Today’s topic was requested by a Growing Book by Book reader. Margaret asked if I would talk about how to decide if a child is ready to start kindergarten. I thought that since February is generally the time when kindergarten registration begins, it would be an appropriate time to share my opinion on the subject. There are many factors to consider when deciding if it’s the right time for a child to start kindergarten. I’m going to talk about two of those factors- literacy expectations and social development.
Kindergarten attendance is not mandated in most states. However, in most states, kindergarten is offered either as a half-day or full-day option. Public schools require students to be five years old by a certain date to enter kindergarten. This cut-off date varies from state to state. Cut-off dates range from August to December depending on the state that you live in. There are also a few states that allow local districts to set cut-off age dates. When you have a child with a birthday that is close to the cut-off date, it can be challenging to decide whether or not to send them off to kindergarten or hold them out for an additional year.
There has been a huge shift from kindergarten being a time where play is predominant to facilitate social, academic and emotional growth to an increase of time spent on academic development through more traditional teaching practices. I’m not a big fan of this shift! I still believe that the primary purpose of kindergarten should be to help children develop socially and emotionally while introducing them to the academic structure of a school setting. Don’t get me wrong. I think literacy development should be included in kindergarten. We should be reading books to students. Children should be able to handle books and numerous other literacy manipulatives to explore language. However, kindergarteners shouldn’t be expected to sit in a desk and complete worksheet after worksheet to “turn” them into readers.
Take a look at this statistic. In 1999, Curwood reported, “Kindergarteners’ ability to read has changed in the last 40 years. In 1969, 5% of children were readers; in 1989, 15% of children were readers. In 1999, 90% of kindergarten students were able to pass the end of year reading test.” In almost all places, students are now expected to be reading before leaving kindergarten. Since No Child Left Behind legislation passed in 2001, there has been an increased pressure for schools to turn out proficient readers. This in turn, has pushed higher and more rigorous expectations on early childhood education.
Most schools expect incoming kindergarteners to know most of their letters (uppercase and lowercase), write their name, and know some of their sounds. There are many other things such as counting, identifying colors, etc. that aren’t directly related to literacy that are also expected.
Since social development is so crucial for a successful school career, it’s important to evaluate your child’s development before registering them for kindergarten. Though each child is unique, boys generally develop socially slower than girls. In my 17 years of education, I can say that most often, boys do better being an older student in the room rather than a younger one. If I had a son (which I do) whose birthday is close to the cut-off date, I would most likely hold him out of kindergarten until the following year. I would much rather have a secure and confident student entering school versus one who isn’t ready and always has to play catch up.
So even though the law is clear on age specifics for entering kindergarten, parents must assume the responsiblity for their own child’s readiness both socially and academically. That’s my two-cents on kindergarten readiness. What do you think? Should we let kids mature a little before starting kindergarten if they are a young five? Do you think there is too much academic pressure on kindergarten students? How important do you think play is in child development? I’d love to hear your thoughts.