The Great Debate
Ready or not? That's the question many parents of preschoolers ask as registration for kindergarten approaches, particularly if their child's birthday falls close to the cutoff for entry. Most states require kids to be 5 years old by September to start school, though the date can range from as early as July 1 to as late as January (visit ecs.org to find out). Parents of kids with fall or winter birthdays often debate whether to push their child on or hold her back. Will a younger kid struggle to keep up? Would delaying entry help her academically?
You could always follow conventional wisdom: When in doubt, send your child if she's eligible, suggests Debbie LeeKeenan, director of the Eliot-Pearson School (from preschool to second grade) at Tufts University. "Ideally, it's not a kid's job to be ready for school -- it's the school's job to meet the kid's needs," she says. But the choice isn't always that simple, and there are other factors to consider.
Q. Why are so many kids held back?
A. The pressure to delay entry escalated after kindergarten got tougher in 2002, when the No Child Left Behind Act became law. Schools are now held accountable if students don't get certain scores on standardized tests, so they've made their curriculums more demanding to improve performance. Some first-grade work was pushed down to kindergarten. "This is fueling a trend to hold borderline children back a year, which can give them time to catch up," says Bonnie Bruce, a developmental learning specialist in Orange County, California.
But other experts think that delaying entry is not always best. That's because a child who takes the extra year might lose his enthusiasm for school, says LeeKeenan. His self-esteem could also suffer because he'll wonder why he wasn't good enough to start school when his friends did. He could also miss an opportunity to begin learning skills he can easily handle.
Q. Besides age, what else should I take into account?
A. Think about whether your child can handle the program. She may be developmentally ready for a class with lots of play, socializing, and hands-on learning, but not for structured desk work. If your kid struggles to sit still long enough to complete a task and your district is academically focused, you might want to wait. Think of it as giving her a "bonus" year.