Is my child ready for Kindergarten?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  August 3, 2009 02:58 PM

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My 4 1/2-year-old daughter was ready for preschool long before I was ready to send her. She's always been more comfortable playing with kids who are slightly older than she is, and is easily hitting all of their milestones right now. Her teachers tell me she's ready for kindergarten, and she's eager to attend, except for one small problem: Her birthday is several weeks past our town's Sept. 1 cut-off date. Which means that, even if she's ready, she can't go.

According to MassachusettsPreschools.org, it's a pretty common situation. "The problem is that this kindergarten age cut off, out of necessity, is arbitrary and does not take into account developmental milestones achieved or academic skills developed by individual children."

So, why have a cut off at all? Andrea Evans writes: "Because of increased pressures around standardized testing in the second and third grades, kindergarten has become much more 'academic' in nature." In order to give their kids an edge, some parents have decided to "redshirt" their 5-year-olds in the hope that, by enrolling them in Kindergarten when they're a full year older, they'll be better able to handle the academic and social challenges that come with starting school.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that about 9 percent of children entering kindergarten are redshirted each year; the number is higher among boys and in more affluent areas (where, presumably, paying for childcare isn't as much of a problem).

Experts are on the fence as to whether redshirting really gives youngesters an advantage. A report in Science Daily says that any academic edge the child gains is short-lived: Older kindergarten students scored 24 percentage points higher than their younger peers during the first few months, but the lead narrowed to just 4 percentage points by the time the students were in the eighth grade.

But what about parents in my predicament, with children who seem ready at too-early an age?

Turns out we have a few options. Children who attend private kindergarted can often go right into first grade when they're done. We could continue with preschool for another year, supplementing with plenty of trips to the library and more challenging work at home, if she seems bored. Some people choose to homeschool, and find that learning at home works best for their kids. I'm thinking that we'll stick with her current preschool, and see whether she seems happy or bored this time next year.

Trying to figure out if your child is ready for kindergarten? Here are a few things to consider:

1.) Check the test scores. Ask your neighborhood kindergarten about the criteria teachers there use to determine readiness. How would your child fare?

2.) Ask your child's preschool teachers. There's more to kindergarten readiness than an ability to read or write. Does your child make friends easily? Can he follow directions? Does she seem bored or challenged by the work she's currently doing?

3.) How big are the kindergarten classes like in your area? The larger the class, the more difficult it is for teachers to focus on the needs of any single child. If your child needs more one-on-one attention, diving in too early could be detrimental.

4.) What do the kindergarten teachers expect from their students? Do students need to be able to count to 100? Read small words, or just recognize them? Write their name?

5.) How is the kindergarten structured? Full-day or half-day? Naps or no naps? Structured work and play times, or a more informal setting?

How will you -- or how did you -- handle the Kindergarten issue with your child?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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43 comments so far...
  1. I have been a kindergarten teacher for over 23 years and have seen an enormous shift in what we ask of our 5 and 6 year olds. I am now teaching what I taught in 1st grade 30 years ago. Young children are just that, young children. Keep in mind that several of your daughter's peers will immediately start turning 6 during the month of September and your daughter will always be the youngest. Now your child will be the younges in the class, in middle school still will be the youngest, and in high school when friends are driving and dating, your daughter will still be the youngest. We ask so much of our children that we need to arm them with every possible advantage upon
    entering school. I teach 2 half day sessions of Kindergarten here in Virginia
    and believe me when I say, we hit the ground running when the children walk through the door at 8:35 AM. By June, these children who attend kindergarten half day are expected to be as prepared as their peers who attended kindergarten in a full day program. Stressful for teachers and students alike. Yes, we expect numbers to 100, writing with spacing, and reading many sight words all by June. Give your daughter the gift of being the oldest in her class, and the ability to be the leader, not the follower and in time you will be very thankful that you made that choice.

    Posted by Claire Turck August 3, 09 04:48 PM
  1. I think that the idea that parents "Red Shirt" their children to give them an advantage is off-base. I know quite a few parents who held a child out of school for an extra year. All of the students were boys, all of the parents felt that their son was not ready for Kindergarten for one reason or another, and most of the moms are teachers or work in a child-related field. All of these boys (heading into 6th grade) are average students. Had they entred Kindergarten at age 5, they may have really struggled academically.

    Anyway, back to the question. All of my kids have birthdays many months away from Septermber, so all of them have, so far, entered Kindergarten at age 5. My current 5.5-year-old has been counting down the days to school for over a year; wild horses couldn't keep him away. My youngest (and last) also seems to be on track to be ready at the regular time. I feel for parents who have August/Spetember birthdays - being the youngest or oldest in a class can sometimes exacerbate differences in size or readiness, so you have to make the call as to what's the best thing for your child.

    Posted by Jen August 3, 09 05:36 PM
  1. Um, at least in Reading, (MA) you have to do two years of private school - K and 1st. Then you can go into 2nd. Otherwise you just repeat kindergarten at the public school.
    Check your town rules carefully.

    Posted by ReadingMom August 3, 09 09:20 PM
  1. my child has her bday the end of august. our town has a cut off date of 9/1. we have decided to give her an extra year. i think she could handle kindergarten now - but what about the future. and its not just about academics. she will be a whole year behind most of her classmates. just the maturity level alone - i hope by giving her that year it will help her wiht her school work but also when she gets into middle school and high school she will have a higher maturity level which will enable her to make better choices.

    Posted by kiki August 4, 09 08:18 AM
  1. While I feel bad for parents of children whose birthdays are right after the September cut off because it seems maybe annoying to have to wait another year, there has to be a cutoff somewhere, right? Maybe it's arbitrary and maybe you think your kid is "ready" (whatever you are basing that on) for kindergarten, but so what? My son has a July birthday and started kindergarten at 5 years 2 months -- I would say he was about 5 1/2 before I would have REALLY considered him "ready for kindergarten," both socially and academically. As #1 points out, he had friends turning 6 as soon as the school year started. Being the youngest in the class can be very tough (especially for boys), what's the big hurry?

