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Should Your Child Wait to Enter Kindergarten?

July 07, 2009 07:00 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Research suggests that holding kids back a year before kindergarten because of late summer birthdays might not be as advantageous as some parents think.

The Kindergarten Debate

When it comes to deciding whether or not to send a child with a late summer birthday to kindergarten, flustered moms and dads are anxious for answers. Some even feel so sensitive about the issue—and perhaps rightly so— they use pseudonyms or initials when offering or requesting advice.

On the blog Mamapedia, a parent self-identified as J.S  described her son, “[H]e is young and struggles with some social interractions, (sic) especially with adults... He is also a bit emotional at times.”  His birthday is in August.

Another parent writing as buckeyefan for Associated Content, says she's not worried about her "exuberant" son, being younger than the rest of the class. I am worried that he simply will not be able to sit still or about him making friends.

To help her make her decision, she and her husband met with the kindergarten teacher and reviewed the curriculum. She also asked for advice from other parents. However this proved frustrating. She wrote, “[T]hey are all too willing to share their strong opinions, and those opinions are often in disagreement with one another.”

“Kindergarten redshirting” is an issue sparking debate around the United States. Some parents hold their children back to give them an advantage over other kindergarteners the following year. Children may not retain that edge for long, however. Research indicates that most advantages gained from delaying entry into school are lost by third grade.

“That fade occurs in part because all kids learn so much more once they start school that the head start earned by being older becomes very small once all kids start raking in knowledge,” the Orlando Sentinel explained.

Todd E. Elder of Michigan State University and Darren H. Lubotsky of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted research on when children should enter kindergarten, and concluded that “Rather than providing a boost to children’s human capital development, delayed entry simply postpones learning and is likely not worth the long-term costs.”

Related Topics: Hard work vs. intelligence; benefits of preschool

New research indicates that praising a child’s brilliance may be ill advised, a finding that reignites an old debate regarding the relationship between nurture, intelligence and success. Writing in Scientific American, Carol S. Dweck reports that rewarding children for their intelligence can easily encourage the belief that intelligence is a fixed quantity—either you have it or you don’t.

Pushing kids too hard at an early age could be detrimental to them. In the era of the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are encouraging their students to excel at an early age, and parents, concerned that their youngsters might be left behind in kindergarten, are driving for success even earlier. While some schools in the United States frequently test kindergarteners to see how they’re progressing, countries like Wales have banned such exams because they were “sucking the soul and spirit out of their children's early school experiences.”

“The chance to interact with other children is the benefit of preschool in a nutshell but it is far more than what those few words say,” according to Barbara Callaghan, who has worked as both a teacher and a school principal. Preschool can teach kids social and listening skills, and concepts like turn-taking.

For parents whose child isn’t ready to enter preschool—whether it’s because the child is nervous about being away from home, doesn’t do well in overly stimulating situations or isn’t toilet trained yet—not attending preschool isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “It’s not so crucial. It can be a nice thing and a fun thing, but it’s not like if a kid doesn’t go to preschool, he or she won't be able to socialize, read, or write,” psychoanalyst Gail Saltz says.

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