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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

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  I also do in-home presentations for parents in groups of 5-15 people and speak to PTA groups.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen March 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Thank you for all this great information. I am currently trying to navigate the lopsided development of my almost 4 year old. She can read and write sentences, perform simple arithmetic, and talks like a 7 year old…but has no real attention span. She can spend up to an hour working independently, but it’s on her own terms and only when she is very interested in what she is doing (gluing things together is a big hit, as is cutting up my things, and drawing) This makes her particularly unsuited for a classroom setting that would require her to sit and work on something that she might not want to focus on. We might give a private school a whirl in the fall (with a concept analysis type curriculum) which i think she might enjoy, but i’m ready for them to have “issues” and not have her continue in that school. I just have to consider everything as fluid until we figure out if she can adjust to school. If not, i can home school her. Not my first choice. But definitely not my last choice! I know where she gets her impulsive behavior. 🙁

Thanks again for your great blog!


smartypantzed March 7, 2012 at 5:06 am

Thanks for posting, Jen. Kids are never easy, right? Neither is parenting, right? When is her birthday? I always say, “When in doubt, start them late.” You can always speed things up, give more work, etc., but you cannot slow them down. They have their entire lives to be adults.


Jen March 11, 2012 at 12:15 am

In so many ways she is an easy kid. I think the biggest pickle will be her energy level. When she was 3.5 she began attending two mornings a week at a preschool in the same valley were we live. Her preschool teacher consistently comments “she’s still learning to follow directions” But based on the examples she provides me it sounds more like she has a hard time with the pace. She won’t wait to do projects step-wise, she wants to do it asap and then does another one or two without paying attention to what the group is doing. This is what makes me think homeschooling might work well, or in a school that can accommodate different paced learners. She will be driven up a wall in a large group (and act out?). Even at my-gym if someone pauses before they introduce themselves she blurts out their name and says…next!


smartypantzed March 12, 2012 at 2:14 am

I love it. I was one of those kids. Not everyone fits in the box. I think that with you as her mom, she’ll do very well indeed!


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