Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Case Against Delaying Kindergarten

In New York City, where I used to live, the cut-off to start kindergarten is to turn 5 in late December. I find it interesting to ponder whether my life would have been different if I grew up there; my birthday is December 5, and so I could have been a grade ahead of where I actually was in school. Here in Lower Merion, PA, where we recently moved, the cut-off is September 1. Thus my son, Sam (9/24) and soon-to-be-born baby daughter (around 10/5 or so) will always be among the oldest in their classes.

I really wish they'd be the youngest instead. It's become common for parents to "redshirt" their 5-year-olds, delaying kindergarten for another year, particularly for boys. Schools let parents get away with this, but for some reason, going the other direction (starting kindergarten early) is fraught with the same angst that grade-skipping in general evokes in some people. Sure, some kids aren't ready. But others are. If a kid can read and write, which many gifted 4-year-olds can, what purpose is served by keeping them in preschool another year?

So I was fascinated to see an op-ed in the New York Times this past week from Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt called "Delay Kindergarten At Your Child's Peril." The gist of the piece is that any advantage that children get by being delayed a year disappears rapidly, and that school, in general, is good for children. It helps their brains grow and develop. Some data has found that disadvantaged and advantaged children make similar gains during the school year, but disadvantaged children slide during the summer break, when they're not exposed to lessons. Enough summers can make a pretty big gap. It's not a huge stretch to believe the same would be true for starting kindergarten. The earlier disadvantaged children can get into full-time school, the better.

Gifted children likewise would benefit from more flexibility in when kids start kindergarten. While, again, I think the angst about grade-skipping is overblown, it can be harder to pull off to go from, say, 1st to 3rd grade in the same school. But when you start kindergarten early, it doesn't have to be a big deal.

I'm curious if anyone has successfully challenged a school district's cut-off date and been able to enroll a child in kindergarten early.


Kelly said...

We were not able to convince our school board to change policy for our son (born in mid-November). We ended up sending him to a private kindergarten when he was four, and the school district policy allowed them to accept him into first grade early if he had already completed kindergarten.

Our son has some mild social and communication issues, but the early start in school was definitely good for him.

Molly said...

In Georgia, state law prevents districts from offering any flexibility. Children must be 5 by Sept 1 of their kindergarten year and 6 by Sept 1 of their 1st grade year in order for the local district to receive state funding for the child. Completion of private kindergarten will not allow a child to enter 1st grade early. (Some people will keep a child in private school through 1st grade and then switch to public.) The only way to enter 1st grade before age 6 is to complete kindergarten in another state and then move here.

Aly V said...

I taught in a private school in New York City until last year. The cut-off for girls is October and for boys June. Even with this delay, some boys still ended up repeating Kindergarden. Having taught first through eighth grades, I could definitely see the advantage students had as the oldest in the grade, male or female. Compared to day care in the inner city, school is advantageous. School may be great but so is a stimulating, nurturing home life.

Sharon said...

There doesn't seem to be much flexibility in our local school district, and the cut-off date is early at Sept. 1st. Even the school's coordinator for gifted education discouraged the idea of starting early, or, later on, skipping grades; she expressed doubts that children would be "mature" enough to handle being placed with children older than themselves. I'm so thankful we're able to homeschool!

Maryann said...

Missouri law does not reimburse districts if they accept children early. (Except for Kansas City SD and Saint Louis City SD... I'm not sure of the exact logic for exempting them.)

We found out that the District (at the Principal's discretion) would accept our daughter into first grade if she had completed private kindergarten. The Montessori (pre-) school she attended offered a Kindergarten program and they were willing to accept her regardless of the birthday issue. Her birthday is 9/4, so she's not long past the cut-off, but she is the youngest second grader (and rather aware of it, especially around her birthday!) She's already in the most challenging reading group, etc. I regularly think about how frustrating it would have been for her to be delayed a year.

Since Kindergarten isn't required in this state, the district could have balked at First Grade entry, but then we could have paid tuition for another year and transferred her in second grade. At that point they have to accept it. When I thought it might be an option to explore, I checked with the district's policies online.

Her first grade teacher commented on some potentially age related issues, but when we probed, they were all squarely within the developmental range of first grade. I would attribute them to executive function issues she's honestly gotten from her parents or asynchronous development. This is working out really well for us, so far.

