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Dear Teacher

Kindergarten readiness + class size + combined kindergarten/first grade

August 2012

Ways to Determine if Your Child Is truly Ready for Kindergarten

Question: What recommendations do you have for parents who are unsure if their children are ready for kindergarten?

Answer: Determining whether a child is ready for kindergarten is a rather inexact science. There is a lot of talk about holding back children, especially boys, who have a summer birthday. This is so popular in some communities that as high as 60 percent of all summer birthday boys are held back. On the other hand, the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that all children start school when they are age eligible to do so. The organization believes that it is the duty of the school to take children no matter what their readiness level is and provide them with an appropriate education.

On the other hand, others think that it is a great mistake to place any summer birthday child in kindergarten, especially since kindergarten in so many school districts is more like first grade used to be. Research does indicate that there is some disadvantage academically for some younger children – not all.

Another way to look at readiness for kindergarten is to use a checklist. Most school districts will have a checklist listing the skills that are expected of children entering kindergarten. Parents definitely should look at these now. Even if your child is not ready now according to a checklist, he or she may be ready by August, as young children change so fast. So be sure to check again for readiness, if necessary.

You will also get a good idea of your child's readiness for kindergarten by talking to his or her preschool teacher and asking about your child's readiness level. This is an informed opinion that you need. Finally, go visit the preschool classroom. Notice how your child is handling the experience, socially, emotionally and academically compared to the other students. It will give you a good idea of how well the child would handle kindergarten.

When it comes down to making the decision about enrolling your child in kindergarten, remember that you are the one who best knows your child. Factor in the child's age, checklist results and pre-school experience in making this decision.

How Important Is Class Size?

Question: Is it worth putting your child in a private elementary school so that the class sizes are smaller? Does it really make a difference? My son's third-grade class in our public school will have 30 students next year.

Answer: Before moving your child to a private school, do check out that there is a significant difference in the size of the class he will be in between the public and private schools. You do need to be aware that there is no single magical number below which class size suddenly produces a beneficial effect. However, it is fairly clear that class size must get somewhere below 20 in order to make a real difference.

In recent years, several states have reduced class size, especially in the primary grades. It has been shown that if young children in kindergarten through third grade can be in classes ranging in size from 15 to no more than 20, there is definitely more growth in their reading levels compared to students in the same grades who have 25 or more in their classes. Additional studies also found that this holds true up through eighth grade when class sizes are smaller.

Keep in mind that reducing class size changes the classroom environment. The classroom atmosphere is usually friendlier. Students have more opportunity to speak in class. There are fewer students to distract each other. The noise level in the classroom is lower. Plus, each student is able to receive a larger portion of the teacher's instructional time.

Teachers like teaching smaller classes. They enjoy an increased flexibility in using different instructional approaches and assignments. And they can devote a larger amount of time to working with each of their student's parents.

Looking at a Combined Kindergarten/First Grade

Question: My daughter will be entering kindergarten at a school where the kindergarten is combined with a first-grade class. She will have the same teacher for two years. Do you think that this is a good idea, or should I look for another school?

Answer: Switching schools requires adjustments. It would be best for your child to stay in the same elementary school, whether it is one with the combined class or another school. Consider this in making your decision.

Children usually achieve about the same in single-grade and combined classes. In either class, the quality of your child's experience depends largely on the expertise of the teacher. There are some advantages to combined classes: both your child and the teacher will get to know each other well, so no time will be needed for this adjustment at the start of first grade. The child will have the experience of older role models in her same classroom, as well as the opportunity to be a role model herself when she is a first-grader.

Disadvantages of combined classes may include two years with a poor teacher and too much time being spent on seatwork while the other class is receiving instruction. Most teachers of combined classes avoid this by teaching many of the subjects to both classes at the same time.

Tags: Education

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