Monthly Archives: March 2012

It’s the Age AND the Stage…Developmental Readiness for Kindergarten (part 2)


Welcome to part 2 of my commentary and suggestions regarding Kindergarten Readiness.  You can read the first installment in my blog from yesterday.

It is typical for a child to be developmentally ahead or behind his chronological age by up to 9 months without cause for concern.  Just as with sitting up, crawling, walking, reading, etc. children development at different rates and will show strengths and weaknesses in different areas as well.  It is rare for a child to present with the same proficiency in all areas of development at the same time.  Below are some developmental milestones by age group (provided by http://www.gesellinstitute.org).

Developmental Milestones by Age Group

Three is a common age for many children to begin pre-school.  This post focuses on children beginning at age 3 through age 7 so that you can see the arc of development your child will or is making between pre-school and roughly second grade.  Being able to evaluate a child’s developmental age and stage can help parents make better informed decisions about when their child is ready to begin school.

Age 3

Receptive/Expressive Language  (receptive language is what your child hears and takes in.  Expressive language is what he produces after processing what he has heard).

  • Understands “Who?”  “What?” and “Where?” questions.
  • Sentences are becoming more complex and the child can combine more than four words at a time.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Cooperative and tranquil.
  • May develop fears and phobias (of the dark, being alone, etc.).
  • Loves to engage in fantasy and may even develop a fantasy friend.
  • Develops empathy and a sense of humor.
  • Displays a vivid imagination and may engage in imaginative play.
  • May tease other children.

Age 4

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Understands “Who?”  “What?” and “Where?” questions.
  • Enjoys being read to/hearing a range of stories and can answer questions about them.
  • Can construct long and detailed sentences (often run-on sentences with loads of detail and fantasy/tall tales).
  • Can tell a long and involved story while sticking with the same topic and while using “adult-like” language.
  • Can communicate easily with familiar adults and with other children.
  • Will sometimes use “bathroom” words or swears words.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Can only sit still for brief periods of time.
  • Enjoys physical activity- running, jumping and climbing
  • Loves working with friends, but may still engage in parallel play.
  • Learns best through exploration.
  • Learns more through large motor than small motor activities.
  • Enjoys music, rhymes, rhythm and patterns.
  • Loves to be given “jobs” or responsibilities.

Age 5

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Thinks out loud.
  • Acts out stories and fantasies as opposed to explaining them.
  • Often does not communicate about school at home.
  • Is very literal.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Likes to copy things- letters, words, and pictures.
  • Can sit for longer periods of time and concentrate on tasks.
  • Learns best through play and action.
  • Thinks in literal terms.  Many times there is only “one” right answer.
  • Depends on authority to give cues for behavior.

Age 6

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Likes to explain things.
  • Loves jokes and guessing games.
  • Uses boisterous and enthusiastic language.
  • Often complains.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Loves to be first.
  • Can sometimes be a “poor sport” and can be dishonest or invent own rules.
  • Loves to ask questions.
  • Likes new games.
  • Learns best through discovery.
  • Begins to understand the concept of time (past/present).
  • Tries to accomplish more than is possible (biting off more than one can chew)
  • Friends become very important.
  • Can be bossy, critical of others and can tease others.
  • School becomes a large environmental influence.

Age 7

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Is a good listener.
  • Likes one-to-one conversation.
  • Is interested in the meaning of words.
  • Vocabulary level is expanding rapidly.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Often possesses strong likes/dislikes.
  • Can turn inward and become moody, shy or reach out for greater security.
  • Keeps a neater room or workspace.
  • Relies on the teacher for help.
  • Likes to discover how things work; likes to take things apart.
  • Needs constant reinforcement.
  • May often state that, “No one likes me.”
  • Likes to work slowly and independently.
  • Likes to repeat tasks.
  • Likes board games and manipulatives.

Be mindful that a child’s development can be encouraged, but it cannot be rushed.  Just as with walking and talking, children engage in certain behaviors when they are developmentally ready to do so.  The following activities will provide you with strategies to help your child navigate new developmental challenges.

Activities geared toward improving a child’s vocabulary, awareness of the world and overall intellectual skills.

  • Social
    • Join a playgroup or host some play dates for your child.
    • Encourage positive behaviors such as sharing, allowing a guest to have first pick of an activity and practicing conversation skills.
    • Promote good manners and a healthy respect for authority.
    • Probe him with open-ended questions such as, “Why do birds fly?” or “Why do we live in a house?”  Questions that will require your child to think of his own answer.
    • Engage in “show and tell” activities.  Not only have your child share, but share something with him too.  By listening and then asking you questions, he will learn to listen attentively, take in information and learn to form questions from verbal information.
  • Emotional
    • Help your child become more self-aware.  How do his actions affect other people?
    • Prepare your child for time away from you and for transitions.
    • Share your frustrations (minor ones like forgetting your keys) with your child and explain how you deal with certain emotions (fear, loss, anger, sadness).  Sharing these experiences will send your child the message that you aren’t perfect either and that you are open to him sharing his personal emotions with you.  Your child will also takes cues from you regarding how to react when life throws him curve balls.
  • Academic
    • Teach concepts informally by counting together in the car or singing the alphabet song together.
    • When unloading groceries, ask him to put the cans in order by size or put them in groupings by color.
    • Ask him to tell you what’s the “same” or “different” about two leaves or pieces of fruit.  Who is sitting in the front, middle or back of a car?  Include concepts such as bigger/smaller,
      • Asking your child questions that challenge him to “think outside the box” and come up with his own answers (not just 2 + 2 = 4) will help him graduate to a level of higher thinking.
    • Ask him to describe the differences between characters on a TV show or in a book.
    • Have your child re-tell stories or make them up from viewing picture books.
    • Encourage your child to play with objects to learn basic concepts:  first/last, front/behind, up/down, same/different, close/far and other comparisons.
    • Allow your child to complete his own sentences, even if the answer is incorrect.  Help him develop his own voice and opinion.
  • Physical
    • Activities geared toward strengthening a child’s small and large motor skills.
      Small Muscle

      • Bead Stringing- in any order, by color, by shape, in a pattern, etc.
      • Cutting
      • Begin by cutting on short, straight lines and then progress to curved lines and then onto shapes.
      • Begin with thicker paper or brown paper shopping bags.  This helps with stability.
      • Playing with Clay/Play dough
      • Coloring
      • Easel Painting

      Large Motor

    • Easel Painting
    • Running
    • Jumping
    • Skipping
    • Galloping
    • Throwing
    • Ball Bouncing
    • Tag, Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light
    • Playing with Blocks or other Manipulatives
    • Sorting
    • Repeating an object built for them by memory
    • Monkey Bars- working on the bars or practicing climbing on a play structure can help develop upper arm muscles and general agility.
    • Balance Beam- a fun gymnastics class is a great way for children to hone their large motor skills.  Walking, skipping and jumping on a low (usually about 6 in. off the ground) beam can help with balance and coordination.
    • Tether Ball- aside from the fact that it’s just plain fun, engaging in tether ball or kick ball can help your child alleviate stress while developing his large motor skills.

Teacher Talk

Remember that when it comes to art projects, it is important to focus on process vs. product.  Resist the urge to make your child create something specific or to direct him too much.  Ask your child to describe his handiwork when he’s finished.  Do not try to label what it is or comment negatively if he decides to paint the sky purple.  Allow your child to create his own meaning for the project.  This promotes creativity and an imaginative mind.

Mom Thought

As a former Kindergarten teacher, school administrator and as the mother of a Kindergarten student, I am pretty familiar with the concept of developmental readiness.  That being said, I still ask the same questions as other parents.  “Will my daughter be able to keep up with her peers?”  “Did I pick the right Kindergarten environment for her?”  “Am I doing enough at home to help my son acquire the skills he needs to do well in school?”  It’s okay to have questions, and it’s okay to ask for help.

Be open to the advice, wisdom and guidance of those who also know and love your child.  However, always keep in mind that you are your child’s primary educator, and no one can take that gift away from you.  It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game and sucked into the “my child is doing this or that” trap.  Rise above the fray and remember that your child is a beautiful, unique and exceptional young person.  Make decisions with his best interest in mind.  Supporting his individual growth and development is a tremendous gift you can give him as you steer him toward adulthood.

Questions for the Teacher

How do I know if my child is ready for Kindergarten?

This is a difficult question to answer for a few reasons.  To begin, there is still inconsistency among states regarding the appropriate cut-off age for entrance into Kindergarten.  While the majority of states have a cut-off date (the child must be five on or before this date) around September 1, there are still many that have cut-off dates as late as December 3.  This can send mixed messages to parents regarding when the appropriate time is for their child to begin his formal school career.  Couple this with more children attending pre-school and pre-k programs that expose them to academic information formerly unavailable to young children, and there is bound to be confusion.

