At what age do kids go to school?
October 7, 2009 7:11 PM   Subscribe

what do developmental studies tell us about school entry ages? Should my son go to kinder next year?

In my State the age entry cut off is 30 April. My son is born in early March, and it was suggested he shouldn't go to kinder next year, he may be too young. This was by a kinder teacher (who's never met my son, is making a general observation).

So I would like to know what the general belief is from other parts of the world, particularly based on research, about school entry ages. Obviously my son is different and every child should be assessed on their own merits, so I'm happy to hear anecdotes as well.

Calculating forward, if my son goes to kinder next year, he would do year 12 as a 17 y.o.. Pretty much the age I did it, and I never felt I was young for my cohort. Has there been a recent change of heart? Based on evidence?
posted by wilful to Pets & Animals (34 answers total)
Point of clarification:
At what age would your son start kindergarten if he started next fall? Is the requirement that he be 4 y.o. by April 30th or 5 y.o.?
posted by moreandmoreso at 7:15 PM on October 7, 2009

I remember reading a study that showed the kids on the younger end of the age range caught up eventually. I want to say by 3rd grade? Maybe 4th grade? I can't remember the details, just that they caught up. I wish I could direct you to the study.

What I did with my son was to have him evaluated by the school. He knew his alphabet, he was reading, he had had two years of preschool; he was ready for kindergarten. I wouldn't take what a teacher who had never met your son suggested as the gospel truth. There are lots of kindergarten readiness checklists online, or you can ask your school district for theirs and see where your son in on the list.
posted by cooker girl at 7:21 PM on October 7, 2009

Oh, right. If the district requires him to be 5 and he'll only be 4...the decision might be out of your hands.
posted by cooker girl at 7:23 PM on October 7, 2009

Hi Wilful, I can't speak to studies, but QLD, for example has a cut off in December, thus the vast majority of students in grade 12 are turning 17 that year. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not a state of shambling fools (mostly!), so any effects would be negligible. This said, when kids do have trouble in primary, the school will talk to the parent about having the child repeat grades one, two, or three usually.
posted by smoke at 7:38 PM on October 7, 2009

This was by a kinder teacher (who's never met my son, is making a general observation).

Not in your country. I used to teach kindergarten. As a general rule, there is not much to lose and often much to gain by delaying entry to kindergarten a year for those who are close enough to the cutoff date to do so. This is particularly true for boys. The reason is that on average, boys are more delayed in acquiring written language skills - reading and writing. In the first few years of school, this (normal) delay can become a source of anxiety and frustration for both the students and the parents as they all compare the child's performance with that of an almost-all-older, and half-female, population. Boys often benefit from a full year of developmental progress which will make them among the most mature, rather than the least mature, members of their class.

I've been away from teaching too long to have good leads on research, but it was taught me in teacher training, and it's common practice in the US as well to recommend waiting where possible.

There are exceptions. Many children of average or above average intelligence from literate households begin reading early. If you have the kind of son who is already writing his name and other words, recognizing many words in read-aloud books, reading signs while out on car rides, or even reading new books (not reciting) himself, he may be an early reader (lucky you). In that case, the reasons for delay are less important - they become purely social. In kindergarten it's important that kids enter with some ability to make friends, play collaboratively (rather than in parallel), take turns, wait to speak, have good self-care skills, etc. If your child can both read and exhibit abilities similar to kids a year older than himself, there's no reason to opt for the delayed entry.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on October 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Is he in pre-k or daycare now? If so, I'd say the folks there should be the first ones to ask if he's on the level most of their kids are the year before they start kindergarten.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:50 PM on October 7, 2009

It totally depends on the kid, I think. My siblings and I all went to kindergarten "on time" regardless of gender, and would have been bored stiff at home another year. But, many kids do great with the extra year at home.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:56 PM on October 7, 2009

This is, uh, probably useless noise (and possibly inaccurate paraphrasing), but in his book "Outliers" Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that most NHL hockey players are born some time just after February--because the cut off date for kids hockey in Canada is Feb 1st. So kids who just miss the cut off are bigger and faster the next year when they join. Thus, they get more attention, the coach gives them bigger roles, they get more encouragement. While the gap in skill is small at the outset, years down the road these older players are found to be significantly more skillful then the players who started "on time".