    Posted by s bee August 4, 09 09:07 AM
  1. I would urge parents to consider social readiness along with academic readiness. My daughter has a summer birthday and was reading before she entered kindergarten -- we thought she was more than ready. Looking back, we overlooked the social/emotional component. There's no harm in waiting to make sure your child is calm enough and socially ready. Now, facing middle school, it's easy to tell who in the class is on the younger side of the year. We sometimes wish we'd held her and started kindergarten at 6 yrs 1 month instead of 5 years 1 month

    Posted by Meg August 4, 09 09:34 AM
  1. My son has a July birthday, and he entered Kindergarten at age 5. We received a lot of social pressure from other parents (and still do) about why we didn't choose to "red shirt" him. Why didn't we? It wasn't recommended to him by his teachers.

    Sometimes when a child is mentally and academically beyond the material, it causes discipline problems and boredom and then the classroom setting fails to teach the virtues of a little grit and needing to work hard and practice to master some skills. This can set children up for failure later when the work gets more challenging and they truly have no idea how to apply themselves when it doesn't come so easy.

    At any rate, our son had a perfect report card at the end of kindergarten and we never once had a "bad" report home from school. He is sweet and well liked by his peers. Is it a coincidence that his "best friend" from kindergarten also has a summer birthday? Probably not.

    I think parents of children with fall birthdays should be grateful (or proud of their planning) that the age of their children by month will never be in question as to their success or failure in school. But automatically red shirting kids with summer birthdays isn't a cure-all, either, and in some cases can present just as many (perhaps different) problems as it can solve. In our case, my son is actually one of the tallest in his class despite his younger age. Looking at the pre-K kids this year, he was in some cases a head and a half taller than they were! Think that doesn't pose problems in the opposite direction? It certainly can. I couldn't imagine him as part of that younger group.

    Keep us on our toes, these kids! :)

    Posted by RH August 4, 09 09:44 AM
  1. I am appalled that people are talking about 'the ability to read and write' as potential prerequisites for kindergarten. This is not a race - you don't get 'bragging rights' because your child can read/write at age 3 or 4. Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense. There are many, many studies indicating that children who learn to read early are NOT better readers by 4th grade. As a matter of fact, those who learned to read earlier tend to lag behind those who waited until an appropriate age. Children at 3, 4 and 5 (and probably even 6) should be experiencing the world with their senses, hearing stories, learning to tell stories, and singing. Encouraging them to rush into the code/decode tasks of reading takes them away from directly experiencing the world. My child attends a Waldorf school, and, though I initially was concerned about the fact that Waldorf schools don't even begin letter recognition until 1st grade, I am now completely convinced of the efficacy of this approach. These children are active, engaged, curious learners. Their writing is creative and beautiful, and they tend to be voracious readers. The public school approach of rushing to measurable tasks so that testing can be performed is a grave disservice to children - this is the primary reason I struggle to pay tuition at a private school.
    Any society in which parents feel the need to stress how 'academically ready' a child is for entry into kindergarten is in serious trouble.

    Posted by Cathy August 4, 09 09:47 AM
  1. Back in the day when it was based on calendar years, I had a friend with a January birthday and a friend with a birthday at the end of December and even in high school you could tell the difference in their maturity and readiness. They were both fine, but there was definitely a difference and my younger friend struggled a bit. I would say that a parent of a kid with a fall birthday should just relax -- you wouldn't want your child at 4 1/2 to be starting kindergarten, even if they can read or whatever. It's not just about ability to read, there are many other factors as well. I don't think parents really hold their kids with summer birthdays back to give them an academic, but for social readiness.

    Posted by rebbie August 4, 09 10:48 AM
  1. Cathy, you are entitled to your opinion, but please don't disparage others' opinions, or worse, call them liars.

    I taught myself to read before I started elementary school. I'm told that at the age of two, I would pick up a newspaper or book and go up to any willing adult, point to a letter, and say "What his name? What he say?" By fourth grade, I was reading Tolkein and Alcott, while my peers read Judy Blume. Perhaps I'm the exception, but I can say that most certainly I was not lagging behind anyone (ok, maybe one kid, since I was 'only' second in my high school class of 470).

    Having said that, though, I would never push a child to read (or do anything 'academic') before they were ready. One of my kids showed early interest in academics, the other did not. They are both voracious readers, and active, engaged, curious learners, just like the children you mentioned. And yes, they go to public school. Waldorf schools do not have a monopoly on producing engaged, curious kids, and public schools do not necessarily stomp the life out of all children. I'm glad you have something that works for you - can you be glad that others have different solutions that work for them?

    Posted by anonymous today August 4, 09 10:50 AM
  1. Calling it a "predicament" is a bit of a strong word, I think. While parents can hold a kid back, it's not even possible to put a kid forward into the system while too young. I'd say parents of a kid who "seems" ready at 4 1/2 should just get over it (because really, what can you do? you can't make the school enroll your kid in kindergarten) -- and seek some of the alternatives Lylah mentions.

    Posted by Polly August 4, 09 10:53 AM
  1. Mid-November birthday for me (male), I got into school "under the wire" and was generally one of the youngest in my class. Except for kindergarden, I did very well with schoolwork, comprehension, & grades. School actually wanted me to skip 8th grade (parents said no). Went to college at 17 (turned 18 early in my freshman year), graduated cum laude in Electrical Engineering, on schedule. Socially and athletically for the high school years, I think it might have been better if I had been held back a year, but no major problems for me.

    Posted by southernboy August 4, 09 12:47 PM
  1. I had both of my boys wait out the year. They were both summer babies. They are now in HS and I'm still reaping the benefits of them being the older ones. I think the maturity is a key factor, ecspecially in boys. I can still tell boys that are summer babies and should have waited. It is such an advantage you can give your child. It is totally worth it if you can do it.

    Posted by Jill August 4, 09 01:38 PM
  1. If you are interested in homeschooling your children, a good option that worked for me was TTUISD. It's a K-12 diploma program, and it also has supplemental classes for children who attend public or private schools. I strongly suggest it. You can go to www.k12.ttu.edu if you're interested!

    Posted by Ashley August 4, 09 03:09 PM
  1. sorry Reading Mom, but you're mistaken about the requirements you stated above

    Kindergarten isn't even a requirement anymore in Reading. A pupil can enter school at 1st Grade (age 6) with NO PRESCHOOL OR KINDERGARTEN prerequisites. They have to pass a test, but that test is very simple.

    My son started 1st grade at Barrows last year without attending preschool or kindergarten. My wife did all the teaching he needed at home

    Posted by Reading Dad August 4, 09 03:31 PM
  1. I started school at 4 years and 9 months. My school system's cut off at the time was December 31st. My b-day is in early January. The school system made an exception for me because my b-day was within one week of the cut off and at the time I required a more intensive speech therapy than was available if you were not in school.

