California’s Kindergarten Readiness Act – Now What?

It’s kindergarten registration season in school districts throughout California. Some parents may be wondering if their child is ready for kindergarten, while others may be wondering if their child is even eligible.

New kindergarten entry requirements coupled with possible state budget cuts makes this a very confusing time for parents of soon-to-be kindergartners.

For years, California kindergarteners had to turn 5 before December 2 in order to register for kindergarten. The Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB 1381), passed in September 2010, changed the entry date to September 1 so all children would enter kindergarten at age 5. The new age requirement is being phased in over three years starting in 2012-13.

For children planning to enroll in kindergarten next year, they would have to turn 5 on or before November 1, 2012. The following year, the cut-off date will be October 1, and then September 1. SB 1381 also created a new program for young 5 year olds (those turning five between September 2 and December 2) called transitional kindergarten.

The legislation requires school districts to provide transitional kindergarten. Parents can voluntarily choose whether or not to enroll eligible children in the program. All programs are to be taught by credentialed teachers and would provide the type of experiences children need to be ready for school, such as small group activities and hands-on learning using resources that bridge pre-kindergarten and kindergarten standards. School districts have been in various stages of development for the program over the last several months. Now, just as parents are preparing to register children for kindergarten (or transitional kindergarten), things have gotten more complicated.

In January, Governor Brown released his proposed budget for next fiscal year, which eliminates all funding for transitional kindergarten. Some advocates anticipate this could affect over 40,000 children statewide next year alone.  Then, earlier this month, Governor Brown released a trailer bill to his legislation calling for transitional kindergarten to no longer be mandatory. It could still be offered, but it would be up to local districts to determine whether or not to offer it. The new cut-off dates remain, but the trailer legislation now says children who will be 4 years old in November could be admitted to kindergarten if parents request it. What now?

We called various local school districts to enquire whether or not they were moving forward with transitional kindergarten. Some were (Antioch), some weren’t (San Ramon), some were putting it on hold until more is known about the budget (Pittsburg), and some couldn't provide an answer at all (I won’t mention names here).

For parents of children with fall birthdays, this is all very confusing. And to be fair, for the districts trying to implement this new legislation with already stretched dollars and the uncertainty of the state budget, this is all incredibly challenging.

My advice to parents would be to call your school district and find out what options you have. You may have to call back a few times and check the district’s website for updates. If your child is currently in a preschool program, you may want to talk to the program's director to see if there's space available next year just in case you decide to keep your child in preschool.

In the meantime, even if you don’t know whether or not your child is eligible for kindergarten or transitional kindergarten, you can certainly help him or her get ready. Schedule trips to the library, read aloud daily with your child, set up some play dates with other kids, make sure your child gets regular health and dental check-ups, and review the following list. These are the most important skills that kindergarten teachers say children need to start school prepared.

COGNITIVE SKILLS - Your child:

    • Holds a book correctly and can retell stories
    • Knows her first and last name
    • Can sort objects by color, shape and size
    • Is familiar with letters and numbers

APPROACHES TO LEARNING - Your child:

    • Is curious about new things
    • Can stay with a task until completed
    • Follows basic rules and routines

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL - Your child:

    • Gets along with others
    • Knows how to share and take turns
    • Follows two-step directions

COMMUNICATION SKILLS - Your child:

    • Verbally communicates needs and ideas
    • Uses sentences of 5 or 6 words

SELF-HELP SKILLS - Your child:

    • Demonstrates self help skills, such as dressing, toileting, and eating

MOTOR SKILLS - Your child:

    • Can hold a pencil and cut with scissors
    • Runs, jumps, climbs and throws

Find more First 5 school readiness info:

Category: Early Education and School Readiness, In the News

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7 Responses to California’s Kindergarten Readiness Act – Now What?

  1. Amalia says:

    This is by far the best summary of the confusing situation I've read. Thank you!

  2. Diana says:

    I was told that before my child can enroll in k she has to be able to spell her name and I believe they also said write her first and last. They also said she is to be able to count to 10 among other educational requirements, is that true?

    • Tracy Irwin says:

      Check with your local school district about requirements for kindergarten entry. However, technically, public school is free and public and children have a right to attend when they reach the minimum age (5 years old by September 1). That said, some parents choose to wait a year and begin kindergarten when their child is 6 years old in order for the child to be more developmentally ready for the work ahead. Kindergarten today is not what it was even 10 years ago. Children are expected to have basic skills to keep up (but these can also be taught in kindergarten). My recommendation is to visit the school where your child will attend and talk to the kindergarten teacher about the type of curriculum that they use and how they structure the day. Ask yourself if your child will find this type of daily structure something they enjoy or something that will be a struggle. Remember this is the first experience that you and your child will have with the “big” school – it’s best to make it enjoyable. Children who begin school smoothly with the skills that they need are more likely to read by third grade, graduate from high school and go on to higher education.

  3. Cecilia says:

    My daughter will be 5 the first week of oct. I have her in the best preshool in our area. She is more then ready for kindergarden but i can't enroll her the school said she has to go to Tk because her age. She passed the Tk regustration test with 93 out of 100. So next year she will be held behind because her DOB. Does someone know anything to help Im losing sleep over this new law.

    • Lisbeth Stephens says:

      Please leave evaluating whether or not your child is "more than ready" for kindergarten to the professionals. I am a pre-school and kindergarten teacher with decades of experience. Teachers can observe your child in a group and compare their response time, their ability to share a leadership role in a peer group, fine motor skills--which are woefully inadequate, more and more as children's programs focus on memorizing the alphabet instead of cutting paper, coloring, working at a easel, building with blocks. A capable four year old can be capable in a class that is paced for the emotional, social and physical needs of the four year old. I have had my share of truly advance students, some of them mature. They still benefit from a year of childhood, another year to grow into their bodies and coordinate their movements, another year rich in vocabulary building, following directions, getting oriented. The T/K children who have assessed into my kindergarten are falling behind, having trouble following directions at the kinder pace and are working on remediel materials that I have devised to catch them up (sorting, grading, sensorial, gross and fine motor activities). I feel that they placement has set them up for failure. Have you considered that your child might not ever catch up to the class made of children who are 6-12 months older than she? How will this play out in middle school? HAVE YOUR CHILD TAKE THE KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT TEST--THE ONE THE KINDERS ARE TAKING, NOT THE ONE GIVEN TO T/K. What a difference!

      • Kate says:

        6-12 months older? Maybe. You are certainly entitled to your 'professional' opinion but it seems your assessment is a bit extreme from my 'professional' standpoint. A child with a birthdate that falls in the first week of October will be only 1 month younger than the youngest child in K. Children are individuals and they mature and develop at their own rate. Certainly there are 4 year olds that are not ready for K...just as there are some kids that are 6 and struggling in K. You are making vast generalizations when you make a hard cut-off date for K. A testing process instead of implementing a TK program would be of greater benefit. And as a side note Ms. Stephens, you are responding to a post that occurred well over a year ago.

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