Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do all kids need kindergarten?

I wrote a piece that appeared in the Globe Magazine this past weekend, about my 5-year-old and how we're on the fence about whether she should skip kindergarten.

A bit of background that didn't make it into the column:

My husband skipped kindergarten as a kid, and another grade somewhere along the way. He was a 15-year-old college freshman, and found that academics came easily -- it was the social aspect of being so much younger than his peers that was more difficult, especially once he hit adolescence. He's not a fan of grade-skipping, but is willing to consider it in this case: he thinks our daughter may have a harder time being bored than she would catching up with her class.

My mother also skipped a couple of grades, graduating from her convent boarding school in India at age 14, and had two full-on bachelor's degrees under her belt by the time she was 22 (yes, she skipped a couple of years of college, too). If she had to do it over again, would she? "No," she tells me. "Simply because intellectually a child can do things, and skipping a grade is OK, but socially they may not be able to." She feels that she was always "socially inept" as an adolescent, but "if it's somebody who is really mature and can handle the social disparity, then it's OK."

For the record: I didn't skip a thing. Totally average student, for the most part.

This isn't a "Mah Bayyyybeeee is Sooooo Special!" issue, though. It's a question of age cut-offs and education. At a time when many parents in Massachusetts routinely red-shirt their kids (that is, hold them back for a year so that they're older when they start school, and more likely to do better on testing), it can be hard to figure out if a child is ready for kindergarten -- or if they're ready for more.

Here's the piece:

May 9, 2010

Parenting Traps
Moving on up
Does our 5-year-old need kindergarten?

By Lylah M. Alphonse

Our youngest daughter’s birthday is in October, and the cutoff for kindergarten in our town is September 1, so even though her teachers thought she was ready last year, we had to wait. This spring, her pre-K teacher asked me if we were considering having our girl skip kindergarten altogether. She’s reading and writing well, plays comfortably and happily with her classmates, and is clamoring for more challenging activities. She has friends and neighbors who are a year ahead of her, so she’d know other children in the class if she did move up. And after nearly three years in a full-time preschool, would she get anything out of the half-day kindergarten our district offers?

Kindergarten attendance is not mandatory in Massachusetts, though school districts are required to provide at least a half-day (2 1/2-hour-long) program. Per Department of Education rules, children must begin school starting in the calendar year in which they turn 6. A generation ago, skipping a grade was a sign of smarts. But now, with kids already being pushed to achieve academic success earlier, does skipping a grade – even kindergarten – make sense?

“It’s a really critical year in every child’s school experience, regardless of God-given brainpower or skill level,” says Nancy Harris Frohlich, head of The Advent School in Boston. First grade is far more structured than kindergarten, with a focus on in-class work rather than creative play, and there may be homework. In kindergarten, there are more opportunities for kids to be creative and curious, Frohlich says. “Once they’re thrown into a subject-by-subject curriculum, those experiences are quickly a thing of the past.”

And then there’s standardized testing to consider. “Once teachers are put under the microscope in terms of how their children do in a standardized test, kids are even more at risk for losing the kind of kindergarten exploration time and chances to apply what they already know or are in the process of learning,” Frohlich adds.

We haven’t decided what to do yet, and the decision isn’t entirely up to us – it depends on readiness assessments and enrollment at the local elementary school. In the meantime, we’re still wondering: Is it better for a kid to be bored in kindergarten, or to risk floundering in first grade?

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

The letters have poured in to the Globe Magazine's inbox, most of them urging that we keep our daughter in kindergarten. The comments are piling up at, too. Readers, what do you think? Does being bored set a kid up for future failure? Or does putting them in a too-challenging environment?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see we aren't the only family struggling with these kinds of decisions. Our son misses the cutoff in our state by just days. He is more ready than most of his older peers for kindergarten, but will be "red-shirted" involuntarily this year. He is interested in learning everything, and our current concern is that he will be ready for first grade by the time he is allowed to go to kindergarten, but we refuse to try to prevent him from learning things when he is so eager. I look forward to reading an update on your daughter in the fall.