When I was a child my parents successfully pushed for me to be enrolled early (in PA) after the district administered testing. I think this really helped me. I probably would have been better with even more acceleration, however my parents weren't comfortable with that idea.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Our son is late-September. He *just* squeaked in under the wire; the following year the school arbitrarily moved the cut-off to Sept 1. He was always the youngest in the class and while he was academically at the top of the class, behaviorally he was *right* on target for his age, and the teachers just didn't want to put up with it.

Anonymous said...

Here is a nice chart showing states that allow acceleration, including early entrance to K. I'm not sure how comprehensive it is:

In MN, where I am, I think we could have successfully gotten our HG+ son into public kindergarten early, but we chose to have him go to K and then skip 1st grade. He was not interested in learning how to write, and kindy was a good place for that.

Alicia said...

I feel like I could have written this article. I just can't understand why they allow kids to enter late, but not early. And I wonder about the challenges it presents to have kids who are socially and physicaly a full year older that the others. I would have had a difficult time if my son had been born just 10 weeks later and required to wait another year. As it was, I thought he could have started earlier. If I had to do it over again, I might consider homeschooling for K and 1st. grade material (which I think I could have handled), and then sent him to 2nd grade after he just turned 6. There's no law in GA about how old you have to be to enter 2nd.

Amy said...

I have a late July birthday, and when I was about to start kindergarten, my mother thought about holding me back. I'm so glad she didn't; I think I would have been bored and frustrated if she had! If a child goes to kindergarten and has trouble, you can always repeat a grade if necessary, but if you hold them back and they're bored, what can you do about it? I think redshirting is nearly always a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! It is strange that it is up to the parents to delay kindergarten, but impossible for them to choose to start early.

However, I am so interested to hear from people who have accelerated their children, and years later hear how they think it has worked out.

In our case, our son skipped from the middle of 1st to the middle of 2nd (recommended by our public school, surprise, surprise. This is pretty much never done here). And then again in middle school, he (and a group of about 5 others) were subject accelerated in math.....skipped 6th grade math. I totally bought into A Nation Deceived, and was wholeheartedly a grade-skipping advocate.

Academically, this has been absolutely fine. Although I really question if it is the best approach. For example, with the math, I don't think the 7th grade math is that much harder than 6th--it's just a little challenge when they first skip to quickly fill in any gaps. Once they are caught up, they are still in a class taught at the same pace, same depth, etc. I would really prefer to see them take the top 20 math students and not skip them, but rather move faster and deeper through the curriculum. Ultimately, this group may end up 1 or 2 years ahead in the curriculum, but would be with age peers, and have a chance to work on more stimulating material. No need for them to be put with the older kids and then go at the regular pace.

I am starting to see the ramifications of being the youngest. Overall, it's okay. Our son has nice friends, and is fortunate to be on the tall side. But everyone else is hitting puberty, and I think his social and athletic confidence has taken a bit of a hit by being young. He's a slightly above average athlete for his grade, but would actually be a real standout for his age. Is athletics more important than academics? No, but I do think it helps with confidence, and social situations, which helps with leadership, which I think flows into all aspects of life. I'm beginning to wonder if we made the right choices. I guess I would make the same choices today, but I'm wondering if I'll continue to feel this way over the next few years.

I'm just curious if anyone who is 5+ years out from making a grade skip still feels it was the right choice, or has regrets?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I'm about 50 years out from being grade-skipped, and I still feel it was the right choice. I started out as the youngest in my class so averaged about 18 months younger than classmates. I was also late to get my full height, so I was much shorter and skinnier than my classmates and my age mates.

I took 3 years in college to finish my BS at age 19, then took my time as a grad student, taking another 8+ years for my PhD.

My son, who is probably smarter than me, has not been whole-grade accelerated, but has had about 3–4 years of subject acceleration in math and science.

Jennifer said...

Future fodder on NY Times

Anonymous said...

I also wonder why keeping a child back (particularly for sports reasons) is applauded, but grade acceleration is not. Red-shirting means that my early-fall child is nearly 2 years younger than some of his grade peers. It makes a difference. Teachers expect maturity levels to match the red-shirted kids, not the correct-age ones.

Anonymous said...

FYI-We have a friend in LM whose October daughter tested very well. My understanding is that the elementary school was willing to let her start early, if the parents chose to. In the end, they decided not to.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I am SO happy that we were able to start my mid October daughter in K this year. She is in combo K-1 class and thrives there. Granted, she is not even 5 while the oldest child in the class turned 7, but she is really maturing emotionally and socially. I would definitely recommend going private-public route if there are no other options to keep fall children an early start.

K-Man said...

Aly V said: "I taught in a private school in New York City until last year. The cut-off for girls is October and for boys June."

I wonder about the legality of that difference, even for a private school. Switch the genders. Or, better, change the second sentence to say, "The cut-off for whites is October and for blacks June," and you'd be talking big-time fun for lawyers who would just be festering to take on a suit against the school, and media that would encourage such a lawsuit.

Gender discrimination is as bad—though it seems to be acceptable for boys to get the short end of the stick. And the boys had to repeat kindergarten because...? They wouldn't sit still like girls without drugs such as Ritalin? Might we be seeing an example of a reason why boys are increasingly underrepresented in gifted classes?

Stefany S said...

My children attend a private school in the California Bay Area which does not have a formal age cutoff for exactly this reason - although the grey area is around the end of July, making most of these kids older than in our public schools with a Dec 1 cutoff. I am not aware of any other school without an official cutoff date (we have previously attended 2 other schools - public and private) - and it works brilliantly. The school takes a time to skillfully evaluate each applicant to determine who is academically ready to start kindergarten. They do not hesitate to recommend waiting another year, if necessary - but this is done after a thorough evaluation.

My son has an early July birthday, making him one of the youngest in his class, so I was a little concerned with him starting kindergarten this year. Although he was ready to start kindergarten by December of his last preschool year, I think that the trend of delaying kindergarten really had me doubting my observations of his readiness.

He had a tough time during the last half of his preK year - he was bored in the play based environment. He once told me after I asked him if he learned anything interesting at school that day: "Mommy, we don't learn anything in preschool, we just play". He is a very physically and emotionally intense boy - who needs a lot of stimulation. Since he started kindergarten a month ago, he has mellowed tremendously - I think he was just desperate for a more challenging learning environment. Ironic how more stimulation and activity actually calms some of these kids. So far, being the second youngest in his class has been irrelevant. Keeping him in preschool another year would have been disastrous.

"Tracking" has become a dirty word in education - most schools frown upon tracking kids by ability (even though this is exactly what gifted kids need). I think tracking by age with an inflexible cutoff date does the real harm.

Anonymous said...

Today is the first time I have read your blog and I was thrilled to see this topic and read the comments that followed. We are struggling with what to do with our son. He is a March birthday so he misses the public school district cut off date for early entrance (5 by Dec 1). The district was totally oppossed to having us enroll him at 5 and have him tested for full grade accelleration. So we are now in our second year of Montessori school. They are FABULOUS and we feel so blessed to have found this school, but we are paying a lot in tutiion. It was nice to know that there are others in the same boat and that we aren't alone in wanting to support our sons ability to learn at a faster pace than most of his age mates.

melissa said...

We began homeschooling for this very reason and have continued for the flexibility in academic placement. We are continually re-evaluating, but it is a good option for our children at this time.

Yiotula said...

I'm facing the same issue my 3 year old is September 15th and they always say, "Oh, he's so with it", "We can't believe how well he behaves" "He knows all his colors and letters and numbers" AND "he's going to have to repeat K3 because of his birthday (even thought it is a private school). So frustrating. Our state, FL, has the age limit as state law. It makes no sense. Test the kid and find out where they belong.

childEngineer said...

This is a subject I think about a lot. In CA the cutoff is moving up by a month each year. This year is Nov 1, then Oct 1 and then it will settle at Sept 1 the year my daughter will turn 5. Her birthday is Sept 10.

Her brother, my oldest, has an April birthday and will start Kindergarten next fall after turning 5. He already reads, counts well past 100, can skip count by 2's, 3's, 5's, 10s, do simple math in his head and has an incredible memory. I'm worried he'll be bored with Kindergarten by the time he starts. If my daughter follows in his footsteps, I can't imagine having her start Kinder when she's nearly 6.