My recommendation is to set up a conference with your child’s pre-school/pre-k teacher.  She will be able to walk you through where your child falls on the spectrum of milestones and should be able to make a confident recommendation.    This being said, and if your child does not attend a formal school program, the following list should provide you with solid guidelines by which to evaluate your child’s school readiness level.  And while it isn’t an exhaustive list of everything a child should or could know for school, it will allow you to make an informed decision about school placement.

  • Can your child…
    • Be away from you for up to a few hours?
    • Express his ideas to adults other than you?
    • Name most of the parts of his body?
    • Take care of his personal belongings?
    • Work independently without constant adult attention?
    • Make simple decisions if given a few choices?
    • Listen to and follow directions?
    • Retell familiar stories, rhymes or songs?
    • Find ways to independently resolve conflicts with his peers?
    • Draw simple recognizable figures?
    • Use a pencil or crayon with a comfortable, controlled grip?
    • Join a group of children listening to a story?
    • Listen to a story without interrupting?
    • Repeat a series of four numbers without practice?
    • Identify the primary colors?
    • Talk in sentences of up to five or six words?
    • Sort objects by color, size and/or shape?
    • Share with others?

My further recommendation would be that your spouse and you answer the above questions separately in order to gain a greater understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  This is also something you can give to a nanny or daycare provider.  Although you are your child’s primary educator, those who interact with him will have valuable information and observations to share with you.

We’re getting ready to tour some local public and private elementary schools.  What are the signs of a strong Kindergarten program?

First and foremost, you need to decide if you are looking for an academically inclined Kindergarten or a developmentally inclined Kindergarten program.  The former focuses more on a child’s academic advancement, while the latter places the focus on a child’s social/emotional development.  Both are important, and I believe there should be a healthy balance between the two focus areas.  Something else to consider is the school’s expectation for skill mastery- socially, emotionally, physically and academically.  Make sure your goals and expectations line up with those of the school.  With all this in mind, here are some signs of a strong K program:

  • The children are focused and not aimlessly milling about the classroom.  Kinder students are full of energy, enthusiasm and curiosity.  Strong programs build on these strengths by providing students with a variety of free and directed activities.
  • Children are exposed to a variety of activities throughout the day (picture books, block building, painting, dramatic play, to name a few).
  • Teachers work with groups of varying sizes- one on one, small group and whole class instruction are all important to a child’s development.
  • The classroom is light, bright, filled with color and is decorated with student artwork, dictated stories and other educational items such as number cards and the letters of the alphabet.
  • Children learn formal subject areas through exploration, instruction and informal methods.  For example, the teacher may use the calendar to teach counting, number groupings and number recognition.  For the kids, however, it’s just plain fun!
  • Children are given time to play and explore.  They are not sitting at a desk all day.
  • Teachers read books throughout the day and persistently expose children to reading material.
  • My personal favorite is that daily lessons are planned around common themes- transportation, occupations, weather, the five senses, etc.  Again, the emphasis should be on environmental knowledge and teaching concepts through everyday activities.
  • The curriculum addresses the individual developmental ages of all students.  All children will not read at the same time.  The teacher should address varying progressive levels through activities and instruction.
  • Students look forward to school and parents are actively encouraged to be a part of their child’s learning/classroom experience.

Mom/Teacher Wisdom

Focus on the program and not the teacher.  Students are not always assigned to their favorite teacher and many schools do not take requests for class changes.

Moving On

Whew!  That was a lot to take in….I know.  However, armed with the right information, you can make better informed decisions regarding your child’s academic, social and emotional future.  If you have additional questions or would like to set up a counseling session via phone or in person, contact me at melissa@theanswerkeys.com.  I also do in-home presentations for parents in groups of 5-15 people and speak to PTA groups.

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It’s the Age AND the Stage…Developmental Readiness for Kindergarten


The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.

-Denis Waitley

Putting Child Development in Perspective…

As the inexperienced mom of a six month old, I was thrilled when my sister-in-law, Shannon, invited me to join my first playgroup.   The boys and girls ranged in age from about six to eighteen months, and in kid years, that’s a pretty big spread!  Spending time with children of this age range allowed me to witness a wide span of behaviors and competencies.

