If you have a child between the ages of 4 and 5, you may be facing a tough decision: What do we do with our child next year? Should she continue doing preschool another year, or be moved up to kindergarten-level work? 

Many parents decide the matter by assessing what their preschoolers have learned. Somewhere they have found a list of facts that preschoolers are supposed to learn, and if their child has mastered them, they assume their child is ready for kindergarten. "Does my child know his colors? Shapes? Alphabet? Can she count to 20? Then she must be ready for kindergarten!"

Unfortunately, the decision isn't that easy. Besides knowledge, you should consider your child's age, maturity, interests, attention span, small muscle coordination, and abilities. All these things together make a picture of her total developmental status and of her readiness for kindergarten.

Age

Kindergarteners should be 5 or 6 years old. If your child is a young 5 (in age or in maturity), you should consider waiting another year for kindergarten. If your child was born prematurely, you should wait until your child is 5 according to her due date, not her birth date. Additionally, if she has developmental delays or physical problems that could affect her academic abilities, giving her another year of preschool would be a wise idea.

Maturity

Some children are 5 years old chronologically, but not developmentally—and so developmentally, they are not ready for kindergarten. This fact does not make them dumb; every child grows and matures at his or her own God-given pace. When thinking about your child's maturity, consider these factors:

  • Is my child emotionally mature? Is she even-tempered?

  • Does my child speak clearly enough for strangers to understand her? (Children with speech problems may have trouble learning phonics.)

  • Does my child have a large vocabulary?

  • Is my child a busy, active boy? (Boys often mature more slowly than girls do.)

Interests

Ideally, your child should be interested in "doing school." She should be well on her way to learning those "preschool facts"—colors, shapes, opposites, numbers, and letters. Most children who are ready for kindergarten ask to learn how to write their names, and you will usually see numbers and letters appearing spontaneously on their artwork.

Attention Span

A child who is ready for kindergarten should be able to sit still for a reasonably long story (10-15 minutes at least) and be able to follow simple directions (remembering up to three steps).

Small Muscle Development

Kindergarteners should be well-coordinated, with good small muscle control and strength. They should know how to use scissors and how to hold a pencil properly.  Ideally, they've already had plenty of experience with art supplies (paint, markers, crayons, etc), and manipulatives such as puzzles, building sets, and sewing cards. These experiences develop strength and coordination.

Abilities

Parents see their children learning their colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and opposites, and automatically think that kindergarten is the next appropriate step. Remember, this may or may not be so! 

Instead of basing your decision on the traditional preschool skills list above, consider these more revealing questions:

Can or does your child: