“Should this child repeat the Pre-K year before moving on to kindergarten?” It is a question that sometimes is asked by early childhood teachers and other times by parents, particularly when a child’s birthday is near the kindergarten cutoff date for enrollment. In the United States, children are eligible for kindergarten in the public school when they are 5 years old but there is a wide range of entrance eligibility dates within that 5 year old year. If you go to the Education Commission of the United States website, you will see that entrance eligibility dates vary by state and, in some cases, within states when the decision is made by individual districts. The entrance cutoff date where you live is rather random but your child’s readiness is not.
Deciding whether to enroll a child or recommend a child for an additional year of pre-kindergarten is not easy. This decision is should not be taken lightly because it can impact the experience the child will have for the next 12 years. While an early childhood professional may recommend to repeat or not, the parents’ or guardians’ will ultimately have to make the final call. Here are some questions you should consider if facing the repeat-PreK-or-not dilemma:
Socialization Skills: Does the child understand how to take turns and cooperate with peers? Does the child demonstrate an ability to negotiate in social situations?
Self-Help Skills: Has your child demonstrated mastery of basic self-help skills such as independent toileting including manipulation of clothing to do so and the ability to open lunch items to eat independently? Does your child put on a coat independently and show an ability to care for possessions?
Emotional Intelligence: Is your child able to express frustration in ways other than becoming aggressive? Is your child able to communicate with adults about being upset?
Taking Direction: Is your child able to follow directions that include two steps? In a classroom, does your child take direction from the teacher the majority of the time? How often are requests not followed?
Literacy Readiness: Does your child show an interest in the written word (enjoy books, want to attempt to read and write)? Has your child been able to identify some letters out of order that are not letters in his/her name? Is your child able to properly hold a pencil?
Math Readiness: Can your child count approximately 10 items and not only count from memorization? Does your child identify colors and shapes?
Critical Thinking Skills and Curiosity: Does your child demonstrate curiosity by asking questions and exploring? Does your child demonstrate decision making skills?
If you find that some of the answers to the questions above are “No,” there are more questions that you need to consider. This is the advice I give most often to parents/guardians when I know they need to consider another year of PreK:
Think not about today but about 10 years from now...
- In 10 years when your child is 15 years old, do you think your child will have the same level of maturity as the other students in his/her grade?
- If your child is socially less mature now or emotionally less able to cope now, how might that play out over the next 10 years?
- If your child is struggling with alphabet or other more academically based activities now, would an additional year in pre-kindergarten help him/her to be less frustrated as time marches on?
When parents are still unsure, I advise to err on the side of caution. A child can always gain from an extra year honing needed skills. Most early childhood teachers would be happy to supplement if it all suddenly starts to click and a child can master more skills. Preschool classes are, or should be, all about individual development and have plans for teaching individuals rather than a whole group all day long. On the other hand, a child can become very defeated if put in a situation he/she is not yet ready to tackle and many kindergarten classes are simply not staffed to be as individually focused as preschool.
Remember, an extra year of pre-kindergarten is a gift of time for children who need it. It isn’t a failure. In fact, an extra year often prevents failure.
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