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  • Should your child start kindergarten early?

    Should your child start kindergarten early? -

    In the last few months, several parents have said to me something along the lines of: “I probably should have held him back.”

    It’s made me grateful that my children’s birthdays fall in months that didn’t give me much choice about when they would start kindergarten. I’ve watched many friends struggle with the decision of whether to start their child in kindergarten in the fall or wait a year, and as I said, I have friends who’ve regretted – or at least doubted – their choice to start their child early.

    Some of the reasons for starting kindergarten on the earlier side include:

    • The child is emotionally ready. Some kids have trouble sitting still, getting along with other kids, cry a lot, etc. Other kids fully participate in their preschool class, and handle interactions with other kids appropriately. If you’ve got the former, it’s easier to say your child isn’t quite ready for kindergarten. But if you’ve got the latter, you might wonder if keeping her in preschool for another year is actually hindering her development.
    • The child is intellectually ready. I know some kids who could not only write their names and the entire alphabet, but they could read Level 1 or 2 books and do simple addition and subtraction when they started kindergarten. Some kids get bored in preschool, too. Again, if you have an academically advanced child, you might wonder if holding him back will just make the next year more difficult than it needs to be.
    • The child is physically ready. In almost every class, there seems to be one kid who’s noticeably taller than everybody else. And a lot of times, that kid is one of the younger ones in the class. It can be difficult to look like you’re older than everybody else, especially when you actually aren’t. So parents with a tall kid might be more inclined to start their child in kindergarten than parents with a short kid.
    • The financial cost of another year of preschool is a burden. Preschool can be expensive {although it’s cheap compared to summer camp!}. So the thought of paying for an extra year of preschool when you don’t have to can be a huge incentive to send your child to kindergarten instead of holding her back for another year. That’s money that can be applied toward college savings or other good uses.

    On the other hand, there are also reasons to hold your child back:

    • Your child may be able to keep pace with her peers now, but may fall behind in a few years. As school work becomes more challenging, your child may have increasing difficulty with the material. One of my friends said her son was struggling with fourth grade math, and was wondering if he would have had an easier time in school if she’d held him back a year.
    • Your child will have to face social pressures earlier. Adolescence is never an easy time, and that may be when your child’s younger age compared to her classmates starts to show. So it’s important to project ahead and ask yourself if you want your child to be exposed to middle school or high school a year earlier than she needs to be. In fact, one of my friends who skipped a grade said that she felt fine about it until middle school, which is when she really started to feel the age difference.
    • It can be difficult to hold your child back later. Some schools will not allow you to hold your child back once she’s in school, especially if she’s keeping up academically. You may wish to check the policy of your local school district before making a decision.
    • Your child may have an advantage when it comes to athletics if he’s on the older end of the scale. While it’s statistically unlikely your child will become a superstar athlete, he may have a better chance of athletic success in high school if he’s older.

    This is one of those really difficult parenting decisions where you won’t know if you made the right choice for a few years, if ever. Ever since college, I’ve wished that my parents had held me back so that I was one of the oldest kids instead of one of the youngest – I think I would have been more self-confident, and consequently thrived more. But one of my good friends growing up had skipped a grade and was younger than me, and seemed far better adjusted in our late adolescence/early adulthood than I was. {I’d say there’s zero to no disparity now, so maybe that’s the real answer: eventually it just doesn’t matter.}

    Image via by AKARAKINGDOMS.

    “Summer School” at Home

    Summer School at HomeMy kids did well academically this past school year, but the curriculum is only getting harder and I want to make the coming school year as easy as possible for them since they’ll be busy with multiple sports on top of school work.

    My oldest child’s teacher sent home a math workbook that was virtually untouched, so I’ve got him doing the worksheets starting in the middle of the book, right where the material started to get difficult. It turns out my younger son is perfectly capable of doing the worksheets at the front of the book, so the earlier pages are definitely not going to waste.

    Reading comprehension and storytelling have been an area of difficulty for us, so while my husband works with our son on summarizing chapters, I’ve been using reading comprehension exercises I find online. What did people do before the internet?! It’s just the most amazing thing to be able to do a quick Swagbucks search for “third grade reading comprehension worksheets” and find thousands of free printables (you can be eco-friendly by having your child read the passage on the screen, printing on re-used paper, etc.). Some sites limit the number of free pdfs (they’re basically free samples), but since there are so many sites, I’m not in danger of running out of options.

    Although using worksheets from multiple sites requires a little more work on my part to find them, I like that my children are being challenged in different ways. They have to focus and pay attention because the instructions are written differently, the passages are written in different styles, and the questions vary greatly.

    Our routine this first week has been to go outside for a while after breakfast, then come back and work at the table. As I write this post, my oldest is working on his reading comprehension exercise, while my youngest draws since he finished his math and reading already. The added benefit for me, of course, is that when I’m not correcting their work or answering questions, I can get some of my own work done. And hopefully, by the time they head back to school, my kids will find the classwork pleasantly doable.

