What does READY for Kindergarten really mean?

Yesterday I volunteered at Kindergarten Registration at my daughter’s elementary school.

As I sat there watching the children march from station to station (either proudly or with nudging) with their parents behind them, I had a rush of mixed emotions. I was excited for the journey they are all ready to start at such an incredible place to learn. I couldn’t help myself from sharing, “Do you know you are going to come to the BEST SCHOOL EVER!? Waves of nostalgia passed over me as I remember exactly what my oldest wore to her Kindergarten Registration and how she went from station to station collecting documents and shaking hands like a 5 year old executive. Small pains of sadness and emotional gratefulness were in the mix too – my youngest will leave that incredible nest in a few months. Where has the time gone? I am going to have a child in middle school next year. Virtual hugs accepted.


A child’s (and a parent’s) first step into an elementary school is a big deal. I know it and I felt it for those parents yesterday. That first impression plays a large role in a parent’s impression and expectations for their child’s school experience. And we all know that our expectations as parents play a large role in our child’s expectations for themselves.

I have to say that our elementary school does a really great job of this. Friendly smiles. Calm voices. Squatting down to greet kids eye to eye. Fun and festive decorations. These professionals got it going on! But this does not surprise me. They do an incredible job day in and day out so it is natural to share their gifts with families on their first special day.

As a pediatric Physical Therapist, I have a genuine interest in development, and through our work with Milestones & Miracles, I’ve become specifically interested and fascinated with the benefits of developmentally appropriate learning through play or hands on/multi-sensory activities with a purpose.  Lacy & I are so passionate about this that we developed a lecture to support schools with the good work they are already doing, with ideas to feed a student’s nervous system with the movement and activities they need to learn.

At the table next to me, was our school’s reading specialist. She is young, fun, and good at what she does. The little girls idolize her and the boys have big time crushes on her. She’s an elementary rock star. She was handing out a booklet yesterday to help parents prepare their children for Kindergarten. It quickly caught my eye because I remembered it. And when I remembered it, I also remembered my feelings absolute panic….WHAAAT? She has to do this BEFORE KINDERGARTEN? She’s not ready? Maybe I should wait a year? Will she ever succeed?

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When it was our turn to step into that school, I’ll admit this list clearly stressed me out. The self imposed challenge of teaching my child all of this information by September overwhelmed me and to be honest I didn’t want to spend our last summer before school stated drilling her to learn to write her name. To my knowledge she wasn’t doing most of these things at 4. She had gone to a play based preschool and we didn’t do worksheets or flashcards at home. (Side note: After she started school a few months later, her new teacher proudly shared she actually DID know/could do these things….shocking my husband and I…and starting the precious trend she has for refusing to learn most things we try to overtly teach her).

In solidarity with those parents coming to collect the list and learning sheets, I had a wonderful conversation with the reading teacher. It went a lot like many of the valued conversations I’ve had with my children’s teachers over the years…teachers know concepts they must share are often presented too early or in a format they don’t feel confident with…but the national trend for education and policy making is what it is. I shared that brain research tells us that children’s brains are often not ready/wired to read until closer to 7 years of age. She confirmed that she sees this often with students she work with. I shared as a parent of a first time student, that list made me nervous.  We both agreed our shared thoughts that expecting them to do things their brain isn’t ready for isn’t exactly fair (please note I am in no way saying a Kindergarten student should not learn, be challenged, be introduced to literature concepts etc. Just that there is a need to recognize ALL kids are biologically ready for site words the instant they turn 5).

The packet also included some great and relevant follow up information that expanded on the list..including helpful and reassuring information that these things did not have to be mastered by the first day of school (I don’t remember this part of the list when I received it?! So glad it was added).

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But in addition to those tips, I think it’s important to share with parents that PLAY BASED learning is still developmentally appropriate for 4 & 5 year olds….and beyond that, it is this type of learning that makes those essential concepts, imperative building blocks for advanced learned, concrete and real and strong. Without fully understanding these early learning concepts, our children don’t have a sturdy foundation. And yes some students prefer pencil and paper (even at 4 years old), but we know that the more senses (including movement) we involve with learning, the more our children will learn.

Experiencing is learning.

Purposeful Play IS learning.

Just because he/she doesn’t come home with a worksheet doesn’t mean learning didn’t occur.

