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Help! When Should my Child Start Kindergarten?

By Paula J. Hillmann, PhD, LPC

kindergartenOn March 4, 2012, 60 Minutes aired a segment "Kindergarten 'Redshirting.' What Would you Do?" that questioned early childhood education readiness, especially when a child is ready to start kindergarten. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success was published in 2008. If you haven't read it, you must. To summarize one key message in common day language -- some kids make it and some don't.  

According to some parents interviewed by the 60 Minutes crew, starting school later may be one reason why some kids succeed. Many parents choose to "redshirt" their child, in other words hold their child back from entering school. The thinking by these parents is that their child will have an academic and social (and possibly athletic) advantage over other children in his or her kindergarten class that will perpetuate across K-12. Older is better......

"Redshirting" -- holding a child back one year from entering a school level or grade - some parents think it may be advantageous for their child...But is it? What does the research say? What does the common information reveal? The bottom line in answering these questions about your child is - it all depends..... I realize that parents may not want that for an answer but let me explain. I say this with one of my feet in the practical, and the other in the academic.

One Side of the Mirror

Sometimes it does make sense to wait for entrance to kindergarten. If your child was born in May-August and the "cut-off" for kindergarten enrollment is a birthday of September 1st you must consider your child's intellectual, emotional, social and physical maturity in deciding whether he or she is ready to ‘start' kindergarten.

Example 1:

We know the days of ‘graham crackers and milk' kindergarten are over (some younger readers may be saying WHAT?! But older readers will identify on my point, which relates to what kindergarten was in the past when guided discovery learning was followed by a food break and resting on mats, the latter a needed opportunity for socialization followed by relaxation  - all of which we believe fostered young children's healthy development.  

My personal note: In virtually every kindergarten I have observed in the last decade this idea of guided discovery learning followed by a period of rest and relaxation no longer exists - kindergarten today looks more like what we would have expected in first grade in the past. 

SO.... if your child is not ready for a classroom with an academic schedule and expectation that focuses on work associated with older children in the past, kindergarten may not be the best placement your child is ready for. Boys take a little longer to ‘grow up' than girls. Biology and brain research do not lie. Boys mature about 1.5-2 years behind girls. Boys' ability to sit in one spot for a long period of time and self-regulate their ability to pay attention kicks in later than girls, on the average.

In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests we could eliminate many of the misdiagnoses of ADHD in boys if would give them a learning environment developmentally appropriate for their learning needs (i.e., give their brains a chance to grow up). So starting later for these young boys may be best. With girls, this may be so, too, (it depends); but generally speaking and as a whole, girls with summer birthdays seem to do better than boys with the September 1st cut-of.  

Example 2:

We live in a culture where competitive sports are predominant. If you are a parent who has a child with potential for extraordinary athleticism, waiting until your child is older to start kindergarten has some distinct advantages for boys and girls in some sports. We know that hormones "kick in" differently -- about 1.5 - 2 years later in boys than girls. If you are thinking varsity basketball (or other large muscle sport) for your child, remember the biological clock (hormones are related to height and muscle mass). Children with summer birthdays (May-August) will be up against kids who may be around a year older, and in sports this may matter. 

The Other Side of the Mirror

Sometimes it's better not to ‘redshirt' and have your child enter kindergarten at the time when his or her age coincides with the school's cut-off or possibly earlier.

Example:

If you have a child with extraordinary talents and intellectual abilities, waiting to enter kindergarten inhibits opportunities for the cognitive and/or creative stimulation and acceleration that may be needed to optimize a child's potential. In fact, children may suffer academically, socially and emotionally if they are withheld from resources and challenges that are appropriate for their exceptional capabilities. Accelerative options are essential to the healthy development of children with gifted education and talent development needs.  And, if you have a child with profound abilities, it is crucial you apply for your child's early entrance into your local school (check with your local school about entrance into kindergarten earlier than then the school's cut-off date). 

When to start school has become more complicated for parents than it was in the past, especially when we watch programs like 60 Minutes, or read about kids who make it or not. I always advise parents to use their best judgment. You know your child best. How do you define ‘successful achievement' in your family? That may be a better guiding question when making decisions related to your child's entry into kindergarten. Bottom line: Define what determines your child's pathway in school that leads to his or her life satisfaction and success - What's best for your child?


Posted on March 8, 2012 by Paula J. Hillmann, PhD, LPC

Paula Hillmann is a professional counselor and educational psychologist who specializes in gifted education and talent development, working with children, adolescents, families, and schools in building strong and engaged partnerships. She is an advocacy coach for parents and teachers, and she guides children and adolescents in becoming mindful learners. Contact her at Advanced Learning Resources.

© 2012  Paula J. Hillmann, PhD, LPC. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.

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Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Gifted , Learning environment, Sports, Theory-Research

 

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