Transitional Kindergarten … Or Not?

It’s school enrollment season, and one of the toughest decisions you’ll make as a parent is when to start your child’s academic career.  Should you register for Transitional Kindergarten, or let your child grow with another year of preschool?

It seems easy enough to answer, but it’s not!  Kidsguide talked with Dinuka Ranasinghe, owner of Kid Works Children’s Center in Long Beach, for her expert advice.

Q. First off, what exactly is Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?

Kindergarten enrollment is based on age.  In the past, in California, it was age 5 by December 2, but it recently changed to be in line with all the other states: age 5 by September 1.

Good idea, but this left a gap of children born between September and December who could have gone to Kindergarten before, but now could not.  Where would those children go?

Governor Schwarzenegger signed The Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB 1381) in 2010 to establish a Transitional Kindergarten program at California’s public schools for five-year-olds born between September 1 and December 1.

Q. Is Transitional Kindergarten mandatory?

No, parents are in control of this decision.  Children don’t legally have to register for school until they’re six years old.

(Find a Q&A on California’s Transitional Kindergarten enrollment here.)

But remember that once your child has entered the school system, you will find you have lost control of who their 1st grade or 2nd grade teacher will be, and a sense of acceptance has to be experienced, whether personalities are compatible or not.

Now is when you can do your research and start your child off on the right foot, either by choosing a great preschool or shopping for a Transitional Kindergarten program.

Q. How can we judge if a child is ready for Transitional Kindergarten?

Through experience I can tell you that the more mature a child, which happens with time, the more capable he or she is of controlling emotions, understanding concepts, having stronger fine motor skills, etc.  Each child is different, however, and looking at each child, especially siblings, is crucial.

For example, my older son was and is an “old soul” and was age-ready for Kindergarten as well as socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically ready.

If your child is already interested in writing, reading and has a strong emotional and social knowledge and maturity, and sustenance to follow directions, then a Transitional Kindergarten program might be a good choice.

My second child, on the other hand, is age-ready and intellectually ready but could benefit from an additional year of maturing socially and emotionally.  For his sake, and for his success, I know an extra year in preschool will benefit him.

Q. What happens if we start kids too early?

Succeeding in school takes intellectual capacity but also social and emotional capacity. These areas are co-dependent.  We see children with BIG stress because of a lack of maturity. (Kids who aren’t ready) may start show signs of frustration more easily, give up on tasks because they are “too hard,” or not try at all, feeling a sense of failure.  They are not aware of the reasons they are feeling this way.  They simply start misbehaving.  Children could be labeled as having “bad behavior,” when in reality they are behaving as their age, stress levels or developmental age would expect them to.

Q. But isn’t it better to start academics at an early age?

Learning academics will come when children are ready.  If you expect a 12-month-old baby to learn the alphabet, it could take months or even years for him to learn it. But if you teach a 6-year-old the alphabet, they may learn it in a day! The point is that we must evaluate the expectations we set on our children.  Can they grow taller because we want them to?  No!  The same holds true with academics.

And play time is important. Here’s a quote from Mr. Rogers: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning,” he said, “but for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Q. Will kids feel behind when every other Kindergartner is able to read and write?

I faced this challenge when my oldest child started Kindergarten.  I did feel disheartened when he couldn’t write his last name. (The poor guy was born with one of the longest last names!) But not by the fact that he couldn’t do it, but that he was expected to — not by his teachers or peers, but by society and other parents who had pushed their children.

The peer pressure is stressful, and I understand how parents can easily feel a sense of failure.  Luckily, my beliefs, education, research and confidence in the value and importance of play were strong.  I knew that having other skills would far outweigh his ability to write his last name upon entering Kindergarten. He had a joy for learning and was enthusiastic for new knowledge.  This, I knew, would sustain his academic career.

Q. If our kids are ready, how should we choose a Transitional Kindergarten?

Some TK programs and teachers are fully aware of the benefits of play for TK children, and they base their curriculum on that. Check mark for these programs! These are the programs you should be looking for.

But I would avoid programs that offer similar or the same curriculum as the Kindergarten program, or expect children to do things they aren’t developmentally ready to do.  It would be the same as putting your child through Kindergarten twice!

Ask what methods TK programs use to prepare their children for success. What are the hours of a daily schedule? How much playtime do they get within a school session? What is the curriculum? Who is the teacher and what is their background and experience?

Once you do your research, you will feel content knowing that the choice you made on behalf of your child is a calculated and educated one.

After all, they deserve that!

Dinuka Ranasinghe owns and operates Kid Works Children’s Center, offering Preschool, Pre-Kindergarten and an Enrichment Pre-Kinder Program that introduce kids ages 3-5 to language and literature, pre-math, science and discovery, language arts, cognitive skills and music and movement. Kid Works’ spacious playground includes an edible garden full of carrots, sugar snap peas and strawberries.

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This post was written by Liz Davis

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