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Kindergarten is a fun and exciting time in your child’s life. But, unfortunately, it’s also a time that can be filled with stress for both parents and children. For kids, kindergarten is often the first time they will spend all day away from their parents, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. And as for parents, they might worry about how their child will cope with the demands of a full day at school, making new friends, and separating from Mom or Dad for an extended period after so many years together.
For parents of children with autism, there are even more things to consider and ultimately worry about (Isn’t that what we do best?). Socializing can be very challenging for a child on the autism spectrum, and going to kindergarten can be like jumping into the deep end. Then there are the potential communication challenges, sensory overstimulation, and the anxiety that comes with having a hard time fitting in.
When it comes to kindergarten readiness, there is no one-size-fits-all approach – regardless of whether the child is neurotypical or neurodiverse. Every child develops at their own pace and in their own way. Whether your child will be starting kindergarten or beginning another year of preschool, the key is to have a solid understanding of what your child can do before they start school.
The typical developmental milestones that determine readiness
Many first-time parents assume their child’s academic or intellectual ability determines kindergarten readiness. Of course, early literacy, language, and math skills play a part, but there are far more critical factors. Emotional readiness is essential, and it lays the groundwork for optimal learning.
Gifted children and those on the autistic spectrum – which often coincide – can experience asynchronous development. This means the intellectual, physical, and emotional aspects develop differently. In most children, these progress at the same pace. However, kids on the spectrum, gifted children, and children with developmental delays could have intellectual abilities way beyond their chronological age yet lag behind their peers emotionally or/and physically.
Several factors can help you decide whether your child is ready for this big transition into school life. Keep in mind that the factors are age appropriate. So, when we mention being able to sit still and focus, it in no way suggests that they can sit through an hour-long college lecture. Instead, it’s about reaching the milestones that place them on par with the ability of other kids in the same situation.
So, how do you know if your child is ready?
For children starting kindergarten, one of the most critical indicators of readiness is the ability to follow directions and focus on tasks for an age-appropriate length of time. Typically, a child’s attention span is said to last two to three minutes for every year of their age. That means that the most you can expect from a five-year-old is 15 minutes.
Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- Can your child focus on a task for the required amount of time?
- Are they able to follow your directions and instructions?
- Can they sit still and listen without getting distracted?
If your answer is yes, they are great signs that your little one is ready for kindergarten.
As I mentioned before, early literacy, language, and math skills are important, but emotional readiness is crucial, and it sets the foundation for optimal learning. Children who are emotionally ready for kindergarten can control their emotions in an age-appropriate way and handle transitions and changes. Signs of emotional readiness include the ability to show appropriate emotions that fit the situation. For example, do they express gratitude and joy? Or do they seem unnecessarily angry or sad? While some of these signs are linked to developmental milestones, others are connected to your child’s emotions and ability to manage them. Therefore, it’s essential to look at all these aspects when determining your child’s emotional readiness for kindergarten.
Behavior and Self-Care
Kids who are ready for kindergarten have a good understanding of how to take care of themselves. For example, they know how to use the bathroom, dress, and feed themselves. They can behave appropriately in a social setting and know how to solve simple problems and issues.
Every child develops at their own pace, and (for the most part) there is no right or wrong way to go through life. However, if you’re worried about your child and their ability to do these things, don’t be afraid to seek help and advice from your pediatrician, and other experts, so you can give your child the tools they need to succeed in a kindergarten classroom.
Kids who are socially ready for kindergarten can play and work with other kids and are also able to play and work by themselves.
If your child is playing with others, can they take turns, share, and compromise? Or do they always seem to want to do everything their way?
If your child plays with kids who are different from them, do they know how to be respectful and kind? Or do they throw tantrums when they don’t get their way?
These are just some of the many aspects of social skills you should consider when determining if your child is ready for kindergarten.
Fine motor skills are the movements of your hands and fingers, while gross motor skills are the movements of your larger body muscles. It is crucial to ensure your child has the necessary gross and fine skills for kindergarten. You can help them practice and develop those skills if they don’t.
Playdough and putty are great for developing fine motor skills. Your child can have fun squishing, stretching, pinching, and twisting play clay into “snakes” and “worms.” They can even cut the play-dough with scissors.
In addition, younger children can work on gross motor skills, like running and jumping, climbing, balancing, and throwing and catching.
Using a trampoline and playing on a playground can help children improve their gross motor skills. Children must develop strong gross motor, balance, and coordination skills to hop and jump correctly.
Kids who are mentally ready for kindergarten should be able to follow multistep instructions and understand basic math and language concepts.
For example, they should recognize their name and associate some letter sounds with letters, particularly the first letter in their name. While they are most likely unable to write, they should be able to express themselves through drawing, however crudely it may be.
When a child begins kindergarten, they should also have a basic grasp of the concept of numbers and quantities. While arithmetic will be taught, they need some conceptual foundation. Children begin learning math as soon as they start exploring the world. By the end of preschool, children should be able to recognize shapes in the real world, sort items by color, shape, size, or purpose, and compare and contrast using characteristics like height, size, or gender. They should be able to count up to at least 20 by the time they start kindergarten, accurately point to and count items in a group, and understand that numerals stand for number names (5 stands for five), even if they cannot yet attach a value to the numeral.
What if my child isn’t ready?
Children with birthdays late in the school year are often on a bit of a back foot regarding maturity and readiness. This is because classmates born at the beginning of the school year are almost a whole year older than those of them, which can be a considerable gap at that age.
Many parents grapple with the decision to delay starting kindergarten. But it’s not necessarily the answer for kids with challenges such as anxiety, autism, and learning problems. While time will allow children to mature emotionally, developmental and educational delays are usually best treated when children obtain support. The best course of action is to talk to professionals. Speak to your child’s preschool teacher, the potential kindergarten teacher and principal, your pediatrician, and anyone else who you feel can offer valid input.
What to do if your child doesn’t meet these developmental milestones?
If you have doubts about your child’s readiness, speak to their preschool teacher. They will understand where your child is developmentally and know if they are ready to handle the transition. Alternatively, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician can identify and address more specific issues related to delays in development. These include speech disorders, motor skills delays, sleep or eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, learning deficits, autism spectrum disorders, and many others.
If you think your child is nearly there but needs a little support, there are ways to improve their skills before they start kindergarten. Teaching skills at a young age naturally and playfully makes learning behavior, communication, and even academic skills fun for children. This is what ABA therapy and building skills are all about. It uses a child’s natural environment to shape and build the skills that a child with autism needs to participate and interact with peers of the same age.
Starting kindergarten is a significant change for all kids and can be scary and overwhelming. Kids must adjust to a new environment and new rules, and they must learn how to work with other kids. But, if your child is ready for kindergarten, it will be a change for the better. They will learn new things every day and be challenged to improve and grow.
You can find the support you and your child with autism need to ensure they are well equipped for starting kindergarten. Circle Care Services is an ABA Therapy Agency that offers a preschool program that provides early intervention services in a school setting.
The program begins with an assessment by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who will identify what areas your child is struggling with. They then develop a customized program to help your child with social, academic, and behavioral abilities. This can all happen in a classroom setting with other students of the same age.
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