Of course, I have no idea if this applies to education.
posted by stray at 8:04 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I was one month past my school district's cutoff age as well, back in the day. My parents knew I was smart enough to start school one month early as opposed to eleven months late. They enrolled me in a local private (Catholic) school. I loved it, had no problems either socially or academically, and had no problem switching back into the public school system later. I graduated high school at age 17, and the only problem was getting my driver's license last among my friends (boohoo).

Anyway, that was MY experience - my parents knew I was ready. You know YOUR son better than the school district. If you think he's ready and can find a school that will accept him "early," I say go for it! Good luck.
posted by keribear at 8:32 PM on October 7, 2009

I was born four days before the cutoff in my district and also graduated at 17. Having read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," which is mentioned above, I felt that it really did illuminate a lot of issues that may have had a negative effect on me because of this. While I can think of many negatives to having been the youngest person in my grade (and Gladwell's example of sports prowess is not insignificant), I cannot think of any positives whatsoever.

Since you are debating this, I strongly recommend reading that book. Strongly. And, based on my experience, would urge you to let your kid wait a year.
posted by paperzach at 9:21 PM on October 7, 2009

to clarify a few points, my boy is currently 3 1/2, would turn four soon after entry into kinder, then prep, then years 1 to 12. He's advanced with reading and numbers, and highly articulate, but only middling socially. We are going to ask his childcare what they think, as our primary expert source, but I was hoping to see if there was any good science out there (though thank you for your answers so far)).
posted by wilful at 9:22 PM on October 7, 2009

Your last post does clarify things a bit. In the US, children usually enter kindergarten when they are 5 with the cutoff date being September 1. The date varies from state to state though. We do not have a year between kinder and 1st grade. It is common practice to hold a child out for a year if they have a late (summer) birthday depending on the level of readiness. Many children here go to preschool, which is usually at a private school but more andmore public schools are offering it. Usually children ages 3 and 4 attend PK or prekindergarten.
posted by tamitang at 9:46 PM on October 7, 2009

Looks like school readiness is the term you should put into Google Scholar if you're looking for the published research.

My personal take, as someone who also missed the school cutoff by a month or so, and whose mom figured out a way to get me in early anyway: while I never had a single problem academically, and in fact was near the top of my class, I think I would have been much more comfortable and confident socially if she had let me wait the extra year before starting.
posted by MsMolly at 10:00 PM on October 7, 2009

You weren't young for your cohort, but the cohorts are getting older. I turned 17 in March of Year 12 ('02) and was pretty young for mine (there were kids more than a year older than me). These days they seem to be even older, so I think your son is likely to be quite young for his cohort if he starts next year. My younger brother is in Year 9 and I don't know if any of his friends will still be 17 when they finish year 12. Perhaps try asking his potential school what the average age is?
posted by jacalata at 10:20 PM on October 7, 2009

I was born a month before the cutoff date and began school on time. I don't think I had any problems because of it - I did have some problems (social, rather than academic) after I skipped a grade a few years down the line, but not from my initial enrolment.
posted by Xany at 10:59 PM on October 7, 2009

From an educational standpoint (if evaluations and his teachers agree), your kid may be fine going now.

But he may not be fine a few years down the road.

Kids do develop at different rates and as a middle school teacher I see huge social, emotional and developmental differences within a single grade. The younger kids just aren't on the same page and they're seen by peers as immature and babyish (through no fault of their own). And then we start seeing social problems. And as higher-level thinking skills develop, sometimes the younger kids cannot make the same connections as their older peers, so they start having academic problems.

More and more parents of boys are holding their sons back a year, so the playing field has changed a little bit and your son may already be with somewhat older kids which can be a disadvantage to him in later years. Think 8th grade basketball; he may be less developed than the others, he'll be the "bad" kid on the team. He wants to play with his Pokemon cards; the other boys want to meet girls. We see this all the time.

It comes down to thinking way ahead: it could be fine now, or for a few years and it could even be fine for all of his schooling; but it might not be.

