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When to Take the Kindergarten Plunge

by added on 15 May 2019, Comments Off on When to Take the Kindergarten Plunge , posted in Blog
By Kelly Petersen, Outdoor Curriculum Specialist

Kindergarten. It looms ever closer as we continue on our journey through preschool with our precious children. Kindergarten today looks totally different than the kindergarten parents experienced in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Gone are the days of coloring inside the lines, connecting the dots, and reading “See Spot Run”. According to an article by US News, “kindergarten is the new first grade” because children are expected to read by the end of the year, count by two’s, five’s, and ten’s, and identify fractions as halves, thirds, and fourths” (Jacqueline Burt, The Redshirting Trend: How to Know When to Start Kindergarten).

So now you may find yourself asking, “Should we give our child another year? Should we send him early? What’s best for our child?” Well, take heart because each family will be fully supported by our WFP staff and resources. In our handbook, “it is suggested that children move through the program in order to enter kindergarten no younger than 5.5 years of age for boys and 5.0 years of age for girls” (WFP Handbook, pg. 134). However, each child is unique, and we will do our best to assist you in making an educated and developmentally appropriate decision for your specific child. Please talk to your parent educator if you have any questions or concerns about when to begin kindergarten.

Here I will share my personal experience, and what I learned along the way. I have two boys. One (born in July) we sent to kindergarten at five, the other (born in May) we waited until he was six.

The Petersen’s School Journey

We started at Woodinville Family Preschool when my older son was three months old. After the prenatal-infant class, we chose to skip the pre-toddler class and go straight to toddler. Many of our classmates, with whom we had become well-bonded, were doing the same. We didn’t even give it a second thought. My dude was over 1-year old, so I figured the toddler class was where he was supposed to be. We continued progressing through the program, moving up in classes each year, all the way to pre-K.

He was always the youngest in the class, as his birthday was right in the middle of summer, but he was also a very outgoing child; he was precocious, bright and very verbal. By the middle of pre-K, we could go down the “kindergarten readiness” checklist and, with confidence, tick off every skill. The fact that he was right there with everyone goes to show that our developmentally appropriate, play-based program is a great one and does a great job getting our children prepared for kindergarten. Still, I had qualms about starting him so young, but it was hard to think about his being the only child not to continue on to kindergarten (which is why I’d recommend making the decision as early as possible!).

I had done some reading and chatted with my parent educator about what we should do. I knew that giving him another year allowed for more development and growth. In fact, in a study done by Stanford University, they found that delaying the start of kindergarten by one year showed a 73% decrease in inattention and hyperactivity. I also knew that boys who start kindergarten as young 5-year olds were more likely to become class clowns as a coping mechanism when surrounded by mostly older classmates.
Yet we still took the plunge.

Bumps in the Road

At that time, kindergarten was only half-day; and he was in the afternoon class, so the timing didn’t change much from our previous year in pre-K at WFP.

He did great socially and academically, but my husband and I started having more concerns as we continued to read and research about the benefits of giving younger children another year before kindergarten. There was also a very obvious physical size difference between our son and the other kids in his class. It’s important to note that many times, because WFP is so developmentally appropriate, one may not see the maturation issues, but they become more obvious upon entering the public-school system.

We started hearing from friends with older children, who went in as a young five, expressing regrets at having not waited until six; having not given their children that extra time. We were definitely second-guessing our choice not to wait. But now what do we do? He was a month into school and loving it.

Our main concerns shifted from the present to the future. How will he feel down the road when he’s the last of his peer group to hit puberty? The last one to get his license? Graduating high school at seventeen? What if he gets held back a couple years down the road? Even though he was capable and possessed all the necessary social skills, we decided we wanted him to hit the physical milestones along with his peers.

Next, we talked to his teacher at the first fall parent-teacher conference and asked how it would work if we did two years of kindergarten, as we didn’t feel right pulling him out at this point. She explained that it was not usually encouraged and advised us to speak with the principal.

The principal explained that such a move is typically discouraged by the school district, as it can reflect badly on the school. The principal suggested that we write a letter explaining our reasons why it was best for our family, and then they could potentially make it work.

Our son finished out his first kindergarten year, and after the summer, we started a second year at the same school doing full-day kindergarten instead. It was a little weird for him at first, but his friend group expanded, and he had another great year. However, it took until 3rd grade for him to stop telling everyone he met that he “should be in ______ grade, but MOM made me do two years of kindergarten.”

Smoother Sailing

With our younger son, we had a completely different road map. Whereas our older has a more outgoing, extroverted temperament, our younger has always been more reserved. He is slower to warm to new situations and always has been. Our parent educator in our infant class mentioned that even though he was born in May and didn’t technically have a “summer” birthday, we could go into the pre-toddler class the following year if we wanted. Just going on the temperament of my younger son, we chose to go that route, making him a solid six when he finished pre-K.

He has always been one of the oldest in his class, as opposed to his brother, who was always the youngest.  My younger son, though quiet and reserved, is capable and confident. His classmates look to him as an example on how to behave in the classroom. The extra time allowed him to be developmentally ready to sit, listen, and learn in kindergarten.

Today, my guys are in 5th grade and 1st grade. This is the last year they will both be in the same school together. Looking at my older son now, I am very glad we did two years of kindergarten. He is still the same outgoing extrovert and is doing well academically. I can’t say it’s because he’s no longer the youngest in his group, it could well be that he’d have done just fine had we not done the extra year, but we’re thrilled we made that decision.

I know many other parents who chose to wait until their child was six. I know plenty of parents who did not. It is an extremely personal choice, and each of us must choose what works best for our own family. We all want what is best for our child, and for mine, that extra year was what we felt was our best gift for each; not for what their needs were at five, but for what they will need once they hit those angsty adolescent years.

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