    At age 6 we moved to a school district where the cut off was November 1st. From second grade through high school, I was by far the youngest in my class. I graduated 4th in my class. I had a bunch of close friends and quite frankly it never bothered me that I was the youngest. Come college, I was still one of the youngest, but not the youngest anymore. I turned 21 January of my senior year. I never felt like I was missing out because I was younger.

    My problem with the cut off age is that it's arbitrary from town to town. Worcester for example still has a December 31st cut off while Grafton (2 towns away) has a September 1st cut off. IMO, the state should set the cut off date and all schools in the state should be required to adhere to it. Of course I think there shoudl be an appeals process as well where a child who is ready at a younger age can be assessed and acceptions be made. Children who are bored academically often act out. We do a great job in this state of having programs available for kids with "special needs" when those special needs are learning disabilities, but we don't have nearly enough programs for those with "special needs" that are advanced academics. Of course my solution would require that parents be ready,willing, and able to accept the fact that their child did not "test into" early entrance to kindergarten and let's face most parents today would have a hard time swallowing that if they were convinced their child was ready.

    Posted by Jami August 4, 09 03:36 PM
  1. Reading and writing ability is NOT a realiable means of determining kindergarten readiness. Some kids take longer to learn -and to be honest- by the end of first grade, everyone's where they were meant to be

    But rule of thumb is that you are best off not pushing forward a child who is on the younger side!

    And my other bugaboo, the "does my child have enough friendships is he/she well liked" thing. People are born with different temperments ,and if your child is shy or takes longer to warm up to situations or people, this does not mean there is a glaring and fundamental flaw that needs correcting. And of course parents who obsess on this, tend to convey their concern/dissatisfaction to the poor child.

    Folks - Wait till they are applying to college :)

    Posted by Ava August 4, 09 04:18 PM
  1. Um, Poster 10, I'm not quite sure why you accused me of calling anyone a liar. I did no such thing. I also don't think I was talking about you personally (though congratulations on finishing 2nd in your class). I was simply citing studies regarding populations and trends - which is all studies can do. Individual results may vary.

    My point was simply that turning learning into a competitive sport, and insisting that certain easily measurable skills are the only yardstick by which educational approaches should be judged, is detrimental to children. I stand by that point, though I'm perfectly aware that it is my opinion and that others feel differently.

    And, just for the record, I attended public schools throughout my educational life (except undergrad and one grad degree). I had always assumed I would send my child to public schools. However, times have changed, and educational philosophies have changed, and I am not interested in subjecting my child to testing and the associated stress I now see in public schools. Again - that's my choice, and I have no interest in disparaging others' opinions.

    Posted by Cathy August 4, 09 04:20 PM
  1. I tend to agree with Cathy and, for the record, I'm hard-pressed to find where she called anyone a 'liar'. I've worked with hundreds of preschoolers and kindergarten children. The idea of a typical 4.5 year old counting to one hundred by rote is, forgive me, misguided. I'm reminded of a poem by the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach. If you can understand this poem, you have what you need to decide what your child needs for intellectual stimulation....

    The Hundred Languages

    No way. The hundred is there.
    The child
    is made of one hundred.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    a hundred hands
    a hundred thoughts
    a hundred ways of thinking
    of playing, of speaking.
    A hundred always a hundred
    ways of listening
    of marveling, of loving
    a hundred joys
    for singing and understanding
    a hundred worlds
    to discover
    a hundred worlds
    to invent
    a hundred worlds
    to dream.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    (and a hundred hundred hundred more)
    but they steal ninety-nine.
    The school and the culture
    separate the head from the body.
    They tell the child:
    to think without hands
    to do without head
    to listen and not to speak
    to understand without joy
    to love and to marvel
    only at Easter and at Christmas.
    They tell the child:
    to discover the world already there
    and of the hundred
    they steal ninety-nine.
    They tell the child:
    that work and play
    reality and fantasy
    science and imagination
    sky and earth
    reason and dream
    are things
    that do not belong together.
    And thus they tell the child
    that the hundred is not there.
    The child says:
    No way. The hundred is there.
    ~Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
    Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

    Posted by wg67 August 4, 09 04:43 PM
  1. Reading Dad: perhaps Reading Mom meant that a child younger than the required age 5 for kindergarten and age 6 for first grade would need to attend a private or homeschooling situation until second grade, at which point the school does not require the children to be 7 before enrolling in second grade. That is the case in my home town as well (Lunenburg). Even a child with a birthday of 9/2 would not be allowed into kindergarten (and then first grade) if they were not already 5 (or 6) by the cut-off. For second grade, the age is no longer considered, simply the child's readiness and completion of first grade.

    Posted by Not a Reading Mom August 4, 09 05:39 PM
  1. As a grandmother, mother, teacher, principal and tutor I must remind you all: Life is a journey not a race.

    Posted by Granny August 4, 09 06:25 PM
  1. I was a summer birthday and hyperlexic (taught myself to read at 3). I was always the youngest, or one of the youngest, and always a straight A student.

    My sons are September and January birthdays. My September son is always the oldest in his class, and struggles mightily with reading and writing. My January son is slighly ahead of his class academically, slightly behind the curve in emotional maturity. In the end, I think they will both come out all right. It serves no one to wonder "Should I have held them back? Did something different?" I have a fair amount of faith that they will survive and thrive in their own way.

    Posted by BMS August 4, 09 07:43 PM
  1. Clarification - what I meant to say about Reading, MA is that going to private kindergarten won't allow your child to get into first grade the next year if he/she is not 6 years old by the Sept 1 cutoff.

    If a child has gone through private kindergarten but is 5 years 11 months at Sept. 1, he/she only qualifies for public kindergarten and will not be allowed into public first grade. Thus, sending a child to private school for one year because he/she seems ready for kindergarten but does not meet the age cutoff does not solve the issue for the next year (here).

    I don't know if this is the case for other towns/states, but it's worth being aware of (at least as a budget/planning issue) - Lylah said that children can often go straight into first grade after a year of private kindergarten.

    Aside to Reading Dad - our children are in the same grade in the same school!

