Mar 31, 2014

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.}


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