To wait or not to wait a year to begin school
October 2, 2013 10:00 AM   Subscribe

My son will turn five next year at the end of August. Our plan is that he'd start elementary school next year as well. The question of whether we should wait a year or not for him to start has come up. I'm looking for advice on how to answer that question.

Frankly, I don't even know how to judge if he's "ready" or not. My opinion is that, in general, kids even if they aren't "ready", they catch up quickly in things like learning their ABCs and counting to 100 or whatever; and that the focus at early age should be more towards an "emotional education", interacting with other kids and so on. But a lot of people tell me I'm just wrong.

If you have the option of delaying the start, how do you judge if a kid is ready for school? if you've waited a year for your kid to start school, was it worth it? why?

Not sure if it matters: we're in Northern California. He goes to child care two days a week (montessori), and other activities (soccer, gymnastics, swimming classes).
posted by vega to Education (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:07 AM on October 2, 2013

See also this recent Metafilter post:
posted by mulligan at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2013

It's not exactly what you're asking about, but the practice of holding back a child to start school a year later is known as "academic redshirting." That wikipedia article links to several studies on the effects, and we recently had a post on the blue with links to summarizing articles. The overall conclusion seems to be that delaying a child does more harm than good. I expect those articles or studies could direct you to information on how early is too early, as well.
posted by whatnotever at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2013

Turning 5 near the beginning of the school year would put him squarely in kindergarten age. If you mean starting kindergarten when you say starting elementary school, it sounds like your plan is age appropriate for him. Unless he has significant socialization or learning issues, there isn't much evidence that holding him back another year is a benefit.
posted by quince at 10:13 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is called redshirting. For what it's worth to you, the National Association for the Education of Young Children says it is a bad idea.

I share your discomfort with the idea of judging how a child is "ready" or not. In actual practice, most parents who redshirt their kids do so because they think it will confer some advantage to their child over their peers. Reviewing the research, it appears to be something that suburban parents love but all the people with the relevant credentials say is not a good idea.

I didn't redshirt any of my children. As for myself, I have a late birthday and was started a year ahead. I never felt at any particular disadvantage for being the youngest in the class. To the contrary, I was glad to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:15 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your child is more than likely ready. You can discuss it with his teachers, but chances are he'll do fine in kindergarten.

I turned 5 in December. Northern California said that I couldn't start Kindergarten. My mom took me to Pennsylvania and enrolled me in school. I loved it. Then she tried to "transfer" me into school in California. The state was having none of it.

I was taller than the other kids, I could read, I was mostly in that class for fun, since I already knew colors, shapes and how the Cat in the Hat ended.

When we moved to Phoenix, I was skipped a grade.

It's never going to be perfect, but you're a good judge if your child can handle the structure of school. The answer if probably yes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2013

For what it's worth, I didn't do well on my kindergarten readiness test thing, and I had some social difficulties. So I was placed in what was called Early Kindergarten when I turned 5 and then I went to regular kindergarten when I was 6 (summer birthday).

Guess what?

I never didn't have social difficulties. And then when I was a senior in high school, I was bored out of my mind and incredibly frustrated socially. I was over the immaturity of the other students, and if I could go back and do it again, I'd have skipped my senior year entirely and applied to college. I was miserable. There was very little benefit for me to go to that extra year of kindergarten --- mostly I needed it because my teacher picked up that I needed glasses where my parents and doctor didn't. And that was it.

I'm actually rather annoyed that my daughter's birthday is two weeks after our town's cut off. So she's going to have to wait an entire year to get into school when she's more than likely ready to go. I see little point in holding children behind unless there's a really sound reason that would more than likely have other services involved anyway.
posted by zizzle at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

To contrast the other posts, I'm a big believer in protecting childhood for as long as feasible. You've only got one shot at it, and once it's gone, it's never coming back. Letting your child play in an unstructured environment, protecting him from academic and social pressure for just one more year, and letting him progress at his own pace is invaluable. And if it turns out he's ahead of his peers, it's easier on him socially for him to skip a grade than to be held back. (Skipping works particularly well when moving between schools, rather than within a school.)

For what it's worth, my daughter attends a Waldorf school where this is the norm. She attended kindergarten twice and is now 10.5 and in fourth grade. She's happy and innocent and doesn't have any of those tween attitudes that I see in so many other girls her age. I think there's a good chance she'll skip ninth grade, but we'll see. She's also an only child, and being close to the oldest in her class instead of the youngest gives her a chance to not be the littlest one, which she always is at home.

