Are They Ready? Evaluating a Child's Preparation for First Grade

by Kayla Yoder

Tracking a child’s age is not difficult, but maturity can be can different matter. How do teachers and parents assess whether a child is ready to thrive in school? Kayla describes the social and academic markers she looks for when evaluating potential first graders.

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The whole being ready emotionally and socially to me is just as big as being ready academically because if a child has a lot of maturing to do socially and emotionally, it will affect their learning academically. It’s hard to know because they do mature a lot. I’ve had children that come through kindergarten and I’m not quite sure how they’re going to manage first grade between March and August. I’m amazed at how much they grow up and how much they mature.

You can’t always assume everything in kindergarten as to how they’re going to be in first grade but it does give you a good window into how they are, what they struggle with. If there are things that they are struggling with in kindergarten, then at the end of kindergarten, that’s a good time for me to talk to the parents and say, “Hey, here are some things that they need to work on or you can work on with them.” If you put the emotional part and social part together, some of it’s just in how they respond to me. I expect them if I ask them a question to be able to respond back to me right away. Even in how they respond to their peers, to be able to respond in a friendly response, if they’re asked a question, do they know how to respond back?

The emotional part, I really watch how tired they get. Some kindergartners can hardly make it through the day. It’s a big change for them. It’s much different than just being at home with mom and being able to play and it’s a totally different atmosphere. It’s very structured and they do have a lot to get used to. How they react to things, even on the playground, if there’s something that didn’t quite go their way, do they sit there and have to cry about it for a while or are they would buck up and take it?

I’ve always been thankful for the ones that have waited. It never hurts them. Depending on how they react to the test or they all can’t handle doing a test like that. That can tell me a little bit. Some children, I don’t know if it’s more of a test anxiety thing or not. I had one a couple of years ago that had done very, very well in kindergarten and came to the test and did not do well. Sometimes coming to school was just a good thing. That can help them a lot. Some have come to kindergarten before, I wonder how are they ever going to manage first grade? It seems like once they come to school—and I’ve had parents talk to me about it before—they see a big change in them at home too after they’ve come to kindergarten. It does grow them up and mature them.

What is first grade like for the student who was held back for emotional or social reasons?

They might be a little bit farther ahead as far as academics. They may be nearly reading or are reading. I have always found that even if they do know how to read, they’ve still never learned the rules to reading. I’ve never really had a big issue with children who already know how to read. Often, parents worry about that and I just tell them, “Don’t worry about it.” Within a couple of months, it will be a challenge. Even a child who knows how to read, they may struggle with math.

If a child is held back from first grade, should he or she take kindergarten again?

Yes. I believe the child that I held back, I think she did come back for kindergarten and the next year as well. It didn’t seem to faze her. I held one student back one year simply because I’d ask a question and didn’t know how to respond back to me but they were very ready academically. Thankfully the parents were very much of holding them back another year and I was amazed at the difference. They came back the next year and they were like a completely different child. A lot of it to me just simply comes down to how ready they are to actually learn.

The child does not really want to learn that much, it’s really hard.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Kayla Yoder

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