Registering For Kindergarten: What Parents Need To Know

 

Various factors may play a role in determining when a child starts kindergarten. For example, most independent schools have birthday cut-off dates in August or September, meaning that children must turn the required age by that date in order to enroll. Public school districts have cut-off dates, though they typically range from August through December depending on the state.

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Few experiences will test parents like enrolling in kindergarten. Many find it hard to let go as their young child leaves their arms and goes into school for the first time, no longer a toddler but officially a student.

“I try never to forget that starting kindergarten is an enormous milestone in your child’s life. It ranks up there with your child falling in love for the first time, their wedding day, even the day of their birth!” said Jessica, a beloved kindergarten teacher of more than 20 years. She makes a point of calling every parent after the first day of school to tell them how things went.

Getting Started

Of the three million U.S. children bound for kindergarten next year, more than half will go to full-day kindergarten programs, while others will attend shorter, half-day programs that were once the norm. Either way, registering comes first, and takes place well before the first day of school; in fact, parents should consider getting a kindergarten plan in place when their child is about two years old.

There are a couple of reasons to look so far ahead. First, young families often move when their children are toddlers in order to enroll them in particular schools. Also, preschools frequently feed into specific elementary schools, so beginning at this stage can be the easiest way to get a child enrolled in his or her top choice school.

Private School Registration

For parents who choose to send their kindergartener to a typical private school, registration is often a component of the application process. School visits and tours tend to happen in the fall before the kindergarten year, and applications and accompanying deposits are made in the winter (or sometimes earlier depending on the school).

In competitive school districts, such as San Francisco’s, parents should apply to several schools. And they need to be aware that there is often much more than an application required. Schools may request a student evaluation form from a preschool teacher, a letter of recommendation from someone already connected to the private school, a parent observation form, a financial aid application (typically in February), child and parent interviews, and possibly an E.R.B. test. Acceptance letters are usually sent out in the spring.

Many parents send their child to a private school starting with kindergarten as a way of holding a place in the school’s upper grades. If you can afford it (and you live in a highly competitive area), it’s not a bad strategy. It’s much easier to fill out a kindergarten application than a high school application.

When to Enter Kindergarten

Various factors may play a role in determining when a child starts kindergarten. For example, most independent schools have birthday cut-off dates in August or September, meaning that children must turn the required age by that date in order to enroll. Public school districts have cut-off dates, though they typically range from August through December depending on the state.

Gender may also be a factor in kindergarten admissions. It’s not uncommon for private schools to encourage — or even require— families to wait until after their son’s sixth birthday to begin kindergarten. If you are considering sending your child to private school, ask the administration what its age policies are and weigh your child’s birthdate, gender, and maturity as well as your own family’s work and home needs as you make your decision.

One teacher, who has taught at some of the nation’s most elite private schools, says that in her experience schools want kids to attend with their peers and that “redshirting” is greatly frowned upon. Some parents get caught up in age advantages and disadvantages as they compare their child to potential classmates, but all children are different — a four-year-old may be more mature than a six-year-old — and the really important consideration is the individual school’s policies and recommendations.

Special Program Registration

Another kindergarten option is a public school with a unique program, such as a magnet or charter school with a dual language or STEM curriculum. Typically, these schools are open to families within a small geographical region, and then fill the rest of the openings through lotteries.

One Denver family, who at the time had a two-year-old, applied to a new dual language magnet elementary school with a pre-K program for 3-year-olds. Their daughter was accepted to the preschool because they lived within its geographic boundaries, and eventually she entered the kindergarten automatically.

“We really weren’t very anxious,” said the mother, Crissy. “But now there are waitlists. We were kind of lucky.” She said that she heard the mayor was making inquiries about sending his son there, but his chances of getting in through a lottery were nearly impossible because he didn’t live in the area of the school.

Special needs students may encounter a more atypical registration process. For instance, Hunter College Elementary School in New York City is for academically accelerated children. Applicants are “assessed” by a school-approved tester who uses a sort of Stanford-Binet test, for which parents pay $350. There are usually more than 2,000 applications for 50 spots.

Public School Registration

Registering kindergarten children for their zoned public school should be straightforward if parents have all the necessary requirements, which usually includes a birth certificate, immunization records, and the kindergarten-aged child.

One Southwest town decided to centralize registration and held a come-all event at the local outlet mall. It was a disaster.

“We waited there for an hour, and it was really, really hot and jammed,” said Lauren, a mother who participated. Other families waited four hours. The worst part? They had to do it again at the school.

Another mother, Sharon, a teacher, went to her local, highly regarded public school. She said she filled out “a bazillion forms” as one of the school’s teachers spoke to her. Her daughter, four years old at the time, was so composed that they didn’t believe she was entering kindergarten.

“She’s very mature. They kept asking her her birthday.”

Kindergarten Lessons

Once in your child is in kindergarten, you will be amazed at what he or she learns.

“In kindergarten, besides all the Common Core expectations, kindergartners learn how to share, lead, compromise, question, respect, follow, how to clean up after themselves, how to self-advocate, and how to feel confident in themselves,” said Jessica. Her school administration asked her to teach another grade, but she fought to stay in kindergarten.

“It’s a good reminder for me to re-examine how much I love this age, and see how much I value teaching four-, five-, and six-year-olds,” she said.

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