Transitional kindergarten program among state kindergarten overhaul

06.10.2012 | Stockton Record | Robert D. Morrow

“We want to provide our young fives the gift of time … We want to provide students who may not have had the opportunity of preschool a year to become school ready.”

– Jud Kempson, assistant superintendent, Burlingame Elementary School District (Patch)

If you have a preschool child turning 5 after Nov. 1, you need to read this article – carefully! Or, if you have a grandchild, niece, nephew or know a neighbor or a friend who may have a child this age, you should share this article with them as well. This information is that important!

California has changed the rules of the kindergarten “game.” There are new cut-off dates for preschool children entering kindergarten. The new dates, beginning this fall, are Nov. 1 (2012); next year (2013), it will be Oct. 1 and in 2014, a child must be 5 by Sept. 1.

Legislation (SB1831) designed to implement this change was passed in 2010 and is now law. California is one of the few states that still had a cut-off date of Dec. 1. Early childhood educators, parents and, now, legislators agree the change will benefit young, future kindergartners.

According to early childhood educators, developmentally, most 4-year-olds born after Sept. 1 (one-quarter of all current kindergartners) are not ready for kindergarten. They haven’t had critical time to explore their environment. They’re just not at the same developmental level as older (age 5) children entering kindergarten.

According to research, 4-year-olds in kindergarten need more time in “developmentally-appropriate” activities, including free play (dramatic play and block play, etc), hearing age-appropriate stories, interacting with their peers and adults, simple problem-solving, developing fine motor skills (holding a crayon/pencil). Each child has his/her own rate of development and most 4-year olds need the extra time to become ready for traditional kindergarten.

But there’s a positive alternative for these 4-year olds – Transitional Kindergarten (TK). Part of SB1831, TK is designed to serve those too young to enter traditional kindergarten. Rather than waiting a whole year, a parent of a 4-year-old born after Nov. 1 may enroll their child in a TK program. The California Kindergarten Association points out that, “A TK Program will provide the youngest kindergartners with a readiness year that is developmentally appropriate and will better prepare them for success once they enter traditional kindergarten.” (CKA, 2010)

Every California school district is required to offer both traditional kindergarten and transitional kindergarten programs. In effect, the 4-year-olds will spend two years at the kindergarten level. Just as traditional kindergarten is not mandated, TK is also optional but highly recommended.

The main difference between traditional kindergarten and TK is the content of the curriculum and the approach taken by each program. Traditional kindergarten is more curriculum-based, as “Mastery of content standards is expected (emphasis in the original), is curriculum based with lessons and/or activities are differentiated, depending on students’ levels and needs.” (CKA, 2010).

In TK, in contrast, “Content standards are introduced and mastery is encouraged (emphasis in the original), is developmental needs based (and) students continue on to traditional kindergarten, but may move to first grade.” (CKA, 2010)

The new TK is actually a subset of the kindergarten classroom, where young kindergartners spend the first year in TK, the second year in a traditional kindergarten, and then move on to first grade. CKA (2010) states that, “Occasionally a child is developmentally ready for traditional K even though he is age-eligible for TK. Such a child should enroll in TK, be observed and assessed by the TK teacher with input from a partnership of preschool and K teachers, parents and Student Study Team. If deemed ready, and agreed upon by both the parents and the school district, the child may be moved early in the school year to the traditional K. The child should be ready academically, socially, emotionally and physically for K.”

California has developed a two-tier kindergarten system that addresses the important issue of school readiness, defined as a measure of how prepared a child is to succeed in school, cognitively, socially and emotionally.

This is an important development in California’s education of young children. The state now recognizes that many are just too young to enter kindergarten, using the old cut-off dates. I strongly suggest you contact anyone who may have a child turning 5 after Nov. 1 and tell them about this change in the law.

Or, if you have a child that fits this description, contact your school district now and ask about the new TK program.

You’ll be helping those young preschoolers who need the gift of time.

ยป Note: Lynda Wong, MEd, education consultant, retired Lodi kindergarten teacher who worked on passage and implementation of SB1831 and TK amendment, assisted in writing this article.

Contact Robert D. Morrow, regional manager of Bring Me A Book and a professor emeritus at University of the Pacific, at

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