How to choose the right kindergarten?

It is January, but parents are starting to worry about kindergarten: Which one is the one for my child? Is my child ready? Is s/he too young?  Does s/he need to know how to read? Write? Do mathematics? Is private school worth the money? Is public school good enough? Is the choice of kindergarten going to be a deciding factor in the rest of my child’s life?

Here are some points to think about:

*   Entering formal school is important, but you are still the most important piece of your child’s life. Keep the sense of being connected, allow for a comfortable flow of communication, and be sensitive to your child’s growing personality without imposing your own dreams on him or her. That will build a strong basis for your relationship with your child.
*   The personality of the teacher is more important than the methodology or philosophy of the school. Meet the teacher and ask yourself: Can this teacher love the kind of child my child is? Do not expect her to change him/her to the child you want him or her to be (more cooperative, less wild, more obedient, etc.). You want the teacher to love your child and be ready to work with him or her the way s/he is right now.
*   Some schools expect a 4-year-old to be able to read/write/know-the-numbers. If your child does not have these skills yet – s/he is not a failure. S/he is just not a good match for this school. Find a place where the teacher is ready to TEACH all that. You will find out that all your child needs is curiosity and eagerness to learn.
*   In general, when money is not plentiful, private schools are not a good investment. It is better to save this money for college. With a close eye on the child, a close relationship with teachers and administrastors, I have seen many children get a wonderful education in some of the more difficult neighborhoods.
*   Some competitive parents want their child to start school as early as possible. Being the youngest in the class is never an advantage. This child will have no shot at leadership opportunities in the class. It is better to wait another year and let him or her be the most mature (in addition to being the smartest…) so he or she can take adventage of her or his briliancy. Finishing college at 20 is not an advantage in the market, but not having girls your age all along can have a strong impact on a person… And yes, this kind of challenge is most common with boys.
*   Think about the friends your child will make in school: A neighborhood school might afford the possibility of walking or riding a bike to a friend’s home. Picking a school outside your neighborhood can make social life difficult later.

I know that, along with all the advice a parent will get, there is a sense of a big transition, and even anxiety. Make sure your anxiety is kept to a minimum, or your child will start to worry about the whole thing. Starting school is a celebration, not a focal point for worries. Make it one for your child!

Child development charts

Is my child’s development OK?  When a parent ask this question, the expert will give her a chart. This is what I found on the Mayo Clinic web page, and there are many others out there:
Age 2 Age 3 Age 4 Age 5
Language skills
Links two words together Identifies most common objects Describes the uses of common objects Uses compound and complex sentences
Speaks clearly enough for parents to understand about half the words Says first name and age Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand Says full name and address
Knows some adjectives (big, happy) Uses pronouns (I, you, we, they) and some plurals Uses verbs that end in “ing” and some irregular past tense verbs, such as ran and fell Uses future tense
Speaks about 50 words Answers simple questions Tells simple stories Understands rhyming
Social skills
Becomes aware of his or her identity as a separate individual Imitates parents and playmates Cooperates with playmates Wants to be like friends
May become defiant Takes turns Tries to solve problems Follows rules
Becomes interested in playing with other children Expresses affection openly Becomes interested in new experiences Understands gender
Separation anxiety begins to fade Easily separates from parents Becomes more independent Wants to do things alone
Cognitive skills
Begins to play make-believe Plays make-believe Becomes involved in more complex imaginary play Uses imagination to create stories
Begins to sort objects by shape and color More confidently sorts objects by shape and color Prints some capital letters and names some colors Correctly names at least four colors and counts at least 10 objects
Understands some spatial concepts (in, on) Understands more spatial concepts (over, under) Understands more complex spatial concepts (behind, next to) Distinguishes between fantasy and reality
Scribbles Copies a circle Draws a person with two to four body parts Copies a triangle and other geometric patterns
Finds hidden objects Understands the concept of two Understands the concepts of same and different Understands the concepts of time and sequential order
Physical skills
Walks alone and stands on tiptoe Walks up and down stairs, alternating feet Stands on one foot for at least five seconds Stands on one foot for at least 10 seconds
Climbs on furniture and begins to run Kicks, climbs, runs and pedals tricycle Throws ball overhand, kicks ball forward and catches bounced ball most of the time Hops, swings and somersaults
Builds a tower of four blocks or more Builds a tower of more than six blocks Dresses and undresses May learn to skip, ride a bike and swim
Empties objects from a container Manipulates small objects and turns book pages one at a time Uses scissors Brushes own teeth and cares for other personal needs

Most parents get too anxious to score their child on the chart, and they need some help in the process.

Here are some suggestions:

It’s easy to look at such a chart and become anxious because your child is 3 and not yet taking turns, for example. But the fact is, there is not really a specific age for any stage. This is simply a general guideline. Researchers are more sure about the ORDER of what comes first, but cannot say that any stage should happen at a particular age.

Is the child growing? Just as the weight gain of an infant is a general growth indicator, you can look at others. Do you notice more vocabulary words? More understanding? Does curiosity move the child forward? Your child is growing.

Language is important. In the past, we gave time for language development to manifest itself. Recent research sends parent to speech therapists at a younger age now. There is an important reason: Speech is the key for both social and emotional development. Without language, a child is more vulnerable to frustrations and temper tantrums, and will experience a harder time in moving from solitary play to cooperative play without becoming aggressive.

Language specialists now have many tools to aid a child’s language development, but I recommend that you see the process as facilitating a natural process and not fixing something that is broken. Your child would have picked up the language on his or her own; we just want to protect him or her from the side effects of delays. Your child is FINE!
Do not look for information that causes you to worry–but do not ignore your gut feeling that something is wrong. If you do feel something is wrong–talk to your pediatrician, child-care provider, family member. But above all, trust your child, accept him or her as s/he is, and take delight in every step of development–even it is behind your best friend’s child’s.

Your child’s development is nurtured by you witnessing it. So, go ahead, become your child’s cheerleader!