Parents struggle every year to decide if their child is ready to take that first big step into formal education. Even in this day and age, when many children get their feet wet in preschool, not all kids are prepared for kindergarten. True, they may be able to do some basic reading and writing, but kindergarten is about much more than academics.

Before sending your child off on the school bus, lunchbox in hand, think about what they’ll need to be successful. It’s not just about knowing their alphabet or being able to write their name. Age, social, motor, and academic skills should all play a part in your decision.

As a parent, you are the best judge of whether or not your child is ready. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before signing your child’s name on the dotted line:

  • Age: When is your child's birthday in relation to the school’s cutoff date? Will they be the youngest or the oldest in the class? Being the oldest is often seen as a positive because a child will be more mature both physically and mentally – potentially more prepared to read, more coordinated in sports and other physical activities, and more able to excel. This can enhance their self-esteem, confidence level, and allow them to be a leader. Being the youngest can have benefits, especially for gifted children, but otherwise, it can be overwhelming. Younger children may appear immature, and may be unprepared to tackle tasks that their older classmates find challenging and intriguing.
  • Social Skills: Does your child use words when angry instead of being physical? Can he follow simple one- or two-step directions? Can she express her feelings and needs? Does she ask questions about the world around her? Can he play well with other children including sharing and taking turns? These qualities are all essential for children entering kindergarten. The ratio of students to teachers is lower than in preschool, so kids need to be able to properly communicate, without the one-on-one guidance and intervention preschool often provides.
  • Motor Skills: Can your child hold scissors properly? Hold a pencil correctly? Put a puzzle together? Can he run, skip, and jump? Can she button/unbutton her clothes? Can he throw a ball and pedal a bike? Gross motor skills have to do with big muscles – the ones that help kids on the playground. Fine motor skills are small muscle movements of the fingers that eventually translate into the ability to do school readiness activities. If your child can’t do these fine motor tasks, it means that they may have a harder time with the activities that typically occur in kindergarten classrooms – like art projects and learning to write.
  • Academic Skills: Does your child tell stories? Can she count to 10 and recite the alphabet? Can she write both upper and lower case letters? Does he speak in sentences of five words or more? Can he retell the general storyline of a book that has been read to him? Can she recognize five colors? Can she write her name? Kindergarten will build upon these skills, but a child should enter with some of them already in place.

Of course, no child is perfect at all things. And everyone develops at their own pace. But all of these issues play a part in kindergarten readiness. Ask yourself the questions and be honest with your answers.

Still on the fence? Talk to someone! Many schools are more than willing to talk to you about your soon-to-be student – some even do readiness checks before school begins.

Kindergarten is the first big step in a long line of formal learning. No one knows your child better than you do, so follow your gut and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Rest assured, teachers want your child to succeed just as much as you do!