Getting Kids Ready for Kindergarten Screening with Occupational Therapy

Entering kindergarten signifies a child’s first exposure to a formal classroom setting. It is essential for children to begin kindergarten with a solid foundation of developmental skills so that they may thrive their first year. To benefit students, teachers and administrators, some states have developed and implemented kindergarten readiness assessments (KRA). These assessments consist of questions and observations to gauge the incoming student’s overall development in the areas of social foundations, academics, physical well-being and motor development.

Results from the KRA help teachers catch a glimpse of the overall readiness of new students which assists in lesson planning and preparation for the upcoming school year. Results from the KRA also help parents and families learn more about the individual support their child may need during the first year of school to maximize his or her success.

The KRA can be a wonderful tool to determine a child’s readiness, but after the assessment, how are parents supposed to use this information? Below are some tips and starting points to help understand results from the KRA. If parents feels a child is under-prepared in any of these areas, they might consider seeking an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist (OT). An OT can evaluate a child’s performance in the developmental areas mentioned below and, if necessary, set up a plan of care that will help to address any skills in need of growth.

Don’t be alarmed if a child is not progressing in age-appropriate skills as quickly as peers.  Most children develop in spurts and at different rates.

To learn effectively in kindergarten, a child must begin to use large and small muscles to produce movement, be able to touch, grasp and manipulate objects and engage in physical activity. When learning a new skill, such as how to write our name, we must consider subtle factors such as hand strength, precision, and having postural control to sit upright at a desk – all at the same time. OTs are experienced in breaking down complex tasks into smaller and more manageable activities so children can improve their fine motor strength and coordination and ultimately, achieve goals.

A child entering kindergarten is beginning a stage where he or she can exercise independence with self-care and activities of daily living. Acquiring independence through tasks such as putting on shoes, buttoning pants, zipping jackets, and managing personal belongings in the classroom setting can make a positive impact on boosting self-esteem and confidence. When children take responsibility for their own self-care, a strong foundation for increased self-efficacy and independence is established. An OT can work with a child to sequence the steps of dressing, develop fine motor coordination to manipulate clothing fasteners and address sensitivities to various items of clothing.

Emotional regulation and social competence are important to a child’s long-term academic and social success. If a parent is concerned with a child’s ability to regulate attention, emotions or establish positive relationships and social interactions with peers, an OT may be able to provide strategies to facilitate advancement in these areas. An OT can evaluate a child, and if necessary, develop an individual treatment plan or provide insight and recommendations on social groups and self-regulation programs.

Early language and literacy skills are important predictors for a child’s kindergarten readiness and ability to learn. By the time a child enters kindergarten, he or she should be growing in the ability to understand the concepts of print, letter recognition and phonological awareness. Parents frequently express concerns over their children’s print and letter recognition. An OT can evaluate a child’s visual processing abilities to determine whether any underlying deficits may be affecting his or her ability to recognize letters or participate in handwriting tasks.

Kindergarten readiness is determined by a multitude of factors and it is important to keep in mind that children develop on an individual basis. If concerns are present, an occupational therapist can provide resources and recommendations to ensure the kindergartener is equipped with the skills to excel in the classroom and achieve future successes. If you feel your child may need individualized attention in one or more of the above areas, talk to your child’s pediatrician about whether a referral to OT would be beneficial.

For more information on Occupational Therapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Jessalyn Mayer, MSOT, OTR/L
Jessalyn Mayer, MSOT, OTR/L is an outpatient occupational therapist at the Dublin Close to Home Center. Her past experience and continuing education has primarily focused on fine motor, visual motor, developmental and sensory-based treatment. She enjoys working with children with a variety of diagnoses and abilities to help further develop their skills and increase independence in daily activities.

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