I'd err on the side of holding him back.
posted by dzaz at 2:48 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The trend in the US at least is to hold kids back, especially boys, if they're close to the cutoff. If you don't and everyone else does, then your kid ends up being the youngest by far. It's not unusual for US kindergartens to have kids who range in age by almost two years.

You don't really lose anything by holding him back now.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:20 AM on October 8, 2009

Anything that systemically treats one gender differently than another for non-transparent reasons just begs to be questioned. What if schools routinely wanted to hold back girls because "they weren't ready for science and math yet?" In my city (Cambridge, MA, a city relatively focused on education) I heard about a trend to have boys enter the school system later than girls. I anecdotally heard it called red-shirting, and that it was due to boys' social and developmental skills lagging girls' by some consequential amount. The studies I researched casually, though, said that within a reasonable timeframe kids catch-up very well academically and socially.

However, I mentioned it to a parent who is a teacher in the school system. Her irritation showed as she said without a doubt it is for athletic reasons, but not at the individual level---at the school level. As universities are able to attract more and more money by having star players and teams (envision lots of money pouring in from alumni who remember good times and continue to plan social events around sports at their alma mater for many years), then the onus to produce better athletes trickles down to the high school level. The high school can then boast that X% of its student body gets $$$X in scholarship to Top Name Universities. That in turn brings in more money to the high school. The trend for high schools to want/accept older and/or more athletically skilled boys then trickles down to the elementary and middle school level.

I just looked up the term "redshirting" (Wikipedia) and I see now that it describes a common delaying tactic at the college level specifically for sports. It's interesting that I, and the parents I talked to who used that term, had no idea it referred to a well-known athletic tactic.

A little more searching on the term results in this article, Academic Redshirting and Young Children, with a number of citations at the bottom.

My son's likely to be a young entrant to kindergarten so I've been meaning to look into the trend myself. As others suggest, I think as parents it's our responsibility to do what's best for our individual kids, and not simply what a random teacher or school tendency suggests. My son is already performing basic reading and math, and I know that another year of pre-school will aggravate his dwindling patience. So I think there can be something to lose by holding a kid back. A number of schools in our district have multi-year classrooms because the range of skills in any given subject or developmental area is very broad. Having two years of kids in one classroom allows those who need more time to get it, and allows those same kids to act as leaders or mentors to younger/less advanced kids in the subjects or areas they do excel at.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:03 AM on October 8, 2009

It completely depends on your kid. When I was four, I could read and write. I was told at the district "kindergarten round-up" that I should be held back a year because I couldn't kick a ball the way they wanted me to. My mom called shenanigans, put me in kindergarten when I was 5, and we all lived happily ever after.

My younger brother, who could neither read nor write when he was four, was also put into kindergarten at 5 since my parents had seen it work with me. It was disastrous -- he was basically still illiterate into second grade and had to be put in a remedial reading program -- and though my brother is doing very well now, both he and my parents say they wish he'd waited another year.

Can you explain the kinder-->prep thing? When I was growing up, it was two years of pre-school, then one year of kindergarten at age 5, and then entering first grade at age 6. Is your "kinder" different than what we're all talking about as "kindergarten"?
posted by olinerd at 4:16 AM on October 8, 2009

The plural of anecdote is not data, but. My daughter was born 1 week before the cutoff for entering school. She was 4 when she started kindergarden, and has remained the youngest in her grade. We both would have been unhappy had she waited a year. A friend of mine has a son who was born in August; and he didn't start K until he was six. It was absolutely the best move for him.

There were three slightly older boys (2 or 3 weeks) in my daughter's preschool class who started kindergarden with her. Two are now a year behind her in school -- one repeated kindergarden, and one repeated first grade. The third boy is in the top 10% of their class academically. It is very dependent upon the child. Miko makes some very good points.
posted by jlkr at 4:30 AM on October 8, 2009

As you realise, all kids are different.

You mention he is in childcare. What sort of hours is in there for? I gather childcare is not vastly different from Kindergarten, so I think you can probably see how he will cope with Kinder by the way he copes with day care.

I think you've met my daughter?
She is in early March baby. She was always a very social child. I took her to Parent/Baby meetups & Baby Gym. Other parents would often ask me how old my other children were and were surprised when I said she was my only child, as she apparently behaved like a child with older siblings: very outgoing, very social, not clingy to me, etc.
I went back to study when she turned 3, so she was enrolled into day care to cover my full time TAFE schedule. She LOVED day care. After the first year, the centre lost funding, so she moved to another centre (both were on campus at the TAFE I was at). The one she attended when she was 4 was also a Kindergarten. She was very much upset when the first centre was closed. She held a grudge against Jeff Kennett for many years.

When it came time to start school, there was much thinking to be done. She was socially very capable. She had the basic numeracy & alphabet skills. She was very alert and refused to do any of the afternoon naptime stuff that was part of the daily routine. She had 2 years of long day care (15 - 20+ hours a week?), her teachers all agreed she was ready to start school. Her peers were all off to school. So all things seemed to indicate that school would be best for her.

She had a huge setback about 2 weeks before the school year when my grandmother, who we lived with, died. I'm just mentioning this as a mitigating factor.

However primary school was a huge difference to day care & kindergarten. Ro struggled through most of her primary years, and was not a happy student.

When she moved to High School, she blossomed amazingly, tho. She doesn't enjoy school but she copes much better with the different schedule, freedom of subject choice, etc and she is getting very satisfactory results.

Primary school was a huge drama of frustration and anguish. AIMS testing is (was? not sure if they still do it) a CURSE.

I used to feel, during those primary years, that if I had the choice again, I'd have kept her in Kinder for another year. It worried me for YEARS that I had sent her off into the school system too early. I once said that in front of her & she said she was so glad to have started school when she did cos the kids below her were not as cool as the kids in her year, so the struggle was worth it to be with the cooler kids. After that, I stopped worrying about my decision to start her in 1999, and as far as I was concerned if she was happy with it, so was I. She was in the grade 6 part of a composite 5/6 class when she said that so I took her at her word that she just got along better with the kids that started in 1999

VERY IMPORTANT POINT: Just cos you start your boy in kinder doesnt mean he has go on to school the next year. If they do 3yo kinder &/or 4yo they can do another year of kinder if you feel you want to send to the off to school. You don't have to start them off as early as they are elligible.

Gah, sorry for going on for so long, but this is a topic I've spent much of the last decade pondering.

Follow your childs lead. They should be able to do an extra year of kinder without drama.

Even if you think you've fucked up, you probably haven't.
posted by goshling at 5:20 AM on October 8, 2009

something you may not have considered at all: once your kid gets to be a teenager (or even pre-teen), it's a lot cooler to be the oldest kid in the class than the youngest.
posted by 256 at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2009

No studies but speaking as a daughter of an elementary school teacher who was often frustrated by parents who put their kids into school early (daycare is expensive, so I understand, but it's not usually ideal). Can your son sit quietly and work on something for longer than 1 minute without needing to get up and wonder off somewhere? If yes, and he can pass the basic kindergarten readiness skills, he's probably good to go. If no, then why not let him have another year just to be a kid? Sometime it takes awhile to be used to the semi-structured environment of kindergarten.
posted by Kurichina at 6:21 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My little guy went to JK at 3.5 years old, he was born five days before the cutoff so some children in his class could have been almost a year older. Except his school was aware of the huge developmental changes in that year and had two junior kindergarten classes, split into six month increments so he was within six months age of all the other children in his class. He was also very young emotionally and developmentally. But he has had three years now of elementary education (this year he is going all day for the first time) and he has done really well - all because he has had great teachers that are aware of the age difference and are adaptable to the spectrum of ALL the children in their care. So it isn't just about your boy but also about the teachers abilities too. I was prepared to pull him out for a year if I felt he was anxious but he would be devastated and his teachers assure me he is doing fine. I live in an area where athletics are not important so that may be different in my case.
posted by saucysault at 6:27 AM on October 8, 2009

Anything that systemically treats one gender differently than another for non-transparent reasons just begs to be questioned.

I think the reasons are transparent, evidence-based, and experience-based. It is definitely not always true that boys experience a reading delay, but it's frequently true - and therefore, it's something that a borderline birthdate can have a significant impact on. Ten or eleven months in the life of a child can make for a vast difference in academic and social experience.

It is certainly not true that every boy should be held back a year if the birthdate is close. It depends on developmental factors, not age factors. Children's development does not always occur in lockstep with their chronological age. It happens in a bell curve form. At the age of 5 years 6 months, some are very advanced or a bit ahead, some are right in the middle, some are delayed and some are significantly delayed. But

Having been a teacher, I can tell you that at the elementary level I never experienced or heard of holding back a child for reasons of sports success. It was simply not a factor ever mentioned in any of the three schools I taught in (one suburban, one inner city, one private progressive). However, developmental concerns were a real and definite factor.

The article linked above is interesting:
Redshirting has traditionally been more common in affluent communities and for children attending private schools, although some scholars speculate that there may have been a recent increase in certain public school districts (Brent et al., 1996). According to NCES, boys are more often redshirted than girls, and children born in the latter half of the year are more likely to be redshirted than those born earlier. The NCES report also shows that white, non-Hispanic children are more than twice as likely as black, non-Hispanic children to have entered kindergarten later than their birthdays allowed (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000).
This accords with my experience, and I submit that there are two determining factors: more affluent parents being more conscious of gaining competitive advantage for their children, and the simple childcare function of school. Working class and poor parents rely on the hours their children spend in school as cost-free childcare, and generally will enroll their children as soon as they are of eligible age.

This is interesting:
In a national survey, teachers indicated that 48% of their students were not ready for the current kindergarten curriculum (NCEDL, 1998). Alarmingly high percentages of teachers indicated that half of their students lacked important skills, including "following directions" (46%), "academic skills" (36%), and the ability to "work independently" (34%). In light of such data, many scholars suggest that academic curricula are not appropriate for young children (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995; Shepard & Smith, 1988).
Probably largely true. Some kids in the 5-year range are fully ready for academic skills, some are not. Development just varies widely at this age, which makes it quite difficult to program learning for them without early tracking. Individualized instruction makes the difference. When you visit your school, you should be able to see students challenged at their own level in small-group or independent activities. If you see a lot of whole-group, lockstep activity, you are not seeing individualized instruction, so it's quite likely some students are bored by oversimplicity and some are totally lost and disengaged through frustration. Only a few will be in a good match with the level of the instructional program.

The research summary is essential to this conversation and so I am going to quote more of it:
Research on redshirting has so far failed to provide a clear picture of its short- and long-term effects....It is therefore unclear whether redshirting solves problems of school readiness.

Immediate Effects. Research on academic redshirting suggests that in the short term, redshirting (1) raises the child's academic achievement (math, reading, general knowledge) and conduct on par with or above that of younger classmates (West, Denton, & Germino-Hausken, 2000); (2) increases the child's confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates (Spitzer et al., 1995); and (3) may simply add to the normal mix of ages and abilities within the classroom. However, there is also some speculation that, in classes where there are children who have been redshirted, some older children may feel alienated from their younger classmates, and some older classmates may have an unfair advantage over younger classmates in size and in psychomotor and social skills...

Effects in Grades 1-3. Researchers have observed other effects of redshirting within the first three years of elementary school, including (1) academic achievement that is nearly equal to that of their grade-level peers (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000), (2) a lower likelihood of receiving "negative feedback from teachers about their academic performance or conduct in class" (Cromwell, 1998; West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000), and (3) less need for special education than classmates who were retained as kindergartners (Kundert et al., 1995; May et al., 1995). However, there is also evidence that some first- through third-graders who were redshirted as children required greater use of special education services than their non-redshirted and non-retained classmates (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995).