But from what I know, the cutoff date is strict in CA. I was thinking that if she's ready for Kinder the fall she turns 5, we could put her in a private school for a year and then transfer for 1st grade, but then we read on a CA website on this issue that she could only enter 1st if she's not 6 by Sept 1 if she attended K in another state. So private Kinder may not cut it. I plan to talk to her school when the time comes if she's ready for Kinder at almost 5. The state website did say that in some cases, a child can start school in the middle of the school year when they turn 5. It's not clear how to qualify for this option, but I'd hate for her to start the school year late because she misses the cutoff by 10 days.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The California law explicitly allows gifted kids to start earlier. You may have a hard time convincing your school administrator of that, so better be prepared.

The relevant part of the Education Code is 48000 (b) The governing board of a school district maintaining one or more kindergartens may, on a case-by-case basis, admit to a
kindergarten a child having attained the age of five years at any time during the school year with the approval of the parent or
guardian, subject to the following conditions:
(1) The governing board determines that the admittance is in the best interests of the child.
(2) The parent or guardian is given information regarding the
advantages and disadvantages and any other explanatory information
about the effect of this early admittance.

childEngineer said...

Thank you for the follow up, gasstationwithoutpumps. I had read that passage you quote. Are you saying the first condition cited is code for the child being gifted, or that there is something else about gifted children starting early?

Do you have any idea how to get them to consider your child gifted? Do you have to have them tested?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I have no idea how to convince the schools that a kindergartener is gifted. Around here they won't test until 3rd grade, because they offer no services for gifted kids until then.

We didn't go for early entry, but for more challenge by direct negotiation with the teacher. For example, we had our son take a bilingual class and do literacy instruction with the native Spanish speakers. We also provided and graded Singapore math workbooks a year up from what the rest of the class was doing.

childEngineer said...

I've heard that there aren't GATE programs until 3rd grade. I'm worried about my son getting bored before then and deciding he doesn't like school. I think we will take the approach you are taking. If he's not being challenged, we'll work with the teacher.

I actually find myself not actively teaching him more along the lines of reading and math because he's ahead of the curve as it is. Instead we are teaching him to play the guitar and read music so he's challenged in areas that won't be covered in Kindergarten.

Lourdes M. said...

Two of my children are asynchronous learners. In the case of my youngest, now 16, we were in Indiana and the cut off was July 1. He turned 5 late June and we waited. I loved having him at home and we did so many fun and educational things together. I did send him to a Pre K (just 2 hours 3 days a week).Part way through his K year, we knew it had been a mistake. We (and his K teacher) fought to have him accelreated to 2nd grade. NO GO. The school district would not even consider. After 2nd grade, as he saw he was languishing, I took him out and accelerated by home schooling for a year. Then we were fortunate to get him into a Lab school (one of the few left in the country)I think that if our local district would have accomadated us, we would never have moved him and as it turns out, it was the best thing. He is in his 3rd year of HS, 2nd year of AP classes, playing in his own rock band, getting lots of stimulation but also doing all the teenage stuff. He is heads and tails above the rest of us in intellegence but is very much our little boy. Some times it works out but things will be so much better when age (and birthdate) is not the main deciding factor.

lgm said...

We didn't want to send the kid to K early. It's full day K, and it's just as inappropriate academically at 4 as it is at 5.
The right time to attend for academics would have been a start of 18-36 months. Don't know about you, but I would not put a toddler/preschooler on a bus to fend for himself with older children.The US needs to change its schooling and place by instructional need, not age.

nicoleandmaggie said...

We started early this year at a private school. (Birthday: Dec 29, Cutoff: Sept 1). He does half the day with kindergarten and half the day with first grade. Another one of this classmates goes with him to first grade. This school is one of two in town that allow early entrance so he's actually not the youngest kid in K, and the oldest is almost exactly a year older (birthday Dec 20th).

It's been a semester so far and he has been flourishing. His printing has become legible, he's learned it's ok to make mistakes (tempering his perfectionist streaks), he doesn't come home bouncing off the walls like he did when he'd outgrown his preschool. He's teaching my husband French. It's just been great.