    Posted by ReadingMom August 4, 09 09:37 PM
  1. To #8: I apparently taught myself to read at age 2. My parents thought I was just memorizing the stories they were reading to me, but according to them, they realized I could actually read when I brought them a Sunday comic page and read a Peanuts column that I found amusing aloud.

    I don't remember that, but I also don't remember a time when I couldn't read. And I remember being very, very bored in Kindergarten and most of my elementary school reading classes because while the other students were struggling with "See Spot", I was clandestinely reading "Equus". In retrospect, I understand now why my mother was so livid when she caught me on the toilet, halfway through the novel.

    In 1st grade, I was placed in a 6th grade reading class. I loved it - but my parents or teachers or both pulled me out after 3 months. They felt that a 6 year old among 12 year olds wasn't a good social move. For whom, I never found out.

    This isn't bragging. It's simply a counter-point to your rather ill informed argument about early readers lagging later in life. Early reading, particularly when it's accompanied by comprehension (there's a difference between being able to read and being able to understand what you're reading), isn't what may lead students down a road to mediocrity or worse later in life. It's that schools and parents alike aren't always equipped to assist the overall learning needs of those children and they don't fail because of a lack of intellifence. They fail because they're bored stiff and cease to care at all.

    Lylah, this doesn't answer your original question, I know. But that comment irked me and I hope that people who think like that take into account all of the factors of the studies they quote. I'm sure that if the studies were thoroughly reviewed or conducted to take multiple factors into account, they would show that an advanced child is a bored child when left to a standard education along with his or her peers.

    I wish I had an answer for you, but we haven't reached that stage yet and I do think that every child is different.

    Posted by phe August 5, 09 08:10 AM
  1. My, this is a touchy subject! I have a November birthday (in a December 31st cut off community) and was young for my class. I worked hard and was in the top 1/5 of my class. I never wished I'd stayed back or anything like that, it's just the way it was.

    Like many here, I was also a voracious reader and I've been chuckling at the posts where folks are remember reading advanced literature at an early age -- I was the same way although in retrospect I think that just because I COULD read these books doesn't necessarily mean I got much out of that experience.

    The point is, kids deal with the hand they are dealt. If you are too young for your class, you deal with it. If you are one of the oldest, you deal with it. Parents can make themselves crazy trying to make things perfect for their kids but life just isn't like that.

    Posted by Claudia August 5, 09 09:21 AM
  1. Cathy, I think that when you wrote "Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense." it does suggest that you are saying that parents who claim that their kid could read when she was three are lying. It may not be what you intended (in context, I don't think you meant it that way), but it does say that.

    Posted by not taking sides August 5, 09 09:38 AM
  1. if parents have the flexibility to 'red shirt' their kindergartner, it seems only fair that you should be able to let your child start earlier if they're ready. these should be guidelines, not hard rules because children aren't standard, they're individuals. my son was ready for kindergarten earlier than the school would allow him in. he ended up getting home schooled for kindergarten and with a little bit of a struggle the school system allowed him into first grade the next year. in second grade, he was pulled out of class once a week for advanced math and reading programs. he's starting third grade this fall and i still think that 'pushing' him early in to school was the best decision we made.

    Posted by stephanie August 5, 09 11:09 AM
  1. I started kindergarten at the age of 4 and a half (cut-off in my state was February 1). Yes, I was one of the youngest in my class, but I was also one of the brightest. I turned 17 just 5 months before I graduated from high school (9th in my graduating class). Not looking to brag, just pointing out that kids need to be looked at individually. Some can handle the pace, some can't. Some are mature enough, some aren't. Parents need to be realistic about what their kids can really handle and plead their case to the school district if necessary.

    Posted by jozkid August 5, 09 12:30 PM
  1. My daughter will be starting Kindergarten this year and she just turned 5 last week. However, she will be going to a private school (Montessori) that really focuses on childhood development rather than the testing approach utilized in most public schools. She has had summer camp with some of her future classmates who are on par with her socially and mentally and we think she will be just fine in Kindergarten although she will be a little younger. In fact, her school has a mixed-age group approach so that kids are not always the youngest or oldest in their class.

    I also happened to be always the youngest in my class -- started school at 4, skipped the 6th grade and just turned 17 when I was a freshman in college. Didn't have any problems socially or mentally; in fact quite the opposite. I think it worked out ok since I now have 3 degrees and have a successful legal career.

    Posted by Proud Dad August 5, 09 12:49 PM
  1. I know 3 boys in my circle of mom friends who were "red-shirted", and just like where the word comes from it was done purely for sports and they admitted so. They will be bigger/faster/stronger and do better at their respective sports than their classmates.

    All 3 kids seemed to be ready, socially and otherwise. Like mentioned in the article, this is a very affluent community.

    Posted by Kathleen M. August 5, 09 02:37 PM
  1. Please keep your child at home for another year. No matter how smart, how ready etc. the social aspect with her peers will begin to show in middle school and continue through college. My lovely daughter (now 38) went to Kdgtn at age 4 3/4, smart as a whip. For the rest of her academic time she was always the youngest in the class. This becomes troublesome when it comes to wearing lipstick, being 15 1/2 and not allowed in cars with other juniors & seniors who are at least 17. These are the practical problems, there is also an immaturity level also, this can follow into the workforce. My daughter

    Posted by a o'leary August 5, 09 03:54 PM
  1. I always remember my grandmother saying that her biggest regret (of her whole life) was not holding my uncle back a year because he was an early December baby - that's when the cut-off was Dec. 31st. It always made me laugh that 40+ years later it still bothered her (he turned out just fine). She felt bad that he was so much smaller than the rest of the boys in his class. It makes a big difference if you're a boy (or a girl) and you're competing in sports or just in general physical development. My husband (a September baby) is convinced that it would have worked wonders for his hockey career if he started school a year later. Surely I would be an NHL wife now.

    On the flip side, my genius-level brother was the youngest in his class and still bored out of his mind (thus acting up). Every kid is different! I'm not a mom yet, but I guess I'll try to have kids in March...

    Posted by Patty August 5, 09 04:08 PM
  1. Cathy DID suggest that people whose kids show an early interest in reading are full of it:
    "Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense."
    I was reading by age 4, and it wasn't prompted by my parents. My 28 month-old son is showing an incredible interest in letters and numbers right now, and it's not something that we have particularly encouraged. Perhaps he is learning some of it from Sesame Street. He will come up to us with a Leap Frog book and ask us to quiz him on his letters (by pointing to them and asking him what they are). Some kids just want to know what is going on around them. I can't claim that he will be an early reader or incredibly intelligent, but to suggest that anyone whose kids show an early interest in letters or reading is "nonsense" is over-the-top. Enjoy the Waldorf method for your own kids. We're going the Montessori route ourselves.