Long-term Effects. Proponents of redshirting often point out that there is no definitive evidence to show that redshirting harms children in the long term. However, Byrd et al. (1997) found that adolescents whose school entry had been delayed exhibited more behavioral problems than their classmates. Moreover, in light of evidence of a higher use of special education by redshirted youths, there is a great deal of speculation that many individuals who were redshirted as kindergartners may have had special needs that were misdiagnosed as immaturity and that should have been treated by some form of direct intervention other than delayed entry (May et al., 1995; Graue & DiPerna, in press).
From my observations, I definitely think it's true that children requiring more special needs support are more likely to be among those held back before entering kindergarten. It can be difficult to tell at age 4 whether a lack of readiness is a simple lack of maturity or need for further growth, or whether the lack of readiness is an indication of a delay resulting from special needs. So I would be very wary of comparisons that use the correlation to argue that late entry causes the need for special instruction.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on October 8, 2009

I think the reasons are transparent, evidence-based, and experience-based.

Well they're not. None of the answers above mine cited anything like a study. The reasons mentioned above are athletic prowess (hockey, 8th grade basketball) and coolness. And none of the parents I know think redshirting is a policy, it's just a recommendation they're hearing from pre-K and K teachers. In my state entry times for kindergarten are all over the calendar (March 31, January 1, September 1...) for no apparent reason other than a date must be picked. There is nothing that has reached the clarity of policy in my school district about entry age as related to gender. It's currently only at the level of "trend" or "recommendation" without any documented, let alone evidence-based, reason.

Again, let's invert the logic on something you wrote above and see how it sounds (changes in italics):
"[...] On average, girls are more delayed in acquiring analytic skills - science and math. In the middle years of school, this (normal) delay can become a source of anxiety and frustration for both the student and the parents as they all compare the child's performance with that of an almost-all-younger, and half-male, population. Girls often benefit from an additional year of middle school which will make them among the most mature, rather than the least mature, members of their class."

I think we're in agreement that a case-by-case basis for readiness is best, but when pre-K and K teachers (who haven't even met the kid in question many times, including OPs) make generalized recommendations that become a de facto policy, that's a problem.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:17 PM on October 8, 2009

Thanks for answers folks. My boy has been in child care one or two days a week for two years, socially he's fine, academically he's beyond fine (and physically he's a strapping lad (though with his dad's coordination)). It's probably more what happens a bit later rather than next year that's a possible issue.

The State government doesn't offer two years of kindergarten, but if you pull them out less than half way through you can get a full year the year after. So we may put him in, think about it, and maybe pull him out before June. Not sure (hence the question)...

We're really not interested in 'redshirting' or anything to do with comparative arse-kicking, we're confident he can grow up happy doing what he does in his own timetable. There is so much variability in middle school anyway, some kids enter puberty age 11, some age 15, looking at footy matches for U14s can be painfully funny that way.
posted by wilful at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2009

In my state entry times for kindergarten are all over the calendar (March 31, January 1, September 1...) for no apparent reason other than a date must be picked.

FYI cocoagirl, in Australia the date for public schools is set state-wide, and is discussed in terms of 'how old should children be'.

Also, On average, girls are more delayed in acquiring analytic skills - science and math.
This is a pretty weak 'inverted argument' because you have simply picked something that isn't true. I mean, if I 'invert' that to say 'on average, black kids are more delayed in acquiring analytic skills' then my following argument is invalid because it rests on false assumptions. That's what's wrong with your argument, not the fact that it is discriminating by gender.
posted by jacalata at 8:46 PM on October 8, 2009

This is an important decision and could have long lasting effects. However, you can't see into the future, so don't make yourself crazy trying to make the perfect decision.

I was a few days younger than the official cut off date, and it has affected me. But, I think overall it was the best decision. Socially, I always felt a bit behind, but academically I was always ahead, so there's no way I could have fit well into a standard school system anyway. I was pretty law abiding, but did on occasion get disruptive when I had finished my work and was bored, and would have been significantly worse in the grade below.

I don't know what it's like in Vic, but in WA, it is incredibly difficult to skip a grade, whilst it is much easier to stay down. If it were me, I would put him in kindy as he sounds like a smart cookie, and if he didn't have to social skills to manage, keep him down for a year. This does run the risk of making him feel stupid, but hopefully you can come up with a way of explaining it that doesn't scar him for life.

Good luck
posted by kjs4 at 11:11 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

>This is a pretty weak 'inverted argument' because you have simply picked something that isn't true.