He'll be allowed to switch to public school with the skip in second grade. They don't allow it in K or first.

Simone Hawthorne said...

Hey Molly,
Do you know of any private schools in the Atlanta area that have a later cutoff? We live in NYC right now but really want to move down. But I don't want my daughter to have to wait an extra year to go to school the year she turn five when she's three and already reading. I'm trying to do my research now before we make any final decisions.

Frankie - NJ said...

Everyone in this discussion makes such intelligent and logical comments, I almost feel that my comment does not belong here... but it does – big time.

The reason that the cutoff date has been pushed back is because older children raise the average grade and that is good for the teachers unions to show that they “improve” education and cover for incompetent teachers (but yet a paying member), and it is good for the states because of the federal money they get from the “no child left behind” act.

Talking about “family planning”... My advice to parents that don't want to miss the cutoff date – “roll in the hay” early, preferably at summer time.

That's it. It all boils down to money. Sorry. When money talks, intelligent walks.

Anonymous said...

I started kindergarten at 4, turning 5 at the end of January, which was then the cutoff in our Philadelphia suburb. Through elementary school I was considered one of the best students and I qualified as gifted. There was only one child a few days younger than I and ironically, he and I tested best in musical pitch. I went on to learn foreign languages and become a physician. Fight for your child's right to start school early. Had I been delayed, it would have been a waste of time.

childEngineer said...

The last time I commented here, my son was getting ready to start Kindergarten. Thought I would post an update. He's in second grade now in a combo 2/3 class and it's the first time he has really been challenged in school. His teacher is incredible.

My daughter who I was worried about because she missed the new Sept 1 cutoff for Kindergarten was able to enroll in TK (Transitional Kindergarten) this year. I didn't realize 2 years ago that we'd have this option (we are in CA). It meant not having to fight for early entrance to Kinder. Two weeks in and she already has most of the skills needed to pass Kindergarten (at least everything they have tested her for so far). Thankfully we have confirmed with the principal that we will have the option to move her to first grade next year (rather than regular Kindergarten), if the teacher, school psychologist, principal and parents agree she is ready academically, socially and emotionally. The half-day program is perfect for her and I think the social skills she learns this year will prepare her for first grade.

It's nice to see comments here from other parents and even adults that confirm our feeling that holding her back would be a disservice. There seems to be such a bias among parents towards delaying Kindergarten.

Mom said...

Im new to this site! I was reading the first comment by Laura Vanderkam - where she says she would rather her child be one of the youngest in the class. Im struggling with this issue for my son. I would love to hear from you all - why would you rather have your child be one of the youngest children? what is the benefit?

megan hernandez said...

I think you're right on about teachers not wanting to "put up with it" regarding a normal 5 year olds in kindergarten vs. 6 year olds. This has become the norm: hold your kid back if his bday is close to the cutoff. Allowing parents to do this has really made things difficult for those of us with kids with bdays near the cutoff. My bday is 8/30. I Started kindergarten right after I turned 5...that was 32 years ago. Never had a problem. My son's bday is 9/16. Preschool teacher is suggesting another year of preK. Now, I know my son is a different kid than I was, but I'm thinking if he's not quite "ready" for kindergarten, then maybe that means it'll just be a little more challenging for him. Since when is that a bad thing? I don't understand this idea of waiting a year so he'll be "ready", anyhow. If he's not socially/emotionally mature enough now, how exactly is spending another year in preK with kids a year younger who are most likely more socially/emotionally immature going to help him? I fear it'll just give him the "big fish in a small pond" experience, and I don't want that for him.

megan hernandez said...

So true!

megan hernandez said...

I think it's a good lesson: nothing comes easy, you have to work hard. That may sound harsh for a 4-turning-5-year-old, as my son will be entering K (bday is 9/16). Then again, it may not prove to be such a challenge (it wasn't for me; my bday was 8/30 and I had no problem as one of the youngest). The fact is, we just don't know. But isn't that what this is all about? We all bring something different to the table. K will be academically challenging for some; for others, a breeze. K may be socially difficult for some; second nature to others. That's life, isn't it? I don't want my son to drown in K, and if he struggles severely, I could have him repeat it if need be. But why not give him the chance to show us first whether or not he's got what it takes?

B S said...

What if your child were better than average?
My daughter at 9 is going to high school this coming school year.
She will be in all honor classes.
For a child like her one year lost is a lot of loss.
It is not about the age, it should be about the ability of each children.
My daughter should have been in college by 10, but obstacle from the school teachers and the advisors made it difficult.
Finally, when my daughter had the highest test scores, the school could not put up anymore stupid arguments.
This is a grand scale extortion by so called expert educators.
The decision must be made by parents not corrupt politicians and incompetent school employees.

brownie91482 said...

I'm in NC and my son will be five a couple of weeks after the cutoff date.

I'm really looking for advice regarding this situation. We have talked about the early entrance test, homeschooling, and private school.

The test seems a little ridiculous, basically he has to be smarter than a kindergartner to get into kindergarten. I thought about homeschooling and then putting him into first grade, almost like he was just transferring from another school. Not sure if they would make him repeat the kindergarten year again though. I know alot of the decisions are left to the principal. I would like to believe if my son shows he's capable of going to first grade that he wouldn't be forced to relearn everything again. But I just have no way of being sure.

It's so terrible that some kids get in based on their birthday rather than intelligence. My son is friends with two boys older than him, one by ten months the other by four months. He know so much more than they do, and can do so much more than them too. It's frustrating for me to see him treated so unfairly just because his birthday is a couple of weeks past the cutoff.

Sorry to go on and on, but I am really on need of advice and so tired of the people who think they are making you feel better by saying "just keep him back a year, he will be fine." I would rather have him believe he can do anything, than think he doesn't need to try.

childEngineer said...

brownie91482 - I agree that it is unfair and arbitrary to rely on birthdate. I suspect most people will tell you it's not a big deal, that he's better off waiting, especially since he's a boy. I say go with your gut. The research backs up acceleration for gifted children. If you know he's ready and think he'll be bored if he has to wait another year, find a way to get him into Kindergarten. If you are going to accelerate him, starting early is an easier option than accelerating in a later grade after he has friends in his grade.

Good luck!

Alan said...

The resonance of social and academic factors with a kids development depends more on his/her temperament than age or gender.

In my own experience, I was generally ignored by teachers struggling to maintain discipline in the classroom and teaching to the lowest quartile, with the justification "the cream will rise to the top". A grade skip, which I had in math but not fully, would not have changed this, and it turned out not to matter academically. I finished my PhD by my 30th birthday and have an interesting and rewarding technical job.
Being a March baby, and on the slighter side, I got what I perceived to be significant stigmatization--read lots of teasing near to the point of bullying--for being smart and small.
The point is that my story isn't terribly unique. But a similar story affects different kids different ways. Some personalities wouldn't care about the teasing. Some would thumb their noses at it and be motivated to further heights, because screw-em. And some would be socially stunted by it, and choose not to become the leaders they could be, out of aversion to the risk of non-acceptance.

I have a gifted 6yo in 1st, BD near end of October so near the older end. The academic side is mostly boring for her. But she's very timid at trying new things. I think for her, it's a bit of a relief not to have to work hard on the practice sheets with writing and math, as it gives her more brainspace to process the behavior of her peers/teacher and how those things relate to her. Then again, perhaps if she were being challenged academically (like skip here up maybe 2 grades), she'd be too busy to worry about the social?

I have a gifted 4yo in PS. Maybe he's not reading like his sister, but he can give step-by-step driving directions for most any destination within 10 miles that he's been to once. He's been occasionally allowed to accompany the class for his sisters KG field trips and picnic days. He feels zero compunction about playing with the bigger kids and easily holds his own socially and mentally with them. He's a late September baby, so also about oldest in class. Should I move him up? He might handle it better'n I ever did, but if he turns out more like me, and when kids start getting vindictive it'd affect him badly, being the oldest and biggest in his class could be a huge asset.

I wish school districts would let parents decide both ways. And I also wish more parents would pay close attention to their kids and spend the effort to understand them. I'm convinced there's no one directive policy that's right for them all.

nadi mora said...

Amen! Same boat. How'd it turnout?
Anyone know of a school in Broward County FL with a late cut-off date?