Thinking about kindergarten for your preschooler? There is no magical formula for predicting success in kindergarten, although one can certainly identify a subset of physical, cognitive and social-emotional gains that are consistent with kindergarten readiness.

Consider the following children, Anna and Michael. Anna turns five on September 19th. She loves being read to, and is already reading simple books independently. In her preschool class, however, Anna is a bit of a loner. While her classmates sit together in “circle time,” talking about what they did over the weekend, Anna is somewhat oblivious, more interested in the velcro calendar at the back of the room.

Michael turned five in April. He loves running and playing ball, and would be happy to stay outside all day long. He seems very social, but gets into fights frequently (sometimes physical) especially when he doesn’t get his way. He has no apparent interest in letters or numbers, but is a talented young artist.

Michael and Anna’s parents hope to enroll their children in kindergarten this fall. How should an admissions professional decide what to do with these two hypothetical prospective students? That depends on a number of factors.

First, it is a truism that development admits to significant individual difference. I have seen this from many sides: as a Head of School who is part of a team making admissions decisions, as a pediatric neuropsychologist who helps families with academic planning, and perhaps most importantly as a parent who has two very different children with unique sets of strengths and vulnerabilities. Here are two internet sources that you might find helpful in this regard:

http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/t2k_schoolreadiness.pdf

https://www.verywell.com/kindergarten-readiness-checklist-620907

Granting that decisions about readiness for kindergarten (and frankly other grade advancement) should ideally be made on the basis of an individual child’s developmental profile, more often than not other factors take precedence. In my experience, the primary factor determining kindergarten readiness is the type and location of the school in question. Public schools typically matriculate students according to strict cut-off dates for when a child turns five, although those dates can vary significantly from state to state. Private schools on the other hand tend to be a bit more flexible. Some will allow for early kindergarten entrance if a child seems precocious, whereas others often encourage “redshirting” (i.e., purposely delaying kindergarten entrance until a child is six years old in hopes of improving readiness).

Which approach is “best” is not as clear as one might think. We at MetroWest Jewish Day School have come up with a different approach to the issue of kindergarten readiness, one which affects not only kindergarten but later academic placement choices as well. Put simply, we do not group our students on the basis of age or grade alone, but rather vary our grouping according to the academic subject, individual learning profile and sometimes even social goals of the child. We offer a “Kindergarten Aleph” program that includes some four-year-olds and some five-year-olds, and which shares a large space with the kindergarten program for different times of the day. A student who is perhaps advanced in math, but not yet showing reading readiness could be in an academic math class with kindergartners, but not yet be working on phonics. At the end of the year, we decide (along with the parents) whether a student should move on to our first grade program, or stay on in kindergarten for a second year.  Even after that year, students at MWJDS move fairly freely between different learning groups/levels for different subjects. Space constraints don’t allow me to describe this approach in much detail, but I would be happy to discuss it with anyone who is interested.

In the end, my best advice to parents and school administrators is to consider many factors when deciding the optimal fit for a prospective kindergartner. In the end, there is unlikely one best choice, but fortunately our children’s brains, minds and most importantly spirits are highly adaptable.  As long as parents and teachers continue trying to understand and support them throughout their lives, our children will not only succeed, but thrive.

To help families explore whether day school is the right fit for them, CJP has established the Discover Day School Program.  Our Greater Boston Jewish day schools each possess distinctive characteristics, catering to a diverse set of students with different interests, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. The dual commitment to general and Jewish studies, shared by all of our schools, prepares students for the challenges ahead – in the classroom, and in life.

If you are new to day schools – this may be the perfect time to discover all that they have to offer — CJP’s Discover Day School program will provide eligible “middle tier income” families up to $18,000 toward three years of day school tuition.  See if you qualify at www.DiscoverDaySchool.org

Rav-Hazzan Scott M. Sokol, Ph.D., is Head of School at the MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham.