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Reality Check: Prepping For Kindergarten?

Q. Our daughter, who starts kindergarten this fall, can recite and write the alphabet, but a few playgroup moms say their kids already know how to read, add, and use the computer. Is my child unprepared for school?

Probably not. Knowing the ABC's, 1-2-3's, and how to point and click is great -- but they're not the only kindergarten prerequisites. Most of the school-readiness checklists emphasize social and emotional skills as well as academics -- that is, whether budding students can separate from parents without getting upset, pay attention for short periods of time, share with other kids, and use the bathroom by themselves.

In fact, parents might be going overboard with preparation -- and denying their children the chance to challenge themselves, says Elaine Franke, a kindergarten teacher at Dr. Carreon Academy, a public elementary school in Indio, CA. "A kid gets a big sense of ownership and satisfaction when she faces a challenge, accomplishes a goal, and gets a thumbs-up from the whole group," she adds.

And don't believe everything you hear at playgroup. One proud mother's idea of reading and addition may be another's idea of parroting. Even if it's the real thing, that doesn't mean your daughter isn't measuring up. Every child is an individual. Having more than one illustrates this dramatically because you, the same parent, raise children with the same genes in the same home with the same exposure to books, technology, and music, and each one develops at her own pace and gravitates toward her own interests. So imagine just how different a kid raised by parents with values and priorities different from your own can be. Don't dwell on how yours compares to anyone else's; focus on preparing your child.

To help ready Madeline, our eldest, for kindergarten, I took her on a tour of the school, introduced her to her new teacher, and showed her both the lunchroom and the bathroom. I even let her pick out a new backpack, and I barely argued when she wanted to wear one of her old preschool outfits for the big day (hey, even brides wear something old, for comfort and luck).

But really, my preparation began years before, when I read to her each night and let her know every day that I loved her and had confidence in her. You've laid this groundwork. Now, when the school bus comes, try not to cry until it passes. Growing up is hard to do, even for us mothers.