Community Magazine

The Kindergarten Check Up

By Jean Campbell

In this  post, Denise A. Somsak, MD details the kindergartner’s well visit. Dr. Somsak is a pediatrician and mother with young children. She blogs at where she posts about areas of interest and concern for parents.

My fifteen minute office visit is only 0.003% of the kindergartner’s total year, but it’s the culmination of our priorities as a society.  How communities, parents, educators and doctors work together to invest in our children is reflected in the kindergarten check up.  When a child is healthy physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually that means the parents have succeeded on many levels and sometimes in spite of challenges like poverty, prematurity, speech delay, or maternal depression.  When all children even those with disabilities can access quality education and be prepared to learn, our future is more secure.

Kindergarten readiness starts at birth with a safe and nurturing home environment filled with books and time for play, regular check ups, good nutrition, a quality pre-school experience with a chance to practice sharing and empathy with peers, and exposure to simple outings like the library or museum.

The five year well visit is a time to celebrate the child’s accomplishments, unique skills, and review health behaviors.  The child can tell me how often he brushes teeth, his favorite food, and what he watches on TV.  She can tell me if she rides in a booster seat or wears a bicycle helmet.  I ask who lives in the home and who the child’s best friends are.  She answers with confidence or looks to her parent for help.  At this age, most children know their full name and sometimes part of an address or phone number.  They cooperate with the exam easily and are curious about my stethoscope and lights.  Children enthusiastically draw me a self portrait.  They excitedly handle the book that I provide while I ask parents about reading in the home.  They wait quietly and even though they inevitably interrupt, they are easily redirected.

This interaction with the child demonstrates what I think are the three most important aspects of kindergarten readiness:

  1. Communication and social-emotional skills
  2. Inquisitive nature
  3. Self control

What I measure and review:

  • Height, Weight and BMI (Body Mass Index).  All families, fat or thin, need more information on nutrition, the importance of physical activity and how it relates to school success.
  • Vision and Hearing.  All children especially those at risk of learning disabilities, need their senses working properly to learn and should be referred if they cannot complete the screen.
  • Motor skills. Children demonstrate skipping or hopping.  A crude test of cognitive and fine motor function is counting the number of body parts on a child’s drawing of a person.  As a child ages, she adds more parts with more accurate proportions.
  • Developmental Screening. The AAP recommends developmental screening with a structured questionnaire at 9, 18 and 24 or 30 months of age.  Hopefully, if a problem was identified, it has already been addressed.  The AAP does not recommend screening for social emotional disorders with a validated tool nor do they recommend a general developmental screen at the five year check up.  I screen at this age only if their is a concern, but some pediatricians formally screen all children this age.
  • Dental home.  I encourage my patients to see a dentist as soon as they have teeth.  By five, they best be getting regular dental cleanings.
  • Literacy and screen time. Books are good.  Computers can be educational in moderation.  Although an effective babysitter, the television should be turned off most of the time.  It disturbs sleep, encourages sedentary behavior, and even educational programming has advertisements that can send children unhealthy messages.  Video games, at five?  Are you kidding?
  • Routines and sleep. Children need to be well rested for school especially if attending a full day program which unlike preschool will no longer accommodate a nap.   A half day or whole day of kindergarten can both adequately prepare children for first grade.  The choice should be made based on the needs of the child and the educational environment of the home and school.
  • Update vaccinations.  Because of the success of vaccinations, pediatricians are less worried about severe acute illnesses. They can focus on prevention of disease and injury and help parents understand the behavior and development of their children.

The kindergarten visit is a snap shot of the child’s health and potential.  My signature on the physical form indicates that I am one leaf on a huge tree in the forest of the child’s life.  Parents have the hard work.  Check out these resources on kindergarten readiness and literacy for more details on how to prepare your child, your patients, our future:

A checklist of kindergarten readiness from the Ohio Department of Education.

A quiz to see how effectively your home promotes literacy.

A guide to reading with your child from toddler years to third grade.

Ideas to promote kindergarten readiness from the National Association for the Education of Young Children

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