The question of when a child should start kindergarten (age 5 or 6) is gaining a lot more press lately. This topic intrigued me, so I started researching it. After reading several articles with different viewpoints, I decided to go directly to the source. I read the reports that some of these articles refer to including the current studies by the National Center for Education Statistics. Here are the facts that I found:
Redshirting is the term, taken from sports, that describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, larger, or more mature, and therefore better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today. Kindergarten is no longer just about making friends and finger painting. As a matter of fact, since the National Commission on Excellence in Education published “A Nation At Risk” in 1983, kindergarten curriculum has been transitioning into the first grade curriculum of the past. For a child who is four or newly five, this can sometimes be overwhelming.
States are seeing the impact of age on kindergarten students and their learning as well. Since 1975, nearly half of all states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs leading to students being older when they start kindergarten.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that older kids are four times as likely to be reading, and two to three times as likely to be able to understand two-digit numerals. Twice as many older kids have the advanced fine motor skills needed for writing. The older kids were also found to be more persistent and more socially adept.
Kelly Bedard, a labor economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studied math and science test scores for nearly a quarter-million students across 19 countries. She found that relatively younger students perform 4 to 12 percentiles less well in third and fourth grade and 2 to 9 percentiles worse in seventh and eighth. “By eighth grade it’s fairly safe to say we’re looking at long-term effects.” She goes on to talk about the ability-grouping in our country’s schools that perpetuates this. I will explain this more later in this post.
According to an article published in the New York Times, “many private-school birthday cutoffs are set earlier than public school dates; and children, particularly boys, who make the cutoff but have summer and sometimes spring birthdays are often placed in junior kindergarten — also called ‘transitional kindergarten,’ a sort of holding tank for kids too old for more preschool — or are encouraged to wait a year to apply.”
Here is my personal opinion:
If your child has a summer birthday, seriously consider the option of starting them in kindergarten the following year. This, however, is a personal decision and only you as the parent truly know what’s best for your child.
Many (and quite a few would say most) schools across the country ability group children. This means if the child starts kindergarten a little behind the other students, they will be placed in a lower reading or math group than the other students. Usually, this group works at a slower pace and does not cover as much material as the higher groups. When the child moves on to first grade, they will already be further behind their peers who moved at a faster pace the year before. This will continue on through the grades. It’s the concept of “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Plus there is the stigma placed on being in the low group. As hard as teachers try, students still know what group is the high group and what group is the low group. This can turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, traditional signs of readiness to start kindergarten include being able to:
- communicate about things he needs and wants
- share and take turns
- be curious and enthusiastic about trying new activities
- pay attention and sit still
- use a pencil and paint brushes
- count as high as 20
- recognize the letters of the alphabet
Fortunately in our country we have a choice. And that choice is for you as the parent to make. You know your child better than anyone and therefore know what’s best for him or her.