Should a young child getting ready for school be placed in kindergarten, or a developmental kindergarten program?

It’s a question many parents struggle with, whether their child is a bit young, or just struggling with such tasks as recognizing letters.

The answers are a little easier to come by with the use of a “kindergarten readiness checklist” developed by local educators. The checklist evaluates children on a scale of 1 to 4 in 28 areas and is being used by kindergarten teachers and principals to place their youngest students.

“It measures everything from self-confidence to being persistent in learning to being able to manage emotions,” said Stuart Jones, program director for Head Start of Muskegon/Oceana who spearheaded development of the checklist.

More than 1,400 preschoolers ready to enter kindergarten have been evaluated with the new checklist since May. Results were passed on to building principals and teachers who use them to decide which classrooms to place their incoming kindergartners.

“The checklist I thought was real helpful,” said David Hundt, principal of Whitehall’s Shoreline Elementary School. “It wasn’t developed in a tower somewhere. It was developed by local stakeholders, and that makes it real meaningful.”

Twenty-one local teachers, principals and other educators had a hand in developing the checklist that was used to evaluate children exiting the federal Head Start and state Great Start Early Childhood preschool programs.

It is divided in six general areas: approaches to learning, social-emotional development, physical health and development, language development, early literacy and early math.

Long gone are the days when birth date determined when a child entered kindergarten. Instead, educators consider such skills as a child’s ability to sit still, use scissors and get along with others.

“We see more and more in prekindergarten children are coming to us not emotionally, behaviorally or socially ready for us,” Jones said.

The federal Head Start program is putting increasing emphasis on kindergarten readiness, partly because “today’s kindergarten is yesterday’s first grade,” he said.

“Kindergarten is not what it used to be in our day,” Jones said.

The local Head Start office will use results of the checklists to determine where it needs to focus its programming, he said. Analysis of this year’s results showed a need to work on early math skills and phonetics — the sounds associated with letters.

To give students who lack skills needed for kindergarten an extra year of preparation, many schools have developed prekindergarten programs referred to by a variety of terms, including “young fives” and “developmental kindergarten.”

Hundt’s school is one of them, though he said he tries to limit the number in Shoreline’s young fives program to 36 of approximately 180 kindergartners. That requires screening of all incoming kindergartners, which is done in April by the school’s six kindergarten teachers.

Hundt said he has been collecting information about incoming students from preschool teachers over the past seven years. The new checklist helps streamline that process, which is used to help teachers target their instruction.

When he and teachers aren’t sure if a child needs to be in kindergarten or young fives, Hundt said the child’s development of fine motor skills is the deciding factor.

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Source: Muskegon Chronicle – –