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The Great Kindergarten Debate

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I'm trying to figure it out.

boy in classroom

Liesl Bradner: Last year, my kindergarten-age son came home upset that he couldn't read a chapter book like his best friend. I was thrilled that he was ready, and the Biscuit books were right on target with his reading skills, according to his teacher. Turns out his friend was a full year older than he is. His parents had held him back a year -- a difficult decision many parents face every year.

A recent study from Cambridge University in England recommends British children begin kindergarten at the age of six instead of five, comparing their students to other European countries.

Germany, Sweden, and Finland all delay formal schooling until six or seven and achieve better educational results than Britain, the study found. Where does this leave American children?

All but a handful of states have an age cutoff before September 1, causing many parents whose kids have fall birthdays much stress, as they don't want them in preschool another year -- learning shapes and the alphabet, becoming bored and causing problems. Parents with children that have August birthdays are holding their kids back so they won't be the slowest kids in class, which is a well-known tactic parents have been using for the sole purpose of wanting their kids to be the smartest in class, or if they show an affinity towards a particular sport, "red shirting" them so they will be the best player on the field and therefore increasing their chances for a sports scholarship. Fair? Absolutely not.

The state of North Carolina changed their cutoff from September 30 to August 30 this year, leaving many parents in a tizzy. Some sent their kids to private schools (which have looser guidelines), with intentions of moving them back into public schools after completion of 1st grade.

Some schools offer a "bridge-year" for kids stuck in this predicament (an "early kindergarten"), but does it really help? With schools' budgets being cut, are our kids' needs being met? Teachers are overworked with larger class sizes and less resources, making it nearly impossible to have different specialized learning plans to suit each child's academic situation.

Ultimately, the decision should be left to the parents' discretion. Are they socially as well as academically ready? And if they are having difficulties deciding, shouldn't schools offer a testing and oral exam, as some private schools do? Hard and fast rules with no exceptions don't do anyone any good.

Have you red-shirted your child? Why or why not?

next: I Can't Quit You, Seattle Grace
11 comments so far | Post a comment now
angie November 2, 2009, 9:52 AM

I waited a year before putting my oldest son in Kindergarten. He was not ready. I was afraid he would do fine for a year or two and then get behind in 2nd or 3rd grade when it would be to late to hold him back. I’m very happy with my decision and now he is learning, making A’s and is very mature. I’ve never regretted it.

tennmom November 2, 2009, 2:49 PM

Both of my girls are January babies,so they were 5 3/4 old when they started K-garten. Our school system has a September 15th cut-off for the 5th birthday.
Both were ready, having had 2 years of Pre-K, but the school system wouldn’t budge. They were both bored waiting on younger classmates to learn to write and add but it seems to have worked out ok. They are doing work 2 and 3 years ahead of their age levels b/c I worked with them at home.

Anonymous November 2, 2009, 8:49 PM

Some public schools do offer quite comprehensive testing prior to accepting a child for kindergarten. Our district spends an hour with small groups, and does this for every child. This should be more widespread but unfortunately many districts haven’t seen the light.

Nope November 2, 2009, 9:50 PM

State your sources.

No sources, not reputable.

Black Iris November 3, 2009, 1:08 PM

My son’s birthday was three days before the cut-off. His pre-school teacher recommended that he wait a year. His fine motor skills were not great. There are many good reasons for a child to wait. Don’t assume parents have bad motives for their decisions.

One thing parents should be aware of is that kindergarten in many public schools has become more academic. If your child is on the younger side and isn’t mature, they may be better off waiting.

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