Sending Your Child to Kindergarten

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Harvard Medical School
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Chrome 2001

Sending Your Child to Kindergarten

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Sending Your Child to Kindergarten


In most school systems, public and private, children are accepted into kindergarten based on their age. If they are 5 years old before a set deadline (usually Sept. 1 of a particular school year), they can start school. Parents of children often wonder if their child is truly ready to go to kindergarten, especially if the child will turn 5 very close to the deadline. They may worry that their child is not yet mature enough, or that the demands of the classroom may be too much for their child to handle. In fact, children do mature at different speeds, and their level of maturity is just as important as their actual age in considering whether they are ready for kindergarten.

The following list can help you measure your child's readiness to start school. Don't worry if your child cannot do every item, but it is important to understand that a child who is ready for kindergarten typically has most of these skills.

  • Cares for self (dressing, feeding, washing, using the toilet)
  • Keeps track of own belongings (coat, school bag, lunch)
  • Follows two-step instructions
  • Works independently for short periods
  • Knows own name and parents' names
  • Speaks clearly
  • Carries on a conversation using basic sentences
  • Identifies basic body parts (back, stomach, head, legs, etc.)
  • Knows the names of common animals, foods and household products
  • Identifies and names basic colors
  • Understands same and different
  • Understands first and last
  • Knows some opposites
  • Groups similar objects or pictures together
  • Recognizes some letters (capitals and lower case)
  • Counts items one by one, up to five objects
  • Plays well with other children
  • Requests things from an adult (for example, "May I go to the bathroom?")
  • Deals with some frustration and failure
  • Accepts adult supervision and help

Advantages and disadvantages of choosing to start kindergarten

If a child is the right age, should he start kindergarten or wait an extra year? The extra year will give your child more time to mature, so that he may arrive at school the following year with a longer attention span and sharper social skills. However, being older than one's classmates can also be difficult: Your child may be bigger than everyone else and, in later years, may feel uncomfortable about being the first in the class to go through puberty or have a driver's license. In general, it is not clear that children who wait to start school do better academically or socially than those who don't. They may have a slight advantage in the beginning, but after a few years, it no longer seems to make a difference.

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Making the decision

Deciding whether to send your child to school or wait a year can be difficult. In addition to the developmental checklist above, many parents find the following suggestions helpful:

  • Contact your child's school. Ask what they expect of children entering kindergarten. Ask how the classroom is arranged. Informal learning centers, arranged around "learning stations," work better for less mature children than formal classrooms with rows of desks. In addition, find out how large your child's class will be. Shy children may have a hard time in a class with more than 25 students.
  • Think about what your child will do if he does not yet start kindergarten. Is there an affordable preschool program that he can be enrolled in? If he stays at home with you, can you help him prepare for school and will there be other children for him to play with?
  • Speak with your child's preschool teacher, day-care providers or other caregivers. This may give you a more objective idea about your child's readiness. Did your child do well in preschool or day care? Did he make friends with classmates? Did he follow directions?

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Helping your child prepare for kindergarten

Whether your child starts kindergarten this year or next, taking these steps can help to ease the transition into school.

  • The more your child knows about kindergarten, the less scary it will seem. Find out if there is an open house where you and your child can meet her teacher and classmates, and get a feel for the classroom before school actually starts.
  • Read books about the first day of school so that your child can imagine what it will be like.
  • You may have mixed emotions about your child starting school. For example, you may be excited, but also a little sad that he is growing up so quickly. However, it is important that you are enthusiastic and not share your fears and anxieties with your child.
  • Be careful not to exaggerate to your child how much fun he will have in kindergarten. Let him know that, while he will make friends and learn new things, there may be some times when he wishes he were home. Reassure him that these times will pass.
  • Let your child know ahead of time whether he will be walking or taking the bus to school. Practice walking the route to school or getting to the bus stop. Talk about traffic signs and the role of the crossing guard.
  • Teach your child his address and phone number.
  • If you are not home after school, call and ask your child how his day went. If it's not possible for you to call, have a friend or family member check in for you.

The first day of kindergarten is a big milestone for both parents and children. If you are positive and enthusiastic about school, chances are your child will be, too. Everyone is always very proud of this day!

Last updated July 31, 2014

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