Preschool or Kindergarten? How to Decide for Your Child
- 2009 2 Sep
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
Stand on one foot for at least 15 seconds?
Draw a self-portrait with lots of details—a head, body, arms, legs, hands, feet, and facial features?
Notice small differences in shapes, pictures, or the sounds of words (cat/cup)?
Recognize rhyming words?
Tell a story, often while pretending to "read" a book?
Enjoy language play—tongue twisters, silly poems and sayings?
Retell a story or personal experience to you in sequence?
Ask to be read to? Is she familiar with books?
Combine these questions with those already mentioned above:
Is my child the right age?
Is she mature?
Is she interested?
Does she have an adequate attention span?
Has she developed small muscle (hand and finger) control?
If you answered "yes" to these questions, then your child is probably ready for kindergarten. If you answered "no," or if you have any doubt about your child's readiness, wait.
As a general rule, later is always better. Children who are given an extra year of play will benefit from the extra maturity, knowledge, and attention span they develop during that time. Older children learn more quickly and easily than younger children do, saving hours of work and frustration.
If you have decided that your child is too immature for kindergarten, please do not spend the year trying to get her "ready" for kindergarten. One of the blessings of homeschooling is that we can individualize our methods and curriculum to fit our children. Therefore, we don't have to work to "get our children ready" for kindergarten; we can make our kindergarten ready for our children, instead.
Instead of pushing academics, develop a simple preschool routine, concentrating on things like spiritual training, reading aloud, art, music, and play.
If you have decided that your child is ready to move up to kindergarten, the next step is to decide what type of kindergarten your homeschool will offer. Will it be a traditional, non-pressured type of kindergarten, or will it be a more advanced, "formal academics" type of program?
I hope you will choose a traditional, non-pressured type of approach.
There is a saying that has stuck with me for years: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom . . . not phonics" (Mary Schoalfield). Teaching our children to know and love the Lord should be our first priority. Sadly, many Christian parents allow phonics and other academics to replace what is most important. They seem to think that learning doesn't begin until phonics instruction begins. Phonics is their true measure of success. However, it has never been proven that learning to read earlier is better.
In her wonderful book The Three R's, Dr. Ruth Beechick states that "It is true that some children can learn to read remarkably early. But the fact that they can doesn't mean that they should. Should is another question."
She continues by sharing how one school district decided to compare the results of an academic kindergarten program with a hands-on, experience-based kindergarten. In one classroom, the children concentrated on academics—especially on learning to read. In the other classroom, the children spent the same amount of time learning science. They experimented with "melting ice, playing with magnets, learning about plants and animals, and so on . . . books and pictures were available, but no formal reading lessons were held."
By the third grade, the children who learned science during kindergarten were far ahead of the children who had received the early reading lessons. Why? The reading children spent a lot of time developing their reading skills, while the science children learned "real stuff" (Dr. Ruth Beechick, The Three R's).
Instead of concentrating on academics, center your kindergarten program on other things:
Spiritual growth. Spend time reading Bible stories and talking about them, praying together, and memorizing scriptures. If spiritual growth is the most important goal of your homeschool, the time you spend on it should reflect that fact.
Kindergarten is the time to begin daily memory work, if you haven't already: not only Bible verses, but simple poems and nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, etc.
Character development: Work out any discipline problems as best you can. See to it that your child obeys quickly and cheerfully. Train your child to be a cheerful helper. Practice table and field-trip manners.
Develop a consistent daily routine, and teach your children how to work cheerfully.
Facilitate hands-on experiences with art and music, science play and math play.
Kindergarten is the time to extend your child's attention span to 20-30 minutes or more.Kindergarten is the time to begin reading longer picture books and even chapter books aloud to your children: Winnie the Pooh, The Velveteen Rabbit, My Father's Dragon, Catwings, Stuart Little, Mr. Popper's Penguins. Reading aloud should be the heart of your child's learning.
Kindergarten is the time when imaginative play really blossoms. You'll hear your children assign roles: "You'll be the mommy, and I'll be the daddy; let's pretend we live on a boat," or "Pretend he doesn't see you, and he says, ‘Oh my, where did he go?" This is the time when play can be as believable as real life to children. Don't make the mistake of thinking your child has outgrown the need for imaginative play.
Finally, kindergarten is the time to have fun with educational games, using them to make sure your child knows all his facts: colors, shapes, opposites, and if there is interest, letters and numbers. Short "lessons" in the form of fun and games are appropriate: five to ten minutes of lessons in letter identification, phonics (initial sounds), or beginning writing; five to ten minutes of math games or learning how to write numbers if, and only if, your child shows readiness and interest.
I hope you will make your kindergarten program age-appropriate and fun for your child. Your goal should be to help your child develop a love of learning and lay the foundation for later academics. This foundation is built on a strong spiritual base, character training, maturity, small muscle control, a large vocabulary, and a simple base of knowledge about the world.
Susan Lemons and her husband have been married for 25 years, and have homeschooled their four children (ages 21, 17, 8 and 6) "from birth." Susan has earned both Associate and Bachelor Degrees in Child Development, and serves the homeschooling community as a mentor, "first contact" for new homeschoolers, and conference speaker. You may contact her at email@example.com if you have any questions about her column, or about preschool at home. Visit her blog at www.HSEBlogs.com/susan
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Some of the material in this article is taken from Susan's book What Your Preschooler Really Needs, coming soon from Liberty Books. This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug '09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Visit http://www.homeschoolenrichment.com/ for more information.