Traditionally a child was ready for school when he or she recognized his/her name and could give his/her parents names, could sit through circle time or story time that lasts 15 minutes, understand the concept of sharing, and get along most of the time with other kids. Academically, it was encouraged that kids know most of the alphabet, be able to hold a pen or pencil and be able to roughly use child-sized scissors. It was also expected that she/he be on the road to independence. In other words, it may be a bit of a struggle, but children were expected to be able to dress themselves, use the potty themselves, open most of the packages in their lunch without help, etc.
In many schools it is now reccommended though not required at public schools, that in addition to the above, children know all of the letters and numbers one through ten, are able to write their name when they enter kindergarten, and can recognize and name basic shapes and colors. For safety's sake the child should also know her/his address and phone number.
If you are unsure about your child’s readiness, some school systems also offer an assessment. Even if it is not advertised, you should ask about it.
Preschool teachers often have a pretty good idea of whether children are ready for kindergarten. If your child attends preschool, his or her teacher knows how he acts in the school setting. If he still cries after you drop him at preschool, he might not be ready to get on the bus to kindergarten. Do not hesitate to ask your child’s teacher for her opinion and advice. She might suggest something in-between, like a pre-kindergarten classroom that many public schools have. Also, be sure to visit a kindergarten classroom that your child might attend, talk to the teachers, and observe how the other children behave and interact. Many schools even have a time when you can bring your child with you to visit
If your child is not ready for kindergarten, do not be concerned! So called "academic redshirting" is becoming more and more common and you may decide it is the right answer for your family and child. The term redshirting originally referred to postponing a college athlete's participation in regular season games for one year to give him an extra year of further growth and practice with the team in the hope of improving the player's skills for future seasons. Academic redshirting refers to the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten for a year beyond the typical age of five in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This kind of redshirting is most often practiced in the case of children whose birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class.
Incidence of Redshirting
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that academic redshirting occurs at the rate of about 9% per year among kindergarten-age children. Redshirting is also more common in affluent communities and for children attending private schools. According to NCES, boys are more often redshirted than girls, and children born in the latter half of the year are more likely to be redshirted than those born earlier. Redshirting may be a response to demands for a higher level of school readiness. An Alarmingly high percentage of teachers indicate that half of their students lacked important skills, including "following directions" and the ability to "work independently". As mentioned above, it is now common for schools to expect thier kinder students to already know their letters and numbers one - ten (some of the schools near where I taught preschool expected 1-50). 20 years ago these academic skills were taught in the kindergarten and were not expected at entrance.
Effects of Redshirting
In the short term, redshirting raises the child's academic achievement, increases the child's confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates and may simply add to the normal mix of ages and abilities within the classroom. However, there is also some speculation that, in classes where there are children who have been redshirted, some older children may feel alienated from their younger classmates, and some older classmates may have an unfair advantage over younger classmates in size and in psychomotor and social skills. The presence of children of a wider age span may also make the class too diverse for a teacher to manage well. Children that are ready but redshirted, sometimes find themselves not challenged enough and behavioral challenges can arise due to this boredom.
The articles I read included that research is showing that between grades 1 and 3, children that were redshirted have a lower likelihood of receiving "negative feedback from teachers about their academic performance or conduct in class (Cromwell, 1998; West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000) and need less special education intervention than classmates who were retained as kindergartners for a second year (Kundert et al., 1995; May et al., 1995). However, there is also evidence that some first- through third-graders who were redshirted as children required greater use of special education services than their non-redshirted and non-retained classmates (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995). However, this may be because children with delays might be more likely to be redshirted in the first place. Cause and effect relationships have not been established scientifically and may not be able to be established.
Long-term studies are fewer and even less-definitive. In my experience, by middleschool, the reaching of adolescence and the physical changes that come with it are important in a student's social experience. Children who develop first or last, can be at a social disadvantage. Kids who mature in the middle of the pack are usually more accepted by their peers. Because these changes occur over a range of ages, it is difficult to predict where your child will fall within this spectrum. Some children simply mature at earlier - or later ages than others and even the decision to redshirt a child does not afford parents control over this aspect of their child's place within this range. However, it does make it more likely the redshirted child will not be the last to develop physically.
Because the research is inconclusive about the effects of redshirting and few school districts prohibit it, parents are usually the ones who have to decide whether to keep their child out of kindergarten for an extra year. The following are some points for parents to consider in making a decision:
It is not reccommended to delay entrance into kindergarten just because the child is likely to be among the youngest in the class or has a summer birthday.
Check the school's kindergarten readiness screening procedures or tests to get an idea of how your child might fare in the kindergarten classroom in which she or he will most likely be placed.
Be assertive about finding out what the school expects of entering kindergartners and the school's suggestions on how you can help your youngster to be prepared.
Solicit the views of your child's preschool teacher about his or her readiness for kindergarten. Ask, for example, whether your child made some friends in her preschool group. Was he or she usually able to follow directions? Does your child appear to the preschool teacher to be ready to begin academic work?
Find out more about the nature of the kindergarten program at your school. Is it very formal? Is it organized primarily around formal instruction in basic skills or around more informal "learning centers?" Organizing children's learning around informal learning centers can accommodate a greater developmental range of children than a formal, structured arrangement in which basic skills are taught to the whole group of children in rows of desks.
What else would your child be doing if she did not start kindergarten? Would the child have easy and safe access to playmates and play spaces? Are there easily available (and affordable) good preschool programs for your child? Some schools are unable to continue preschool programs for children that are officially "school-aged".
If you enroll: discuss your concerns with your child's assigned teacher as soon as you recieve this information. The teacher may have suggestions for activities you can do with your child to help with his/her preparedness or may have information about your specific school or district that will alleviate your fears.
Be careful about discussing your apprehension about starting school with or around your child. If you approach the beginning of kindergarten with your child with real confidence and sufficient reassurance your child is more likely to feel confident and preform better in the school setting.
Be careful not to exaggerate to a child how much fun she or he will have in kindergarten. It would probably be best to say something like "You'll make new friends, get to do lots of interesting things. Admitting to your child there might be some tough moments when you will miss each-other or when he or she might feel strange in this new setting may prevent a child from coming unstrung when the inevitable difficult moments do occur.
The most helpful approach for parents may be to obtain suggestions from the school, and ideally from the future teacher as well, about how best to help the child during the first few months of school. Parents can be most helpful by offering the child reassurance and support, and by resisting the temptation to discuss their own anxieties and concerns in front of the child. On the whole, the evidence about the short- and long-term effects of redshirting is inconclusive. The evidence suggests that some benefits of academic redshirting are short lived (Spitzer et al., 1995; Graue & DiPerna, in press). The decision may turn out to be less important than the concientous parent worries about it being.