I get asked all the time if I have a ready for kindergarten checklist. I don’t. A few days ago I decided I was going to write one, but I couldn’t do it. It didn’t feel right.
I get it. Making sure your child is ready for kindergarten is stressful. Making sure they will thrive in our increasingly high stakes schools, not get bullied, and make it to the bathroom on time every time is enough to worry about but what about the academics? Does she need to know how to add and subtract? Does he need to know all the shapes before going into kindergarten? Little Jane down the street is reading. Should my child be reading too? Where did I put that checklist?
Put away the checklist, at least for a few minutes and hear me out.
There will be days when your child won’t thrive. Maybe weeks.
There will be days when a friend isn’t kind and days when your child isn’t.
There will be days when they struggle with the academics and length of school day.
There may even be days when you get a call from the nurse because your child needs new pants.
But there will also be many days filled with exploration, days filled with independence, and new experiences. Days filled with learning.
We don’t have to make our children’s lives free of all challenges. We don’t have to fix all their problems and erase their struggles. In fact, it’s better if we don’t. Children need to learn how to navigate challenges and are we forgetting that young children are amazing competent people? Like each of us, they bring their talents and weaknesses with them wherever they go.
Starting kindergarten may be a challenge or a cakewalk for your child. Most likely it will be somewhere in the middle. You can check every item off a ready for kindergarten checklist and still have a sad, bored, or overwhelmed kid on your hands come September. You could also have a child who only hit some of those items but is ready to learn and end up thriving , by all means surpassing the child who may be reading but can’t behave in a group larger than 3. Children don’t fit into checklists, especially 4 and 5-year-olds.
Checklists have their place and are great to make sure there are no major developmental delays, use them along with your well-child visits to the pediatrician, to assess your child generally. If there are red flags, by all means, seek out help, if your gut is telling you your child needs help even if they hit all the items on the checklist listen to it and advocate for your child. If you have no idea what a child ready for kindergarten looks like by all means contact your district, and I am sure they will have some sort of handout or checklist for you to read. Read it, but remember that children develop at their own pace and no amount of forcing will hurry some steps up.
My daughter is off to kindergarten in the fall, and I feel the pressure too. She is enrolled in preschool as part of my plan to prepare her for kindergarten, I have advocated for her specific needs, and she has received services for speech therapy. I feel pressure to sit down and drill my daughter with sight words and handwriting practice. I feel pressure to have her reading even though I know children aren’t expected to be. Education is a high-stakes environment right now but it’s your choice to bring those high stakes into your home or not. I choose not to.
I choose to follow my daughter’s interest with the activities I do with her.
I choose to read to her every day even that book over and over and over again because it’s the one she picked.
I choose to encourage her to do it herself. Even when I could do it faster, more accurately, and with way less mess.
I choose to expose her to new experiences that spark her imagination and curiosity.
I choose to listen when she speaks so she knows she is listened to and will speak up.
I choose to help her problem solve and not fix every challenge right away.
I choose to buy her shoes without laces, at least for now.