marks the start of a child’s formal education. A child’s first school experiences can influence the way he or she relates to others for the rest of life. For example, success or failure at this stage can affect a child’s well-being, self-esteem and motivation. As a result, it’s important to make sure that when your child begins school he or she is developmentally ready to learn and participate in classroom activities.

How can I tell if my child is ready for kindergarten?

Most schools use cutoff dates — deadlines by which a child must be a certain age — to determine who’s eligible for a kindergarten class. Typically, a child must be age 5 before entering kindergarten. Age, however, isn’t the only way to measure a child’s kindergarten readiness.

When trying to determine if your child is ready for kindergarten, don’t worry about whether or not he or she has mastered specific skills. Instead, consider his or her readiness to learn. How well is your child able to communicate and listen? Is your child able to get along with other children and adults? Use your own intuition as a parent and consult your child’s doctor, preschool teacher and any other child care providers for useful, objective information about your child’s development and readiness for school.

Keep in mind that some schools also require children to take a teacher-administered kindergarten readiness test to evaluate their abilities relative to other children of the same age. Not all educators believe these individual, in-class readiness tests for kindergarten students is an appropriate use of time and resources.

Are there benefits to delaying a child’s enrollment in kindergarten?

Some parents choose to delay a child’s entrance into kindergarten, believing that a child can gain an advantage in academics, athletics or social settings by being older than average for his or her grade. This is also common among boys who have birthdays near the cutoff date — with parents believing their child needs more time to mature.

However, research suggests that children who are old enough for kindergarten but postpone enrollment for one year don’t perform any better than children who enter at the usual age — particularly if the child remains in an environment where readiness wasn’t being fostered. In addition, other studies show that a child who is old for his or her grade is at higher risk of behavior problems during adolescence.

What can I do to help my child succeed in kindergarten?

You can take many steps to help your child prepare for kindergarten. For example:

  • Keep your child healthy. Ensure that your child eats healthy foods, gets plenty of sleep and receives routine medical checkups. Before the start of kindergarten, make sure your child has had a recent physical exam and is up to date on immunizations.
  • Develop routines. Choose regular times for your child to eat, play and sleep each day. This will help your child know what to expect and what’s expected from him or her.
  • Encourage the development of basic skills. Work with your child to help him or her recognize letters, numbers, colors and shapes.
  • Read, rhyme and play games with your child. Make reading a daily family activity. Rhyming and playing with your child also are important for his or her development.

    Don’t rely on computer programs that teach your child to read. Reading benefits your child most when it’s a shared, interactive experience. An ebook offers as much benefit as a print book — as long as you and your child read it together.

  • Expose your child to learning experiences. Look for opportunities to broaden your child’s horizons, such as preschool. Take your child to the museum or enroll him or her in community art or science programs.
  • Encourage socialization. Promote your child’s social development by signing him or her up for group activities and inviting friends to go on outings. Encourage your child to share, express his or her feelings, practice taking turns, and follow simple directions.
  • Talk about kindergarten. Build excitement and lessen anxiety by explaining what your child’s routine might be like in kindergarten. Many schools offer an open house before the school year starts. Make it a priority to attend with your child and show your enthusiasm. If your child’s school doesn’t offer this type of orientation event, call the school to schedule another visit.