To delay or not to delay the start of kindergarten.
A child’s formal academic journey begins with kindergarten. Most school systems across the United States start formal schooling at age five, but the cutoff date for registration differs from state to- state. The age a child should enter kindergarten has become a dilemma for parents. The debate is whether to have their younger five-year-olds (with spring/ summer birthdays) start kindergarten a year later — at age six.
This trend is called redshirting. Redshirting is a term used by college athletic programs to allow student athletes an extra year of sports eligibility in order to enhance their skills and strength. This may not be ideal for kindergarteners. Parents may have the perception that holding back their child — especially a male with a spring/summer birthday — will give him an academic advantage, a higher IQ, success in sports, college admission down the road and an increase in potential wage earnings as an adult. Current research does not support this trend.
Holding back a five-year-old may give the child a better academic performance in the early grades, but research indicates that entering school later reduces educational attainment. A recent study by Jaekel et al. (2015) found no significant difference between the age-appropriate school entry child and the delayed-entry child in math scores, writing, reading and attention in the first year of school. This study also found that delayed-entry children, when tested at eight years of age (third grade), had lower scores in math, reading, writing and attention than the age-appropriate school entry children. Kids who may be held back due to immaturity, possible developmental impairments or special educational needs may need to attend kindergarten at the appropriate school age in order to receive the necessary supplemental school services such as reading, math or social skills intervention to achieve their grade-level expectations.
Boys are more often held back a year for kindergarten because their parents don’t want them to be the youngest in the classroom, which they perceive as an academic and social disadvantage. Well-educated, upper-income families are more likely to hold back their kids from beginning kindergarten at the appropriate age. This trend has now become more widespread across the country. The rationale is that older children outcompete the younger peers in class, sports and college admissions.
This redshirting trend has now become an issue for the kindergarten teacher with students in class ranging in age from five to six years and older. The older kids in the class may have acquired more skills in math and reading since they were held back to mature and attend a pre-kindergarten program. This puts the age-appropriate kindergartner at a disadvantage. The younger students may start out behind, but by the end of kindergarten, most children will achieve the necessary academic and social skills to advance to first grade, according to the most recent research.
Some current research is just beginning to examine the late effects of holding back a child for kindergarten, skipping grades and retention. As the child advances in school, there are some negative social, academic and developmental outcomes, such as dropping out of school, acting out, using drugs and entering the workforce at a later age — all of which will have an impact as these children reach adulthood and beyond.
How can you make the best choice for your kindergarten-age child? Most school districts have registration for kindergarten three to six months ahead of the approaching school year. Children will mature during that time and continue to achieve developmental and academic skills before school begins. Most school districts assess kindergarten students for their readiness to learn.
You also need to assess your child’s ability for school readiness. Whether your child has the following skills may help you decide on kindergarten entry. Your child:
1. Can express himself using at least five words in a sentence and can be under- stood by non-family members.
2. Is independent when using the bathroom.
3. Can sit still and listen to a story for about ten minutes.
4. Follows a two-step direction.
5. Plays cooperatively, takes turns and shares most of the time.
6. Asks for help with tasks when needed.
The follow additional skills are not required for kindergarten, but parents can begin to work on them in preparation. Most children attend preschool and have acquired some of these skills but need to perfect them in kindergarten. Your child can:
1. Cut with scissors.
2. Count to ten.
3. Write her name and use a pencil or crayon correctly.
4. Dress and put his coat on, zipper and button up.
5. Sing the alphabet song.
6. Begin to recognize rhyming sounds and may be able to read a few short words.
7. Pack and carry his backpack.
Children need to practice these skills. The fact that they have not developed a particular skill doesn’t mean they shouldn’t start kindergarten. Most will enhance these skills during the first weeks of school.
Kids should begin kindergarten at the appropriate age. Assess your child and make the best choice after taking into consideration his preschool teacher’s impressions, his interactions with others and his sense of self. Remember, there is a great deal of growing up in the months before school begins. Children will know if their five-year-old friends are going to kindergarten without them, and it may affect their self-esteem. Current research indicates that delayed entry to school doesn’t improve IQ, the children don’t outperform their peers, and they do not have greater academic achievements.
Kindergarten is the opportunity for age-appropriate children to grow and be nurtured for their future academic years.
Jo Ann B. Serota, DNP, CPNP, FAANP, is a certified PNP and co-owner of Ambler Pediatrics, Blue Bell, PA. She is Past President of NAPNAP and President of the NAPNAP Foundation.