    Posted by JK August 5, 09 04:33 PM
  1. Anyone else want to weigh in on the idea of skipping a grade? I never skipped any myself, but my Dad was the youngest in his class, my mom skipped three grades (!!!) and graduated from high school at the age of 14, and my husband started school early and then skipped first grade. All of them say that they didn't suffer academically, but it made things really diffcult for them socially as they got to the high school level. What do you think? -- Lylah

    Posted by LMA August 5, 09 04:55 PM
  1. My son will enter k this fall even though he turns 5 in the summer. There is huge pressure in my town (Hingham) to hold children back to have them get an edge, academically, but also for sports! Yes pathetic but true. I have no problem with him being one of the youngest in his class but it truly annoys me that he has to be the youngest by 16 months! Parents hold their children back if they turned five in April. It is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the administrators do nothing about it as it probably helps them out in the short run with testing. Very frustrating. One parent actually told me she was holding her daughter back so she would dominate. YIKES

    Posted by winnie August 5, 09 05:29 PM
  1. Hi Lylah, I can weigh in on a family experience with skipping a grade. My brother was young for his class (October birthday with a December cutoff) and still skipped first grade. He flew through school with perfect grades and SAT scores - and actually the opposite was true for him with regards to a his social progress. He had the worst trouble when he was a child with bullies and teachers that truly resented his intelligence, and he didn't adjust socially until high school (an all-boys Catholic high school, if that matters to anyone). At that time he was able to completely spread his wings and find people whose interests and talents matched his own - science clubs, chess team, math competitions as well as competitive swimming. Does he sound like a complete nerd? Well, he was and still is, but come high school he had loads of friends and still does. His social life blossomed at that time and has never slowed down. There were always a thousand girls calling the house for him and he always had a girlfriend. I still have to schedule a lunch with him a month in advance, ha ha! The reason? His completely magnetic personality, dynamic sense of humor, and compelling way with words.

    Me, on the other hand? I have the magic February birthday and did very well in school all the way through...but I'd say I was the one who suffered socially when I got older. I'm just not as charismatic as my big brother.
    It's all in the personality of the individual. There isn't a cure-all statement on either side of the issue.

    Posted by RH August 5, 09 05:43 PM
  1. Decisions regarding starting kindergarten should be based on the individual child and family circumstances.

    It is foolish to compare my academic experience starting school 32 years ago with schooling my children face. The academics now are far more rigorous and the demands on even the youngest are significant. Kindergarten is no longer about socialization. This would argue in favor of waiting the extra year before starting school.

    The counterpoint to this is the very real demands on the modern family. Many families must have two incomes to get by now. Kindergarten represents the first respite from the ever present problem of child care. Many children will start kindergarten on the young side, by necessity.

    Perhaps this debate should focus on meeting the needs of the children who attend kindergarten regardless of age and maturity. In other words the younger children should be given space and time to mature. The older children should be challenged by enrichment activities and perhaps mentoring their younger classmates. Ideally, we shouldn't be arguing about who is wrong and right in this debate. Rather this debate should be about getting all the children to the same place academically and socially by 3rd grade, when academics ramp up and kids take their first MCAS.

    For the record my kids started on time and lagged behind the first year or two. My fourth grader just had an outstanding report card (all A's and 1 B). When asked what my goal was for my children by their school, my response was that finish kindergarten loving school. One of my kids loves school and the other one, not so much. We can't control everything, we can only try to make a good decision and hope it is the right one.

    Posted by TLK August 5, 09 06:27 PM
  1. This blog takes too long to post comments, which harms the chances of real dialogue. I see comments here that were not here yesterday at 5 pm that were actually posted around noon. I encourage the bloggers to find a way to post comments more quickly. This is not just a problem on this blog but on all the boston.com blogs.

    Posted by blogarella August 6, 09 08:42 AM
  1. Hi Blogarella - Under our current system blog system, all comments must be approved before being published, but we are considering changing the system so that comments go live automatically. Thanks for your comment!


    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff August 6, 09 01:17 PM
  1. TY for that great article. I enjoy that blog very much.

    Posted by best anti aging moisturizer August 10, 09 07:47 PM
  1. I, my sister and my brother all started Kindergarten at age 4, we were all among the youngest of our class especially myself because my birthday was even later in the year than theirs, howver, we were just as mature, just as smart and passed all the same classes with honors as our much older peers. The decision on whether a child is ready to start school, is different for each child. It is the choice of the parent. Success rate of a child in school is not as much how old the child is as how well the child is made responsible for their actions. No matter their age if they are tought the importance of homework and study time they will be just fine.

    Posted by Ashley August 23, 09 08:01 PM
  1. Every child is different and progresses at different rates. Don't hold them back unless they are not ready. My daughter, age 3, was reading because her 4 older siblings close in age were reading. At the school's discouragement I had her tested for K at age 4. They said she was ready for 1st grade developmentally and let her start. She finished high school in 3 years, age 16. She was one of the taller girls all through school. Just graduated, age 19, from a four-year university on academic scholarship the whole time. She has always found it to be a huge self-esteem boost and liked being the youngest.

    Posted by cherrie August 27, 09 07:24 PM
  1. Has anyone seen Malcolm Gladwell's comments on this issue? he shows that kids who are older are more likely to be chosen for giten programs and that extra experience does help them in the long run. In countries that don't identify gifted children so early, kids with all different birthdays are identified as gifted. (The same thing is true for sports.). He suggests several different cut off dates, so kids could be in a class with other kids near their birthday. It seems like a great idea.

    Also--in response to Cathy, I do know of research by a Berkeley professor named Anne Cunningham that shows the importance of learning to read early. It seems to play a big part in getting kids exposed to more text. I'm not sure if you can make up for later reading by reading to your kids or having them listen to books on tape, but there are benefits to reading reading early.

    By the way, I'm also a September baby who started school at 4.9 with no ill effects. I'm trying to decide what to do with my son whose birthday is right around mine.