Because we are so passionate about this for children and their parents, and because we have been so fortunate to have a unique and strong relationship in partnering with my daughter’s elementary school, I felt comfortable creating a short resource that could be shared to back up these principles.

And because I’m sharing it with that rock star teacher today, I thought why not share with you?

If you are a teacher, parent, therapist or just anyone interested in the topic feel free to share this document with anyone who might benefit. You have our permission to print it. You can find it by clicking the PDF link at the end of this essay. We only ask that you respect our time in creating it and cite us as the source. It is short and sweet but provides practical suggestions for developmentally play based in context learning for those getting ready for Kindergarten.

We can all work together to make change by advocating for developmentally appropriate learning and advocating for play as an essential need for all children.

Is he/she ready for Kindergarten is a question we will all ask ourselves as parents. We believe that defining what “ready” really means makes it a much easier question to answer. We hope this list helps you do just that.

Kindergaten Here I Come – Ideas To Learn PDF


Have an infant or toddler? Want to support them with purposeful play – check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me! 

The Question Most ALL Parents Have Had to Answer




It’s a well-intentioned question, rhetorical in a sense because most, if not all, people are expecting you to respond, “Yes!” But what if you answered, “No”? Well, I have and I can tell you it’s not what people expect you to say!


My son begins kindergarten in a short 6 weeks. This spring as he finished up preschool several acquaintances asked me the above question. If I didn’t have much time to answer or felt they were just asking to be polite, not really interested in my response, I gave them what they wanted to hear, “Yes, I think he’s ready.” For those that asked with genuine concern in their voice, I answered honestly by saying, “I’m not sure.” Their puzzled expressions begged me to explain myself.


Why am I not sure? It’s not that he doesn’t appear prepared or that I don’t think he will be successful. It’s just that I’m not sure he’s “ready” per the kindergarten readiness checklist of most people. Does he know all his letters and their sounds? I don’t know. Is he able to write his first and last names, count to 30 and recognize some sight words? I don’t know. Can he sit for extended periods of times, undistracted enough to complete a structured, academic activity? I don’t know.


My son attended 3 preschools between the ages of 2 and 5. The first was very academically structured, the second very traditional and the last (and my most favorite, read why here) teaches children how to think, not what to think. Upon his graduation from preschool, he has matured in ways I didn’t think possible a year ago. I consider his growth and maturation over the past three years as preparedness for kindergarten but by most school systems standards that’s not what constitutes a child being “ready”.


I had a very short but impactful conversation with Lisa Murphy, The Ooey Gooey Lady, about my son entering kindergarten. I explained to her I didn’t think he was ready because he couldn’t do X, Y and Z. She looked at me and said, “Well, he shouldn’t. He’s only 4.” She went on to explain that sometimes we just have to trust the natural trajectory of development. Instead of pushing unrealistic expectations on preschoolers, expecting them to perform, act, think and behave like kindergarteners let’s expect of them what’s developmentally appropriate for their age. And trust that when the time is right, when they are developmentally ready, then they will be where they need to be…not too soon, not too late, but just on time.


I had that conversation with Lisa in February of 2013. O turned 5 that spring and my husband and I decided we would wait a year on kindergarten and give him one more year of preschool. That decision was quite possibly the best decision we have made for him (aside from our decision to go FEINGOLD)! But I was careful in my decision. Because of my work and research on play and developmentally appropriate age expectations, I didn’t want to send him to preschool 5 mornings a week so that he could get “ready” for kindergarten. He continued attending only 3 mornings a week. After all, if I was giving him another year at home, I didn’t want it to be boot camp for kindergarten; I wanted him to enjoy it and I wanted to enjoy more time with him! And we had a wonderful year! He happily attended school, loved being there, learning and exploring. He also enjoyed his down time at home just playing, just being a 5 year old. I’m so thankful I was able to give that to him.


So when people really want me to answer their question, when they have a minute to spare and appear genuinely interested in my answer, I tell them I’m not sure he’s ready by most other people’s standards, but I know he’s going to be okay and figure it out. I trust that when the time comes, when he hops on that bus and waves bye to me, I will be smiling trusting my decisions and the miracle of development that is him. He will be okay and when he needs me, I’ll be here to catch, encourage and support him like I always have been. It’s just another time in his life when he’s going to have to use his SUPERPOWERS to succeed without me.


So if you see me and ask me that age-old question, “Is he ready for kindergarten?” Just be prepared to hear my answer… and it may take a while! J