Becoming a Kindergarten Family: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie


Dear Dr. Debbie,

We moved here during the pandemic and haven’t really gotten to meet any neighbors to ask about registering our soon-to-be five-year-old for kindergarten. I’m pretty sure we don’t just show up on the first day. And what’s the scoop on vaccine requirements?

Getting Ready to Get Ready

Dear G.R.t.G.R.,

According to the current Code of Maryland, kindergarten attendance is required for a child who will turn five-years-old by August 31 of this year. Enrollment in advance (April-May) helps schools to adequately prepare. Although last minute enrollment will be accommodated, it can cause disruptions in setting up classes of students and teachers for the year. 

For Anne Arundel County Public Schools kindergarten registration for the coming school year is now open online. 

Use the “School Locator” to identify your assigned school and to see whether your home is within the “Walk Zone” or qualifies your child for bus transportation. Bus stops and pick up times are usually set just before the school year begins in late August. (First-week adjustments are sometimes necessary here, too.)

Vaccination Records 

Avoid the end-of-summer rush for a pediatric appointment by taking care of scheduling any additional vaccines needed for your child in order to be compliant with state requirements. Vaccinations for Covid-19 are not required for students in Maryland public schools.

A Year’s Difference

Since children’s development is often uneven in the early years, the state allows for a delay for starting kindergarten. You can’t just start any time, though. You can request a twelve-month delay. (A year of kindergarten is required before the child can attend first grade.) The decision about delaying your child’s entry to school should be weighed with consideration to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional maturity.   

Readiness Activities

Between now and late August, there’s plenty of time to give your child experiences that will help her to be ready for kindergarten. Early childhood programs provide a good foundation for “big school” success. If she is not yet in a preschool or childcare program, consider a summer day camp to acclimate her to being in a group under the direction and supervision of someone other than her parents. Even a weekly story time will give her practice in sharing fun activities with other young children. If you choose a program close to home you may discover a future kindergarten classmate there!

One of the best preparations for success in school, and in life, is for you and your child to enjoy books together. Anne Arundel County Public Library can assist you toward a goal of 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten with free-to-borrow books, a tracking app, and prize incentives along the way. The program obligingly counts re-reading a book, which is often requested by young children, especially at bedtime.

Strong Family Ties

All the good parenting you have been doing for the past five years will give your child a good foundation for what’s to come. Dr. Dan Gartrell, writing for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, asserts that Readiness is Not a State of Knowledge, but a State of Mind.   “Research shows that the best thing we can do to get children ready for school is to form and keep positive relationships with them.”

Gartrell emphasizes “a willing attitude and confidence in the process of learning” as key to readiness. This is accomplished through supporting your child’s curiosity, back and forth conversation, problem-solving opportunities, attention to emotional skills development (dealing with disappointment, learning to share, etc.), and learning from mistakes.

Parent Involvement

Here’s a thought about starting kindergarten: think about signing yourself up as a parent volunteer! Extra hands are appreciated in classrooms, lunchrooms, health rooms, the main office, and on the playground. There may be work-from-home tasks, too, for arranging for special class visitors, for organizing a school-wide family event, for setting up carpools, for planning a field trip, for running an afterschool club, or for designing a school garden. The Parent-Teacher Organization or Association is a good place to start when seeking to share your time and talents to help the school better serve its students and families. See what’s planned for welcoming new families to the school over the summer, and offer to help if needed!

When you get involved in school activities, you will find that schools do so much more than teach Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic. Staff and volunteers have stepped up to support families-in-need with coat drives, food drives, and rallying other essentials to support student success. 

Of course there is research evidence for long term gains for the student whose parents participate as school volunteers, who follow up with required forms, who assist with resources for completing school assignments and projects, and who take a general interest in how things are going at school. The Chicago Longitudinal Study correlated elementary school parent involvement with academic success years later in high school.

When a child goes to kindergarten, it’s nice if parents follow. 

Dr. Debbie 

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum. She will be presenting Zoom workshops for parents on Mondays 7-9 pm, April 24: Good-for-You Food Fun, May 8: Dinosaurs Divorce, May 22: The Skin You Live In. 

The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993. Each Thursday there is a guided nature walk at 10:30 am.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.