    Posted by Clare November 3, 09 07:43 PM
 
43 comments so far...
  1. I have been a kindergarten teacher for over 23 years and have seen an enormous shift in what we ask of our 5 and 6 year olds. I am now teaching what I taught in 1st grade 30 years ago. Young children are just that, young children. Keep in mind that several of your daughter's peers will immediately start turning 6 during the month of September and your daughter will always be the youngest. Now your child will be the younges in the class, in middle school still will be the youngest, and in high school when friends are driving and dating, your daughter will still be the youngest. We ask so much of our children that we need to arm them with every possible advantage upon
    entering school. I teach 2 half day sessions of Kindergarten here in Virginia
    and believe me when I say, we hit the ground running when the children walk through the door at 8:35 AM. By June, these children who attend kindergarten half day are expected to be as prepared as their peers who attended kindergarten in a full day program. Stressful for teachers and students alike. Yes, we expect numbers to 100, writing with spacing, and reading many sight words all by June. Give your daughter the gift of being the oldest in her class, and the ability to be the leader, not the follower and in time you will be very thankful that you made that choice.

    Posted by Claire Turck August 3, 09 04:48 PM
  1. I think that the idea that parents "Red Shirt" their children to give them an advantage is off-base. I know quite a few parents who held a child out of school for an extra year. All of the students were boys, all of the parents felt that their son was not ready for Kindergarten for one reason or another, and most of the moms are teachers or work in a child-related field. All of these boys (heading into 6th grade) are average students. Had they entred Kindergarten at age 5, they may have really struggled academically.

    Anyway, back to the question. All of my kids have birthdays many months away from Septermber, so all of them have, so far, entered Kindergarten at age 5. My current 5.5-year-old has been counting down the days to school for over a year; wild horses couldn't keep him away. My youngest (and last) also seems to be on track to be ready at the regular time. I feel for parents who have August/Spetember birthdays - being the youngest or oldest in a class can sometimes exacerbate differences in size or readiness, so you have to make the call as to what's the best thing for your child.

    Posted by Jen August 3, 09 05:36 PM
  1. Um, at least in Reading, (MA) you have to do two years of private school - K and 1st. Then you can go into 2nd. Otherwise you just repeat kindergarten at the public school.
    Check your town rules carefully.

    Posted by ReadingMom August 3, 09 09:20 PM
  1. my child has her bday the end of august. our town has a cut off date of 9/1. we have decided to give her an extra year. i think she could handle kindergarten now - but what about the future. and its not just about academics. she will be a whole year behind most of her classmates. just the maturity level alone - i hope by giving her that year it will help her wiht her school work but also when she gets into middle school and high school she will have a higher maturity level which will enable her to make better choices.

    Posted by kiki August 4, 09 08:18 AM
  1. While I feel bad for parents of children whose birthdays are right after the September cut off because it seems maybe annoying to have to wait another year, there has to be a cutoff somewhere, right? Maybe it's arbitrary and maybe you think your kid is "ready" (whatever you are basing that on) for kindergarten, but so what? My son has a July birthday and started kindergarten at 5 years 2 months -- I would say he was about 5 1/2 before I would have REALLY considered him "ready for kindergarten," both socially and academically. As #1 points out, he had friends turning 6 as soon as the school year started. Being the youngest in the class can be very tough (especially for boys), what's the big hurry?

    Posted by s bee August 4, 09 09:07 AM
  1. I would urge parents to consider social readiness along with academic readiness. My daughter has a summer birthday and was reading before she entered kindergarten -- we thought she was more than ready. Looking back, we overlooked the social/emotional component. There's no harm in waiting to make sure your child is calm enough and socially ready. Now, facing middle school, it's easy to tell who in the class is on the younger side of the year. We sometimes wish we'd held her and started kindergarten at 6 yrs 1 month instead of 5 years 1 month

    Posted by Meg August 4, 09 09:34 AM
  1. My son has a July birthday, and he entered Kindergarten at age 5. We received a lot of social pressure from other parents (and still do) about why we didn't choose to "red shirt" him. Why didn't we? It wasn't recommended to him by his teachers.

    Sometimes when a child is mentally and academically beyond the material, it causes discipline problems and boredom and then the classroom setting fails to teach the virtues of a little grit and needing to work hard and practice to master some skills. This can set children up for failure later when the work gets more challenging and they truly have no idea how to apply themselves when it doesn't come so easy.

    At any rate, our son had a perfect report card at the end of kindergarten and we never once had a "bad" report home from school. He is sweet and well liked by his peers. Is it a coincidence that his "best friend" from kindergarten also has a summer birthday? Probably not.

    I think parents of children with fall birthdays should be grateful (or proud of their planning) that the age of their children by month will never be in question as to their success or failure in school. But automatically red shirting kids with summer birthdays isn't a cure-all, either, and in some cases can present just as many (perhaps different) problems as it can solve. In our case, my son is actually one of the tallest in his class despite his younger age. Looking at the pre-K kids this year, he was in some cases a head and a half taller than they were! Think that doesn't pose problems in the opposite direction? It certainly can. I couldn't imagine him as part of that younger group.

    Keep us on our toes, these kids! :)

    Posted by RH August 4, 09 09:44 AM
  1. I am appalled that people are talking about 'the ability to read and write' as potential prerequisites for kindergarten. This is not a race - you don't get 'bragging rights' because your child can read/write at age 3 or 4. Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense. There are many, many studies indicating that children who learn to read early are NOT better readers by 4th grade. As a matter of fact, those who learned to read earlier tend to lag behind those who waited until an appropriate age. Children at 3, 4 and 5 (and probably even 6) should be experiencing the world with their senses, hearing stories, learning to tell stories, and singing. Encouraging them to rush into the code/decode tasks of reading takes them away from directly experiencing the world. My child attends a Waldorf school, and, though I initially was concerned about the fact that Waldorf schools don't even begin letter recognition until 1st grade, I am now completely convinced of the efficacy of this approach. These children are active, engaged, curious learners. Their writing is creative and beautiful, and they tend to be voracious readers. The public school approach of rushing to measurable tasks so that testing can be performed is a grave disservice to children - this is the primary reason I struggle to pay tuition at a private school.
    Any society in which parents feel the need to stress how 'academically ready' a child is for entry into kindergarten is in serious trouble.

