Kindergarten is a big year for children just beginning their formal elementary education. Some children are ready for kindergarten well before they turn 5 years old, and others may be 5, but aren’t quite ready to benefit from all the opportunities kindergarten offers. Now families living in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, and Washtenaw Counties have options.
Wayne-Westland Community Schools is currently piloting a “Young 5s” program to complement its kindergarten program — and to offer options for students who are technically eligible for kindergarten, but might require a little more time to develop further.
“Young 5s gives students with later birthdays the gift of time to build a solid foundation for their educational experience,” says Kristen Brickey, Principal at Schweitzer Elementary in Westland, one of four elementary schools in the district to pilot the program this year.
Options for kindergarten or Young 5s
According to state guidelines, kids entering kindergarten must be 5 by Sept. 1 of the year they begin school, though parents can sign a waiver and enroll their child in kindergarten if they turn 5 by Dec. 1. Each child is different, and some kids who meet even the December guideline are ready to start kindergarten, while others with birthdays in late summer or fall could use more time.
And, of course, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted typical preschool experiences for kids who turned 2 ½ and 3 when the pandemic started. Young 5s at Wayne-Westland Community Schools is a great option for any child who needs that extra bit of time, Brickey says.
“Due to the pandemic, many of our younger students didn’t have the same experiences as children typically have,” she says. “Young 5s is more than preschool because it’s a full-day program. Kids have their breakfast and lunch here and there’s a different pace compared to preschool. A huge piece is that kids and families become familiar with the elementary school environment.”
Just like their peers in kindergarten, children in the Wayne-Westland Young 5s program experience all the specials, like gym, music, art, media and life skills, and they benefit from a play-based learning environment that is just right developmentally, she says.
“In the classroom, our Young 5s engage in a hands-on curriculum and they have early literacy skill work and math and science, but there is also a lot of play and a lot of social-emotional learning happening,” she explains. “This is especially important for the kids who haven’t been playing with a lot of other children and friends over the past couple of years because of the pandemic. They haven’t been going to birthday parties or having community experiences.”
Kelley Michels, Principal at Hamilton Elementary in Westland, championed the Young 5s launch in the district and stresses that Young 5s is a great opportunity for children, especially because it’s designed specifically for their needs and developmental stage.
“Young 5s isn’t slower kindergarten, but a developmentally appropriate curriculum that provides the right support for children to gain experiences and be ready for the academic focus of the next year,” Michels says, adding that if teachers and parents agree that a child is ready to progress before the end of the school year, that student can transition to kindergarten. “Or, if they are doing really well, they can go directly to first grade the next year,” she says.
Which is appropriate for your child?
If a parent is asking whether or not their child is ready for kindergarten, the answer is probably not, Michels says. “Parents know their child best!” she says, adding that there are several criteria for kindergarten readiness.
“Know that we evaluate children throughout their experiences with us and determine where they are academically and in regard to social-emotional maturity,” Michels says. “There are some who are academically ready but haven’t built the social-emotional skills, and they might benefit from spending time in kindergarten for the academic portion but still need support for the rest of their day in the Young5s program.”
Wayne-Westland Community Schools offers the opportunity for parents to ask questions about both programs and will help parents make the decision that works best for their family.
Any student who is a Wayne, Oakland Macomb, Monroe, or Washtenaw County resident can gear up for kindergarten by attending a special Young 5s and Kindergarten Kickstart event on March 10, 2022. “Our goal is to get prospective students excited about joining the Wayne-Westland Community Schools family,” says Michels. “This is a great opportunity for parents and caregivers to meet with our district staff and teachers and ask questions about what’s most appropriate for their child.”
Young 5s is just one of many programs available to families at the elementary level, Brickey says, and she’s excited to get to know families who are just starting out in the district.
“It’s great for our younger families to see what options we offer. At the elementary level, we have a lot going on,” she says. “From academics and social-emotional learning to laying the foundation for college and career readiness, even free after-school programs and athletics, families will see how much we have to offer.”
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools — where any student who is a Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe or Washtenaw County resident can attend — at wwcsd.net. Attend Kindergarten Kickstart on March 10, 2022.