Most school districts around the country have a “cut-off date” for children beginning public kindergarten. In my city the date is September 1st. Kids who turn five before September 1st are eligible to start school that year but kids who turn five on or after that date wait for the next year.
However, in very few states are five-year-olds required to start kindergarten when they turn five. In my state, kids don’t have to attend school until they’re eight.
So this means that parents often have the option of deciding when to send their children to kindergarten. And there are some myths surrounding that.
Parents sometimes think that keeping an eligible five-year-old out of school for an extra year will help him do better in school since he’ll be more able to sit still. And some parents think that holding a kid back will make him more successful in high school athletics, since he’ll be bigger and stronger than other kids.
While each child is different, and it makes sense to start a child in kindergarten only when he’s ready, it’s important to remember a couple things. First, any class of kids already includes an entire year’s worth of ages so the held-back child may not be at much of an advantage at all. And studies show that the most common characteristic of high school drop-outs is being older than classmates, no matter what the reason. So holding a child back may not be a good idea.
Early entrance can also be a problem. Parents sometimes want to start a child a year ahead if she’s already reading at age three or four. But remember that kindergarten is about social skills. The child who is younger than her classmates might struggle with fitting in, and that can put her at a disadvantage.
Think carefully about your child when thinking about starting kindergarten.
Kindergarten teachers are pleased if students can:
Put on, fasten, unfasten and take off clothes, like coats, shoes and mittens
Use the bathroom and wash their hands.
Follow two- and three-step-directions. (An example of a two-step direction is “hang up your coat and come sit down.”)
Carry on a conversation, including staying on the subject.
Get along with other kids and adults, by sharing, taking turns and avoiding fights.
Stay on-task for a reasonable length of time.
Accept the authority of the teacher and other school adults.
In addition, kindergarten teachers would love it if students come to school able to:
Identify many upper and lower case letters of the alphabet and numerals to 10.
Identify basic colors and shapes.
Open a book, turn pages, interpret the action by observing pictures.
Listen and understand a conversation.
Use a pencil to draw a shape or figure, make a straight cut with a pair of scissors, and use glue or paste conservatively.
Print their first names and recognize their first names in print.
If your five-year-old can do all this, then he probably should start kindergarten this year. If he can’t, give him the gift of attending prekindergarten this year.