    Posted by Cathy August 4, 09 09:47 AM
  1. Back in the day when it was based on calendar years, I had a friend with a January birthday and a friend with a birthday at the end of December and even in high school you could tell the difference in their maturity and readiness. They were both fine, but there was definitely a difference and my younger friend struggled a bit. I would say that a parent of a kid with a fall birthday should just relax -- you wouldn't want your child at 4 1/2 to be starting kindergarten, even if they can read or whatever. It's not just about ability to read, there are many other factors as well. I don't think parents really hold their kids with summer birthdays back to give them an academic, but for social readiness.

    Posted by rebbie August 4, 09 10:48 AM
  1. Cathy, you are entitled to your opinion, but please don't disparage others' opinions, or worse, call them liars.

    I taught myself to read before I started elementary school. I'm told that at the age of two, I would pick up a newspaper or book and go up to any willing adult, point to a letter, and say "What his name? What he say?" By fourth grade, I was reading Tolkein and Alcott, while my peers read Judy Blume. Perhaps I'm the exception, but I can say that most certainly I was not lagging behind anyone (ok, maybe one kid, since I was 'only' second in my high school class of 470).

    Having said that, though, I would never push a child to read (or do anything 'academic') before they were ready. One of my kids showed early interest in academics, the other did not. They are both voracious readers, and active, engaged, curious learners, just like the children you mentioned. And yes, they go to public school. Waldorf schools do not have a monopoly on producing engaged, curious kids, and public schools do not necessarily stomp the life out of all children. I'm glad you have something that works for you - can you be glad that others have different solutions that work for them?

    Posted by anonymous today August 4, 09 10:50 AM
  1. Calling it a "predicament" is a bit of a strong word, I think. While parents can hold a kid back, it's not even possible to put a kid forward into the system while too young. I'd say parents of a kid who "seems" ready at 4 1/2 should just get over it (because really, what can you do? you can't make the school enroll your kid in kindergarten) -- and seek some of the alternatives Lylah mentions.

    Posted by Polly August 4, 09 10:53 AM
  1. Mid-November birthday for me (male), I got into school "under the wire" and was generally one of the youngest in my class. Except for kindergarden, I did very well with schoolwork, comprehension, & grades. School actually wanted me to skip 8th grade (parents said no). Went to college at 17 (turned 18 early in my freshman year), graduated cum laude in Electrical Engineering, on schedule. Socially and athletically for the high school years, I think it might have been better if I had been held back a year, but no major problems for me.

    Posted by southernboy August 4, 09 12:47 PM
  1. I had both of my boys wait out the year. They were both summer babies. They are now in HS and I'm still reaping the benefits of them being the older ones. I think the maturity is a key factor, ecspecially in boys. I can still tell boys that are summer babies and should have waited. It is such an advantage you can give your child. It is totally worth it if you can do it.

    Posted by Jill August 4, 09 01:38 PM
  1. If you are interested in homeschooling your children, a good option that worked for me was TTUISD. It's a K-12 diploma program, and it also has supplemental classes for children who attend public or private schools. I strongly suggest it. You can go to www.k12.ttu.edu if you're interested!

    Posted by Ashley August 4, 09 03:09 PM
  1. sorry Reading Mom, but you're mistaken about the requirements you stated above

    Kindergarten isn't even a requirement anymore in Reading. A pupil can enter school at 1st Grade (age 6) with NO PRESCHOOL OR KINDERGARTEN prerequisites. They have to pass a test, but that test is very simple.

    My son started 1st grade at Barrows last year without attending preschool or kindergarten. My wife did all the teaching he needed at home

    Posted by Reading Dad August 4, 09 03:31 PM
  1. I started school at 4 years and 9 months. My school system's cut off at the time was December 31st. My b-day is in early January. The school system made an exception for me because my b-day was within one week of the cut off and at the time I required a more intensive speech therapy than was available if you were not in school.

    At age 6 we moved to a school district where the cut off was November 1st. From second grade through high school, I was by far the youngest in my class. I graduated 4th in my class. I had a bunch of close friends and quite frankly it never bothered me that I was the youngest. Come college, I was still one of the youngest, but not the youngest anymore. I turned 21 January of my senior year. I never felt like I was missing out because I was younger.

    My problem with the cut off age is that it's arbitrary from town to town. Worcester for example still has a December 31st cut off while Grafton (2 towns away) has a September 1st cut off. IMO, the state should set the cut off date and all schools in the state should be required to adhere to it. Of course I think there shoudl be an appeals process as well where a child who is ready at a younger age can be assessed and acceptions be made. Children who are bored academically often act out. We do a great job in this state of having programs available for kids with "special needs" when those special needs are learning disabilities, but we don't have nearly enough programs for those with "special needs" that are advanced academics. Of course my solution would require that parents be ready,willing, and able to accept the fact that their child did not "test into" early entrance to kindergarten and let's face most parents today would have a hard time swallowing that if they were convinced their child was ready.

    Posted by Jami August 4, 09 03:36 PM
  1. Reading and writing ability is NOT a realiable means of determining kindergarten readiness. Some kids take longer to learn -and to be honest- by the end of first grade, everyone's where they were meant to be

    But rule of thumb is that you are best off not pushing forward a child who is on the younger side!

    And my other bugaboo, the "does my child have enough friendships is he/she well liked" thing. People are born with different temperments ,and if your child is shy or takes longer to warm up to situations or people, this does not mean there is a glaring and fundamental flaw that needs correcting. And of course parents who obsess on this, tend to convey their concern/dissatisfaction to the poor child.

    Folks - Wait till they are applying to college :)

    Posted by Ava August 4, 09 04:18 PM
  1. Um, Poster 10, I'm not quite sure why you accused me of calling anyone a liar. I did no such thing. I also don't think I was talking about you personally (though congratulations on finishing 2nd in your class). I was simply citing studies regarding populations and trends - which is all studies can do. Individual results may vary.

    My point was simply that turning learning into a competitive sport, and insisting that certain easily measurable skills are the only yardstick by which educational approaches should be judged, is detrimental to children. I stand by that point, though I'm perfectly aware that it is my opinion and that others feel differently.

    And, just for the record, I attended public schools throughout my educational life (except undergrad and one grad degree). I had always assumed I would send my child to public schools. However, times have changed, and educational philosophies have changed, and I am not interested in subjecting my child to testing and the associated stress I now see in public schools. Again - that's my choice, and I have no interest in disparaging others' opinions.

