Sunday, October 14, 2007

When should a kid start kindergarten?

My daughter will be five and a half in September 2008. That girl's starting kindergarten next year—and I have no doubt that she'll be ready.

My son, Sam, who is now three and a half, has one of those September birthdays. He could start kindergarten the year after his sister in 2009 when he's about to turn five. Or he could wait a year until he's nearly six.

What am I going to do?

He's redshirting—an easy decision.

Sam is petite (10th percentile) and he was slow to walk (first steps at 17 months) and talk (his speech is still unclear at times and I've witnessed older children mocking him at the park). By starting him late, I hope to shield him from social and emotional hurt. My husband, who was also a late bloomer, tells a sad tale about some bullies dumping him into a trash can at recess.

It's not this easy for everyone to determine when to send their children to kindergarten. What if you have a precocious "September birthday" child who's tall for her age? I've talked to many parents who are on the fence, and I understand why. In California, a child is eligible to enter kindergarten at age four as long as she is turning five by December 1. (Different rules may apply at private schools.) But a parent can choose to start a child late—and those with kids who were born between August and December often do.

If you're grappling with the birthday cutoff dilemma, you might want to check out an article, "When should a kid start kindergarten?", that recently ran in The New York Times.

And please share any thoughts or knowledge you have on this topic.


  1. My older child will turn 17 on Oct. 30 and is a high-school junior. We kept him out of K an extra year -- it was a no-brainer even though he's very smart; he so clearly wasn't ready socially or emotionally. So now I'm here to tell you that it's just not a problem that he's older than much of his high school class (and is perfectly aware of it). It also doesn't give him any particular advantage academically, for the record.

  2. I am so happy to read Caroline's comment. I read that NYT article and got a bit heated over it. Our education system is already two years behind Europe and other nations. We shouldn't be teaching our children later, we should be teaching them sooner.

  3. My European friends, and some academics in the U.S., say it's not entirely accurate that our education system is two years behind other nations'. It's complicated -- apples and oranges in many ways. An American friend who's married to a Frenchwoman and has an 8th-grader attending public school in Paris was just on the phone complaining to me about what an uninspired grind their schools are -- he's wildly envious that both my kids have become musicians in school, for one thing. So just had to add that note.

  4. Kate, how could a child be 3.5 years old with a September birthday? You posted that blog entry in early October. He would have to be just-turned-3 or just-turned-4. Not to be annoying or anything. Maybe you are just trying to be anonymous.

    As to redshirting, think it is a case by case decision. Frankly, I think it leads to bullies to have so many older kids. Also, I have heard that the private schools force extreme redshirting in order to manage class size and acceptances. I don't know - I have an August child who is now 2 and I have no clue yet what we are going to do.

  5. I agree that the decision on when a child should start kindergarten is a personal one and really depends on the particular child. My September-born son is very tall (97th percentile), socially mature (probably due to the amount of time he spent in childcare settings with other children) and an early reader (age 3-4). For us, it was a relatively easy decision to enroll him in kindergarten at age 5, and we've never regretted our decision. Since he is in public school, he is by no means the youngest in his class (and he is still the tallest one) and he has adapted well academically. On the other hand, he would really have stood out as younger than his peers at private school assuming he would have been accepted at one in the first place.

  6. I ran my brain over the kids who could be described as bullies from my kids' past years in school. I don't know all their birthdays, of course, but from what I do know, I don't think bullying tendencies correlate in the slightest with waiting a year to start K. They correlate with being ****ed-up!

    In general, the kids who've been redshirted (a term that didn't exist back when we did it) are likely to have savvier, more concerned parents, which is less likely to correlate with bullying. I definitely know some cases where the kids should clearly have been redshirted but the parents were in total oblivion that they even had the option or should consider it.

    It could be that some kids who've been held back a grade once they're in school might have some tendency to be bullies. In my school days, I do recall that. In those days their classmates weren't super-nice to the "dumb kids," either, and there wasn't the slightest effort by the adults that I recall to discourage it, so you can see the whole situation.

  7. I agree with Caroline. The boys in my son's grade who are the bullies are overwhelmingly those who were held back a grade, not those who were redshirted.

  8. I had to bristle at Caroline's remark that redshirted kids generally have "savvier, more concerned parents." True they generally have more coddling parents, which is fine, but don't think that those who chose to do differently just don't care or know what they're doing. As the placement center told me, almost NO Asian parents do this redshirting, and I would not consider them unconcerned or unsavvy. They simply have different priorities.

    I sent my late November birthday boy to school when he was four, for a number of what I believe were compelling reasons (and I would never suggest that anyone other than us needed to do the same thing). He wasn't that mature or precocious, or big. But he was tired of his preschool, I wanted his sibling and him to be together, and since I learned from his sib that kindergarten is often not that academically stimulating, I didn't want to wait a whole year just to have him not learn anything. (And yes I realize that kindergarten is not just academic but it is also a great thing to start to love learning in k.) And all his preschool friends were the older ones, and he definitely preferred their company. Also, on the other end I thought I would be nice to graduate from high school younger rather than be restless and stuck in high school.

    My son is in high school and for the most part, its turned out great for us. Unlike his sib, he had to do some early catchup and was engaged in school from the start and learned to work to achieve his goals. He now excels (and I agree with Caroline that age is not a disadvantage or advantage academically, except maybe for the first year or two). And he's happy he has that year. He thinks may take a year after high school and before college to travel, and is happy he won't be behind after that. We also lucked out that he's quite tall for his age, though he wasn't when he was 4.

    One disadvantage is that some kids are not only a year older than him, but one and a half years due to redshirting. (In high school at least there's really big age spread, so it really doesn't matter.) I respect parents' redshirting decisions but if everyone wants their kids to be the oldest in the class, the class will keep getting older and older. From my point of view, kindergarten just didn't warrant waiting until you're 6.