I was really on the fence about moving her to first grade — whether to go after one year in kindy, or wait another year — and am absolutely happy that we held her back so that she could spend another year of playing. (A Waldorf kindergarten is non-academic, totally play focused.) So I guess part of your answer will come from what kindergarten will actually be like for him. If he's expected to learn to read, and to do worksheets, and other academic things, I'd hold him back. If it's an all-play class, I'd let him go. Children learn by playing, and letting them do that for another year is so good for them academically.
posted by Capri at 10:37 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Okay, I have anecdotal perspectives on both sides here. My husband needed to go to kindergarten for two years (the first time he was one of the youngest in the class, and just wasn't ready, then was the oldest for the rest of school) and I never went to kindergarten at all (moved states and birthday cutoffs at 5, spent one day in kindergarten before getting brought next door to first grade).

We also have a 2 year old who is just before the cutoff, and could be in kindergarten at 4, and so we've been discussing the advantages and disadvantages ourselves.

Both ways suck. You get teased for being the first kid with chest hair, or for being the last one with boobs. You're so tall that people give you responsibilities you're not ready for, or you're the tiny one that always gets picked last. Living on your own and going to college at age 17 is actually legally complicated. On the other hand, my husband and I did very well academically (Ivy League for him, Ph.D. for me), so any ways in which our education suffered is probably negligible.

When it comes down to it, though it's a lot easier to get a child held back than it is for them to skip a grade. I'm more comfortable with him starting too early and needing to repeat kindergarten, than I am with him being over-prepared and bored and not able to move up. So we'll probably start him at four. Our current plan is to talk to his preschool teachers a lot when the time comes, and to his kindergarten teacher a lot at the end of his first year. Also, you don't mention this, but many school districts do have some kindergarten readiness testing that they do. It might be worthwhile to see if your area does this--it would be a more neutral way of figuring out readiness than guessing yourself.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:06 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts....first, your school should be able to give you a list of what it takes to be 'ready'. It will probably include things like being able to take directions, being able to sit in a chair for more than a few minutes without spazzing too much (not exactly the technical term here!), being able to share, being able to let others be the center of attention. Notice that none of those things have anything to do with being able to count or read...they are social skills. If your kid has spent much time in daycare, he is probably already ready just from that training.

Second, maybe I am projecting here, but if he stays on track, he will actually graduate from high school when he is 17. There is something in me that thinks that if I had an extra year of life to live, I would want it at the age of 17 than at the age of 5. He could take that extra year off at that time before college or career and get a lot out of it before starting on the adult path when he is STILL 18! He might always be the youngest in his class, physically, mentally and emotionally a little behind his classmates....that isn't always a bad thing....he may thrive that way.
posted by BearClaw6 at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll put my vote in for waiting. My brother was born at the end of August and my parents started him as soon as possible (so technically he was 4 for the first few weeks). I am the oldest child, and I was born in October, my parents waited to start me until I was on the verge of turning 6. I thrived in school, straight A's until high school. My brother struggled from the very beginning and it only got worse as time went on. He eventually dropped out of high school when he came of age. I realize this is totally circumstantial and my brother and I aren't the same people, but I feel like starting out on the right foot, and allowing the child to have the confidence moving forward could make a huge difference. I sometimes felt like he kept struggling because that was what he knew. Starting them off on the right foot could change their perception of school moving forward.
posted by Quincy at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with doing academic things in Kindergarten if a child feels interested in letters, words, math, etc. and enjoys the learning challenge. (And of course there's the separate question of whether such young children should be given homework). If on the other hand a child is frustrated by and not ready for those activities, then you run the serious risk of causing the child stress, lack of confidence, and a dislike for learning and/or school. So I think the question of "ready" entirely depends on your own assessment of what your child enjoys, what your child wants, how emotionally and physically mature he is, etc.

Is there anything specifically that makes you think your son might not be "ready"? I don't think anyone can even start to give you an accurate potential answer until you answer that question.
posted by Dansaman at 12:06 PM on October 2, 2013

There's a developmental measurement tool called ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire) for various ages, and the oldest is 5 (60 months). This instrument includes social behavior, motor skills and problem solving, and language use.

Having a professional administer this and discussing the results with you will give you a more full picture of whether your child is ready for kindergarten. Hearing anecdotes about other kids is great, but you don't know what their exact (or even general) circumstances were. The results don't map onto your situation.

Would be worth it to investigate a fact based approach to this decision.
posted by bilabial at 12:56 PM on October 2, 2013

In the midwest it's very common to hold kids back. Parents of boys do this in particular, because they want their children to be physically bigger and more successful at sports. Nebraska actually moved back the cutoff date to July because of this -- the previous deadline was resulting in a situation where the kids in a kindergarten class could be almost 2 years apart, because kids with late summer birthdays were being held back at such a high rate.

This article has some interesting observations:

"Few researchers would dispute that, in the immediate term, being relatively bigger, quicker, smarter, and stronger is a good thing. Repeatedly, the studies have found exactly that—older kindergarten students perform better on tests, receive better teacher evaluations, and do better socially. But then, something happens: after that early boost, their performance takes a nosedive. By the time they get to eighth grade, any disparity has largely evened out—and, by college, younger students repeatedly outperform older ones in any given year."
posted by Ostara at 1:06 PM on October 2, 2013

My daughter was born in mid-October; she started kindergarten at 4. We talked to her preschool teachers a lot, and they said she'd be fine. Kindergarten was definitely an adjustment, mainly because of the difference between her crunchy granola preschool and the public school system, but she was fine. By the end of 2nd grade, her teacher told us that she was getting bored in class because she already knew the material.
posted by mogget at 1:34 PM on October 2, 2013

I do think it matters where you are. In some of the elementary schools here many children are starting kindergarten at 6 to 6.5 years of age because of their parents' choice. In these schools your child is not just 1 year but 1.5 years younger than others. Most of the time these are boys. I would check in with the school of your choice on their student population and their input although they are probably not allowed to discourage eligible children you can probably get an idea of what they think. Our school covers a full day kindergarten curriculum in 1/2 day and there were children in my daughter's class 2 years ago who would have benefited from staying in preschool for another year, in my opinion.
posted by RoadScholar at 2:19 PM on October 2, 2013

I think if your child is successful at a montessori school, he will do fine in kindergarten.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2013

Why would you do this? Just send him to school like everyone else.

If he were a December birthday or something, I think it would be smart to consider whether he's ready. But they make the September birthday cutoff for a reason, and it sounds like with an August birthday, your kid being average or above average on the whole, many years of consensus agrees that he will most likely be ready for kindergarten.

I would only even contemplate waiting if he is developmentally delayed or below average on important medical and/or social benchmarks.
posted by Sara C. at 3:10 PM on October 2, 2013

You get teased for being the first kid with chest hair, or for being the last one with boobs. You're so tall that people give you responsibilities you're not ready for, or you're the tiny one that always gets picked last.

Keep in mind that all of these things are totally possible for kids with birthdays at any time of year, who fall anywhere within the age range of their peers. I have a March birthday, went to kindergarten at the normal age, never skipped a grade, etc. I was teased mercilessly for EVERYTHING in middle school despite being neither the first nor last to go through puberty, being neither the oldest nor youngest, being neither the tallest nor shortest, etc.

You cannot protect your child from every problem by gaming when they start school.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I missed the cut-off by about three weeks and was enrolled in kindergarten a year "early", which required doing some developmental testing. If you have actual concerns about his readiness (rather than just being told by others that you ought to have concerns due to his age), you might look into whether the school district is willing to assess his readiness (given that they may be having a testing day for kids in my situation anyway).

(When I was a kid, the California kindergarten cut-off was January 1. This meant that when I went to college in California, I was suddenly not the youngest for the first time, which was kind of amusing.)
posted by hoyland at 4:12 PM on October 2, 2013

My daughter missed the cut off by 3 weeks. She was ready. She was interested in learning to read. She could sit still and listen. But...she missed the cut off, and they wouldn't take her. So we waited - and she learned to read that year, which ultimately led us to home school her as she was bored to tears in school.

Our neighbor's daughter turned 5 in July. She went to school because her mother couldn't afford child care for another year. She wasn't ready. No interest in reading, numbers' etc. She ended up repeating a grade.

It is hard to say without knowing your child if he is ready or not. There are online readiness tests that you can do, but I think they may be a better indicator of potential learning differences than actual readiness.
posted by 101cats at 9:14 PM on October 2, 2013

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