Countdown to Kindergarten

The first day won’t be for many months, but school sign-ups are starting now. Will your kid be ready? February 10. January 26. March 1. These are all the deadlines that my friends have on their calendar to register their preschoolers for kindergarten - and start the testing and orientation process that often goes along with it. If you ask me, it’s absurd to have to decide whether your child is ready for “real” school eight or nine months before he’ll have to head out with his backpack. But to get the coveted slots (especially if you’re going the charter or private-school route), you’ve got to meet these deadlines. That’s what I was aiming for.

The winter before my daughter, Stella, was old enough to start kindergarten, my husband and I conferred with her preschool teachers. The gist of what they said: Stella is one of the brightest kids in her class, but she also demands more attention than the other kids and doesn’t always play well with them. Since she wouldn’t turn 5 until August, it would make sense to wait another year before sending her. Whoa! Before we agreed to hold her back, we researched what kindergarten teachers expect from their students, and it wasn’t what I thought.

Countdown to Kindergarten

Letters, numbers, shapes, reading even, seemed secondary to zipping a jacket or not wiggling. In the end, we decided to wait a year to send Stella. But I have friends whose kids have summer birthdays, and those kids have flourished even though they were among the youngest and smallest in the kindergarten class. No matter what, it’s an emotion-ridden call. To help you make it, I had conversations with developmental experts and teachers to find out which factors are key for a successful start. And if kindergarten is already a sure thing for your child, you can use them to prepare for The Big Day. Forget September - it’s time to get ready for school now.

Attention, Attention

Kindergartners need to focus for about 15 to 30 minutes at a time, explains Fred Morrison, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They’re also expected to raise their hand before speaking, listen to a story that lasts ten minutes, and stand in line without being fidgety.


If your child interrupts you in the middle of a conversation, resist answering him until you’re done talking. Ask him to stay seated at the dinner table until everyone is finished - after all, he won’t be able to play in the cafeteria if he’s done with his lunch before his classmates.

Small Talk

In a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, kindergarten teachers said the ability to communicate effectively is essential. “Studies show that kids who can express their desires - who can say what they want, what they need, and how they’re feeling - get along better,” Dr. Morrison notes.


Play school at home a few times a week, suggests Linda Chochrek, a prekindergarten teacher in El Paso, Texas. Ask your child to describe what’s happening outside the window, talk about the weather for the day, and practice raising her hand to ask a question.

The Right Direction

Multistep instructions are common in kindergarten. “We tell our students things like, ‘Put your lunch box in your cubby, go to your seat, and take out a book,’ ” says Leslie Barden Smith, a kindergarten teacher in Novato, California. “If the kids get to their cubby and they’re lost, that’s going to be a problem.”


Give your child a series of things to do when he’s in the middle of another activity. “While he’s playing a game, ask him to stop and help you set the table,” suggests Barden Smith. “Kids need to learn to manage that feeling of ‘I don’t want to do this, but I have to.’”

Team Players

Teachers expect kindergartners to share materials, take turns, and play together without a lot of supervision.


Schedule playdates with boys and girls - it’s important that kids interact well with a friend of a different gender. When a conflict arises, wait to step in. “Kids need to figure out how to solve problems,” says Kim Oliver Burnim, a kindergarten teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland. “If they come to you, give them strategies to pursue, like playing with something different or taking turns.” as they grow 45 years.


Kindergartners should be able to separate from parents without crying, use the bathroom on their own, and take care of most of their personal needs.


Set up a few “dress rehearsals” for school. For instance, pack your child a lunch and see what she opens on her own. Let her try to zip her coat before going outside and use the bathroom by herself. Don’t expect everything to be perfect on the first try; just concentrate on making progress.

All Their P’s and Q’s

Although academic knowledge before kindergarten is not a big factor in a child’s success, about 60 percent of 5- and 6-year-olds recognize all the letters before starting kindergarten, according to a survey of parents conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.


Point out letters in books and on packages. Once your child starts to get it, work on recognizing sounds by playing “I spy ” (“Can you spy an A?”)