Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When is a child ready for Kindergarten?

I was chatting with my 4 1/2-year-old's teacher today, just after I dropped my daughter off at school. My daughter spent last week at a local camp with her older siblings, and really missed her Pre-K teachers and classmates while she was gone, opting to return to school instead of spending a second week playing sports and making crafts at camp. Her teacher wasn't surprised. My little girl, she said, smiling, "just loves her books and puzzles. And she still seems to need that rest time in the middle of the day. This fall, depending on which Kindergarten class she's in, she won't get that, so you'll need to transition her before September."

Except my daughter won't be going to Kindergarten in September. Her birthday nearly two months after the Sept. 1 cutoff date in our town.

Earlier this week, at The Boston Globe's Child Caring blog, I wrote about cutoff dates and Kindergarten readiness:

My 4 1/2-year-old daughter was ready for preschool long before I was ready to send her. She's always been more comfortable playing with kids who are slightly older than she is, and is easily hitting all of their milestones right now. Her teachers tell me she's ready for kindergarten, and she's eagar to attend, except for one small problem: Her birthday is several weeks past our town's Sept. 1 cut-off date. Which means that, even if she's ready, she can't go.

According to, it's a pretty common situation. "The problem is that this kindergarten age cut off, out of necessity, is arbitrary and does not take into account developmental milestones achieved or academic skills developed by individual children."

So, why have a cut off at all? Andrea Evans writes: "Because of increased pressures around standardized testing in the second and third grades, kindergarten has become much more 'academic' in nature." In order to give their kids an edge, some parents have decided to "redshirt" their 5-year-olds in the hope that, by enrolling them in Kindergarten when they're a full year older, they'll be better able to handle the academic and social challenges that come with starting school.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that about 9 percent of
children entering kindergarten are redshirted each year; the number is higher among boys and in more affluent areas (where, presumably, paying for childcare isn't as much of a problem).

Experts are on the fence as to whether redshirting really gives youngesters an advantage. A report in Science Daily says that any academic edge the child gains is short-lived: Older kindergarten students scored 24 percentage points higher than their younger peers during the first few months, but the lead narrowed to just 4 percentage points by the time the students were in the eighth grade.

But what about parents in my predicament, with children who seem ready at too-early an age?

Turns out we have a few options. Children who attend private kindergarted can often go right into first grade when they're done (at least in my town). We could continue with preschool for another year, supplementing with plenty of trips to the library and more challenging work at home, if she seems bored. Some people choose to homeschool, and find that learning at home works best for their kids. I'm thinking that we'll stick with her current preschool, and see whether she seems happy or bored this time next year.

Trying to figure out if your child is ready for kindergarten? Here are a few things to consider:

1.) Check the test scores. Ask your neighborhood kindergarten about the criteria
teachers there use to determine readiness. How would your child fare?

2.) Ask your child's preschool teachers. There's more to kindergarten readiness than an ability to read or write. Does your child make friends easily? Can he follow directions? Does she seem bored or challenged by the work she's currently doing?

3.) How big are the kindergarten classes like in your area? The larger the class, the more difficult it is for teachers to focus on the needs of any single child. If your child needs more one-on-one attention, diving in too early could be detrimental.
4.) What do the kindergarten teachers expect from their students? Do students need to be able to count to 100? Read small words, or just recognize them? Write their name?

5.) How is the kindergarten structured? Full-day or half-day? Naps or no naps? Structured work and play times, or a more informal setting?

How will you -- or how did you -- handle the Kindergarten issue with your child? Weigh in below or at Child Caring, and be sure to check out the discussion going on in the comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have a similar situation. Our daughter's birthday is two months past the deadline for Kindergarten so we enrolled her in a private school that was willing to accept her based on a test performed by a school psychologist. It turns out she is quite advanced in the language arts. She reads ( accuracy) at a 7th grade level according to one test and at a 9th grade level according to another test. Her comprehension is at the end of second grade. She writes sentences and loves to make stories. In math she is advanced just a couple of years. I am nervous about Kindergarten as I just read the curriculum the teacher gave us. According to our psychologist our child should be working at her level in language arts and doing work beyond second grade. I am not sure Kindergarten will provide her with the stimulus that she need. She starts school Monday. I am nervous about how to approach this situation with the teacher. The principal didn't seem very helpful regarding accomodations for our daughter as he thinks the enrichment should be done at home. English is my second language and I don't feel prepare to teach her at home.