It was easy to observe that children do not develop, grow or mature at the same rate.  There were children in the group who walked as early as nine months and others, my daughter included, who did not walk until close to fourteen months.  By eighteen months, however, every child in the group was off and running.  Because of my background in education, I wasn’t too anxious when McKenna Kate took her time to learn to walk.  She is a very deliberate child, one who closely observes and evaluates her surroundings.  I can never get away with grabbing an extra cookie or skipping a page of her favorite book when she is watching!  I believe she was just taking her own sweet time to walk.  Even with teaching and administrative experience, however, I can relate to any parent’s pang of concern when their child does not hit a specific developmental milestone at the same time as his siblings or other children.

Now that I have two children, I have been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow and develop at their own pace.  Coincidentally, Mac walked at almost the same age as McKenna Kate.  However, he developed a desire to be read to at age two, much earlier than she did.  In fact, McKenna Kate did not enjoy being read to, nor did she exhibit the desire to write her name until she was close to four.  In a nutshell, children travel through a myriad of ages & stages as they grow and mature.  It’s a gift that no two children are exactly alike when it comes to their development, not even twins.  It’s their way of saying, “Look out world, I’m my own person!”

The History of Kindergarten

German philosopher and teacher, Friedrich Froebel, originally conceived Kindergarten in the 1800s.  The direct translation from German to English is “children’s garden.”  He saw it as, literally, a place to fill with plants and flowers and nurture children’s curiosity.  It was not meant to be a functional classroom.  My, how times have changed!  And, with many children beginning their formal school experience at an even younger age, our societal expectations of what a child should grasp have increased drastically.  Last time I checked, however, the human brain was quite the same.

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age.  What???

Children actually possess two ages- one chronological and one developmental.  A child’s chronological age is easy to determine…just check the calendar for his birthday!  Determining a child’s developmental age?  Well, that is much more complex.

A child’s developmental age can be determined by evaluating several areas of development- academic, social, emotional and physical.  Children enter and exit different stages of development approximately every six months from birth-six and then about every year from age six until they reach adult maturity.  This may explain why your extremely cooperative 4 year old begins to defy and mystify you with his knack for answering “NO!” to everything you ask of him when he hits 4 ½.

Assessing each of the four areas is a reliable method teachers and administrators use to determine a child’s developmental age and whether or not he is ready for school.  Combining the developmental age of a child in each of these areas allows educators to come up with an average age at which the child is functioning as a “whole person.”

To illustrate, a 5 year old child may possess a developmental age of 5 for social, 5 ½ for emotional, 4 ½ for academic and 5 ½ for physical.  Looking at it in simple terms, this child’s developmental age is roughly 5 years of age.  In other words, the child is functioning as a “whole person” at a 5 year old expectation level.  I understand that it may be a bit confusing, but parents need to understand that while their child may exhibit a strength in one area, he may lag a bit behind in another area.  That is typical, as most children do not exhibit the same developmental age in all areas at any one time. Remember, children are individuals and will follow their own timeline.  This is why it is paramount that teachers and parents work together to give children well-rounded opportunities for development.  This is also why it is never good for a school program to focus on any less than all four areas of the developmental sphere.

A Little About the Importance of  Early Childhood Education

It is important for parents to understand how children advance from one developmental stage to the next.  Lev Vygotsky, a foremost expert in the field of psychology and child development, purports that people move through the stages of development by scaffolding, or building upon information previously learned through personal experience and formal/informal instruction.

In order for children to be able to apply previously learned information to new encounters, they must first take in said information through a host of different experiences.  For example, children learn what a farm is through the following avenues:

  • having a teacher or parent read to them about farms,
  • learning about the animals that live on a farm,
  • becoming familiar with the items one might find on a farm (tractor, barn, crops),
  • by looking at photos of these items,
  • by watching “Charlotte’s Web” or another movie that takes place on a farm,
  • by visiting a farm, and
  • by milking a cow and smelling the scent of hay.

It’s nearly impossible to teach a student what a farm is by simply explaining it to him without pictures, props, books, vocabulary and, above all, personal experience.  Strong teachers are well versed in what is considered age appropriate for all aspects of student development and are trained to provide students with opportunities and experiences that support the current developmental stage that child is in at the time.  Teachers also present new, more advanced material to encourage students to move to the next developmental stage.Parents can also work with their child at home to prepare him for a successful school experience at any age and stage.

Stay Tuned…

In my blog post tomorrow, I will continue this discussion by presenting a list of developmental milestones by age group.  This list, while not exhaustive of all behaviors for each age, can give parents a solid snapshot of what their child may experience at a particular developmental age.  I will also go into more detail regarding how parents can work with their child’s teacher to make a strong assessment regarding their child’s readiness level for Kindergarten.

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