I picked that specifically because many people do believe it's true. An example of how widespread that belief is, is that a former president of Harvard University stated that there are more men in academic science and engineering roles due to "issues of intrinsic aptitude" in women. I don't think it's true but, you know what, I hear from parents and teachers that girls' interest in math and science drops off in middle school. So maybe we should hold them back a year, right? Until their aptitude has caught up? If teachers hear something like this from a source of academic authority and begin to make one-off recommendations based on it without any evidence other than "everybody knows boys aren't as developmentally ready," I think it's irresponsible.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:06 AM on October 9, 2009

Again, let's invert the logic on something you wrote above and see how it sounds (changes in italics):
"[...] On average, girls are more delayed in acquiring analytic skills - science and math.

This isn't a perfect analogy, which is why I didn't respond to it at first. Since you've come back to it, the reason it's not perfect is this: The important difference is that the apparent gap between girls and boys in science and math skill acquisition was problematic because there was no evidence of any cognitive reason for it. Instruction was able to make the difference in skill acquisition, indicating that the problem was one of instruction, not of cognitive ability. Of course it would be unfair to hold a student back for a problem that didn't originate with them; what had to happen was curricular change and a change in expectation. To some degree, the literacy gap for boys may be due to similar instructional and/or cultural reasons.

but when we're talking about developmental progress across the spectrum, there's nothing you can do instructionally to accelarate it. The developmental gap on specific skills at equivalent ages is a real, cognitive difference between boys and girls. The kinds of skills called upon in the school environment - fine-motor skills, attentive listening, verbal and language abilities - mature more slowly in boys and more quickly in girls.Boys have a harder time learning to read even when chronologically in step with their peers.

when pre-K and K teachers (who haven't even met the kid in question many times, including OPs) make generalized recommendations that become a de facto policy, that's a problem.

Teaching is a profession. Some teachers are better than others. In your evaluation, include the experience, intelligence, and training of the teacher. It doesn't take long for a 30-year veteran of early childhood education to perceive a child's readiness for class. I certainly agree with you that school admissions, where borderline, should be made on a case-by-case basis. Where I can't agree is that this is some kind of tacit conspiracy against the children or the parents on the part of teachers. Teachers generally recommend taking the additional year when it's a possibility if the child is not demonstrating intellectual and social readiness for school - whether that's a girl or a boy in question. Experience with boys pushed into school while still several years from reading readiness is what causes teachers to encourage parents to allow kids the extra time. The recommendation is for the child's sake. I can recall a few boys whom I followed in a looping class, K-1-2, and who did not even begin to gather reading skills until late in the 2nd grade year. Their parents were a wreck, their reading at home was strained and stressful as the parents continually 'tested' them to feel out their skill level, their own frustration and anxiety interfered with the confidence required for learning and had a negative emotional and social impact, and they were acutely conscious of how their abilities stacked up to their friends'. Those kids could have been first graders, and the level of skill expected would have been more basic, and their difference from their peers so much less marked, and their families so much less concerned.
posted by Miko at 12:22 PM on October 9, 2009

Despite being a boy and the youngest in my class, I was always in the top 1% of my grade academically. But, being smarter than everyone else is little consolation for the social issues related with being significantly behind in physical development.

Point being, it isn't just a question of whether you can read or understand science. In my experience, being smart has relatively little bearing on happiness and almost no connection to social acceptance.

Other point being, case-by-case, but watch out for being blinded by thinking that your kid is so wonderful that he won't be affected by things that you, as an adult, are better able to look at rationally.
posted by paperzach at 12:36 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

My kid is not your kid, but ... it's worth checking out when other parents enter their kids. I live in a hypercompetitive Boston suburb, and my son born in July is nearly a full year younger than almost all of the boys in the grade. Culture here = hold boys back.

This was never an issue in academics or athletics, but became a significant contributor to social unhappiness in 5th and 6th grades. Parents always know their own kids best, but I always counsel parents to consider the local norm and potential middle school fallout.
posted by mozhet at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2009

I'm sure no one's still paying attention, but just for the record, yes we are sending him to kinder next year. His teachers said he'd be perfectly fine. Of course, we'll review the situation before second term is up.
posted by wilful at 4:19 PM on October 13, 2009

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