It’s only weeks from spring, and for lots of Washington County families that can mean preparing for kindergarten screening, a process to evaluate a child’s readiness for school.

For those putting a child in school for the first time, teachers, experts and veterans have plenty of advice to make sure children will be on a level playing field with their classmates.

The screening process is used to assess everything from motor skills to reading levels to give parents and educators a better idea of a child’s needs when entering school.

How to Prepare

Kindergarten teachers said there are a few skills they hope students will be familiar with upon entering school that should serve as a guide for both parents and pre-schools to prepare children ahead of time.

Kathy Bartlett, director of the Betsey’s Learning Tree Childcare Center, said that as early childcare providers they strive to meet those needs.

“Our center works with a lot of academic, social and emotional awareness. They need to be able to talk to other people,” she said.

The center does a show and tell activity to boost self-esteem and make sure children are getting the social skills required to talk in front of and with their peers.

Pam Bostic, a kindergarten teacher at Lowell Elementary, has 27 years of teaching experience under her belt.

“Just reading to them is always good. They can learn to recognize sounds and match rhyme words,” she said. “And reading kind of gives them more experience with language.”

Putnam Elementary kindergarten teacher Michelle Gebczyk agreed.

“You can never read to them enough,” she said.

Both Bostic and Gebczyk said parents can be doing things like making sure children know their address and phone number, and one very important skill: Writing their name using a capital letter and lowercase letters to follow, something that children often struggle with.

Setting a schedule is also important.

“They need a certain sleep time. If they have certain responsibilities around the house too, that helps,” Bostic said.

Bartlett said it is important to teach children routines, as the center practices a stop and go schedule to teach youngsters how to transition from one thing to the next.

Edie Westbrook, whose daughter attended kindergarten at Putnam Elementary, advised putting them in activities that are stimulating.

“I like to keep them involved,” she said. “Things like summer camps keep their mind active and keeps them in a routine.”

Socially, parents, teachers and child care experts all agree that pre-school is a critical step into kindergarten.

“The social aspect and the skills, being able to tie your shoes, I was amazed that there were still kids who didn’t know that,” Westbrook said. “Pre-school prepares them for that.”

Bostic stressed observing your child’s social behavior prior to them attending school.

“Watch how they interact with other children,” she said. “Reflect on it, and try to model to (your) children on how they should treat other people.”

Bethany Gomez’s daughter is currently in kindergarten at Harmar Elementary, and she said the social well-being of her daughter was a big priority.

“We worked on learning to play with others…that social aspect is huge,” she said. “If they have a hard time with that now, it can be a hard time moving forward.”

What Children Should Know

Teachers feel that knowing certain skills gives new students the best start.

“They should know how to have a correct grip on their pencil,” Gebczyk said. “If they’re going into kindergarten without that, it’s hard to correct.”

Knowing how to sound out letters, count to 20, cut with scissors and recognizing and drawing shapes are all things Bostic and Gebczyk said are important.

Gomez said she made sure her daughter was well prepared so she was ahead of the curve come her first day.

“We made sure she could spell her name, which was also for safety purposes,” she said.

Gomez also said kindergarten education today looks for some skills that many might not think is critical, like being able to cut paper in a straight line and to color in the lines.

Kindergarten screening also tests for those things along with physical tests like general coordination and vision.

What to Keep in Mind

Westbrook said although technology and the way children learn changes rapidly, being attentive to a child’s needs is key.

“I think it’s important for parents to take the opportunities the schools provide,” Westbrook said. “Go to open houses, meet the teachers, see where they’re going to sit. Get the feel for it, relieve the anxiety.”

The transition can be difficult for young children, but Gebczyk said it’s all just a matter of adjusting.

“The kindergarten day is very structured, and at first it can seem long to kids,” she said.

Bostic emphasized that though teachers work hard to provide the best education for children, how students come to them is crucial.

“If they don’t know certain skills they’re going to start off behind,” she said.

Also new to the state this year is Ohio’s New Kindergarten Readiness Assessment.

The new system is designed, according to the Ohio Department of Education, to “pinpoint where each child is in physical well-being and motor development, language and literacy, mathematics, science, social studies and social skills.”

Assessment will begin at the start of the 2014-2015 school year and run until Nov. 1.

Results from screening do not prevent a child from entering school, as eligibility can only be determined by age. Although new students must turn 5 before Aug. 1 to enter kindergarten in the fall, parents can request to enter a child earlier if they believe he or she is ready.