    Do your kids study during the summer?

    Image via by Felixco, Inc..

    Ask for Class Supply Lists Before School Ends

    I mentioned this over at LAUSD Magnet Schools & Beyond but wanted to share it here too …

    If you’re like me and you enjoy supporting your child’s school and individual teachers by providing classroom supplies, ask for a wishlist or supply list before school ends. You most likely won’t know who your child’s teacher will be in the fall, but the school may have a grade-wide list of supplies that all teachers need/want. And some requests are universal – every teacher I’ve met can use the following:

    • No. 2 pencils
    • Erasers
    • Glue sticks
    • Facial tissue (Kleenex)
    • Baby wipes
    • Antibacterial wipes (like Lysol or Clorox)

    I have lists for both of my sons’ grades next school year, and both lists also include crayons, color pencils, folders, colored printer paper, zip top bags in various sizes, dry erase markers, and band-aids.

    In the coming months, Staples, Office Depot, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and other stores will start their back to school sales. It’s a great time to stock up on supplies at rock bottom prices, and I’ll be running my annual Back to School Sales series when the sales start up.

    I don’t know about other areas, but with all of the budget cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District, public education really only works now if parents, teachers and the administration are a team. Presenting your child’s teacher with a gift of supplies sends the message that you’re there to support and help them, and can help everyone get the year off to a great start.

    Short Term Savings Alternatives

    Our current financial goals have us balancing debt-reduction with saving for the boys’ education. As I mentioned earlier this year, we’re banking as much money as possible so we can pay off the mortgage (which is our only debt) or have plenty of cash to pay for private school in a few years. College savings is also on our minds as the Forbes list of America’s top colleges shows that tuition at these schools is pretty in the $50,000 range right now (and I hate to think of what it will be in 12 years, when my oldest is heading off to college).

    While it’s hard to say if we’re saving “enough,” I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can maximize the money that we are saving until we need it. Right now, we’re looking at needing the money in about five years – either to pay off the mortgage or to start paying for private school tuition. That’s not long enough for even moderately aggressive investments. We’ll actually have to be fairly conservative.

    The first place I’m going to park more money is the boys’ Coverdell accounts. The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per child and grows tax-free (higher income families should note the contribution limits). As of right now, money from Coverdells can be used for expenses during grades K through 12, so it’s a great option for us with our plans to start paying for private school as early as sixth grade. (Congress will need to extend those K-12 benefits beyond 2012, but I’m confident they will, and if they don’t, the money will be there for college.)

    The next option I’m considering is my Roth IRA. I’ve had it since college, although I haven’t contributed much since I had a 401(k) until I quit my job last year. I’ve been planning to contribute to my Roth anyway since I’m no longer building up retirement savings in other accounts. The nice thing about Roths is that although they are retirement accounts, income tax has already been paid on contributions so they can be withdrawn at any time. Earnings can be withdrawn without being subject to an early withdrawal penalty if the money is used to pay for the kids’ college expenses. So this would really be a long-term savings option, but one we were going to use anyway because of the retirement savings aspect.

    For both the Coverdell and Roth investments, we could pick very conservative options that would have little risk with tax-free growth (though we would likely be more aggressive with the Roth since the money will sit there longer).

    The other option I’m looking into is a money market account – they are earning a bit more than traditional savings accounts, and there are some tax-advantaged accounts that would allow our money to grow tax-free. Money market accounts are not FDIC insured, but are considered to be extremely low-risk investments. I’m just not sure the extra yield is worth the lack of FDIC insurance, given that the difference is so small right now with how low interest rates are (around 1/2 percent).

    CDs (Certificates of Deposit) are also an option, but again, the difference between the return on CDs and the return on traditional savings accounts is so small that I’m not sure it’s worth tying up our money.

    The market just doesn’t seem to be rewarding savers right now, although that’s no reason not to save money. In fact, economic conditions are such that I’m thankful every day that we have savings. I’d just like to make the most of those savings!

    Looking for a Microscope

    We’ve gotten big into science around here, and I want to make the most of the boys’ curiosity while we can since who knows how long this stage will last.

    We’ve grown some alum crystals, colored celery to demonstrate capillary action, and are growing a container garden (we recently added some tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and parsley to keep our lemon tree company).

    Next on our list of projects are sugar crystals and salt crystals.

    I thought it would be a good experience to compare the crystals’ structures under a microscope, but I haven’t touched a microscope since college. I know nothing about brand names, what to look for, or what’s a good price to pay.

    So before I buy this well-reviewed My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope from Amazon, I wanted to ask for input. What should I be looking for in a kid’s microscope, and what’s a good price to pay? Thanks so much!

    P.S. And thanks to this review at Baby Toolkit, I’ve added the book Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win to my reading list.