    Posted by Cathy August 4, 09 04:20 PM
  1. I tend to agree with Cathy and, for the record, I'm hard-pressed to find where she called anyone a 'liar'. I've worked with hundreds of preschoolers and kindergarten children. The idea of a typical 4.5 year old counting to one hundred by rote is, forgive me, misguided. I'm reminded of a poem by the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach. If you can understand this poem, you have what you need to decide what your child needs for intellectual stimulation....

    The Hundred Languages

    No way. The hundred is there.
    The child
    is made of one hundred.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    a hundred hands
    a hundred thoughts
    a hundred ways of thinking
    of playing, of speaking.
    A hundred always a hundred
    ways of listening
    of marveling, of loving
    a hundred joys
    for singing and understanding
    a hundred worlds
    to discover
    a hundred worlds
    to invent
    a hundred worlds
    to dream.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    (and a hundred hundred hundred more)
    but they steal ninety-nine.
    The school and the culture
    separate the head from the body.
    They tell the child:
    to think without hands
    to do without head
    to listen and not to speak
    to understand without joy
    to love and to marvel
    only at Easter and at Christmas.
    They tell the child:
    to discover the world already there
    and of the hundred
    they steal ninety-nine.
    They tell the child:
    that work and play
    reality and fantasy
    science and imagination
    sky and earth
    reason and dream
    are things
    that do not belong together.
    And thus they tell the child
    that the hundred is not there.
    The child says:
    No way. The hundred is there.
    ~Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
    Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

    Posted by wg67 August 4, 09 04:43 PM
  1. Reading Dad: perhaps Reading Mom meant that a child younger than the required age 5 for kindergarten and age 6 for first grade would need to attend a private or homeschooling situation until second grade, at which point the school does not require the children to be 7 before enrolling in second grade. That is the case in my home town as well (Lunenburg). Even a child with a birthday of 9/2 would not be allowed into kindergarten (and then first grade) if they were not already 5 (or 6) by the cut-off. For second grade, the age is no longer considered, simply the child's readiness and completion of first grade.

    Posted by Not a Reading Mom August 4, 09 05:39 PM
  1. As a grandmother, mother, teacher, principal and tutor I must remind you all: Life is a journey not a race.

    Posted by Granny August 4, 09 06:25 PM
  1. I was a summer birthday and hyperlexic (taught myself to read at 3). I was always the youngest, or one of the youngest, and always a straight A student.

    My sons are September and January birthdays. My September son is always the oldest in his class, and struggles mightily with reading and writing. My January son is slighly ahead of his class academically, slightly behind the curve in emotional maturity. In the end, I think they will both come out all right. It serves no one to wonder "Should I have held them back? Did something different?" I have a fair amount of faith that they will survive and thrive in their own way.

    Posted by BMS August 4, 09 07:43 PM
  1. Clarification - what I meant to say about Reading, MA is that going to private kindergarten won't allow your child to get into first grade the next year if he/she is not 6 years old by the Sept 1 cutoff.

    If a child has gone through private kindergarten but is 5 years 11 months at Sept. 1, he/she only qualifies for public kindergarten and will not be allowed into public first grade. Thus, sending a child to private school for one year because he/she seems ready for kindergarten but does not meet the age cutoff does not solve the issue for the next year (here).

    I don't know if this is the case for other towns/states, but it's worth being aware of (at least as a budget/planning issue) - Lylah said that children can often go straight into first grade after a year of private kindergarten.

    Aside to Reading Dad - our children are in the same grade in the same school!

    Posted by ReadingMom August 4, 09 09:37 PM
  1. To #8: I apparently taught myself to read at age 2. My parents thought I was just memorizing the stories they were reading to me, but according to them, they realized I could actually read when I brought them a Sunday comic page and read a Peanuts column that I found amusing aloud.

    I don't remember that, but I also don't remember a time when I couldn't read. And I remember being very, very bored in Kindergarten and most of my elementary school reading classes because while the other students were struggling with "See Spot", I was clandestinely reading "Equus". In retrospect, I understand now why my mother was so livid when she caught me on the toilet, halfway through the novel.

    In 1st grade, I was placed in a 6th grade reading class. I loved it - but my parents or teachers or both pulled me out after 3 months. They felt that a 6 year old among 12 year olds wasn't a good social move. For whom, I never found out.

    This isn't bragging. It's simply a counter-point to your rather ill informed argument about early readers lagging later in life. Early reading, particularly when it's accompanied by comprehension (there's a difference between being able to read and being able to understand what you're reading), isn't what may lead students down a road to mediocrity or worse later in life. It's that schools and parents alike aren't always equipped to assist the overall learning needs of those children and they don't fail because of a lack of intellifence. They fail because they're bored stiff and cease to care at all.

    Lylah, this doesn't answer your original question, I know. But that comment irked me and I hope that people who think like that take into account all of the factors of the studies they quote. I'm sure that if the studies were thoroughly reviewed or conducted to take multiple factors into account, they would show that an advanced child is a bored child when left to a standard education along with his or her peers.

    I wish I had an answer for you, but we haven't reached that stage yet and I do think that every child is different.

    Posted by phe August 5, 09 08:10 AM
  1. My, this is a touchy subject! I have a November birthday (in a December 31st cut off community) and was young for my class. I worked hard and was in the top 1/5 of my class. I never wished I'd stayed back or anything like that, it's just the way it was.

    Like many here, I was also a voracious reader and I've been chuckling at the posts where folks are remember reading advanced literature at an early age -- I was the same way although in retrospect I think that just because I COULD read these books doesn't necessarily mean I got much out of that experience.

    The point is, kids deal with the hand they are dealt. If you are too young for your class, you deal with it. If you are one of the oldest, you deal with it. Parents can make themselves crazy trying to make things perfect for their kids but life just isn't like that.

    Posted by Claudia August 5, 09 09:21 AM
  1. Cathy, I think that when you wrote "Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense." it does suggest that you are saying that parents who claim that their kid could read when she was three are lying. It may not be what you intended (in context, I don't think you meant it that way), but it does say that.

    Posted by not taking sides August 5, 09 09:38 AM
  1. if parents have the flexibility to 'red shirt' their kindergartner, it seems only fair that you should be able to let your child start earlier if they're ready. these should be guidelines, not hard rules because children aren't standard, they're individuals. my son was ready for kindergarten earlier than the school would allow him in. he ended up getting home schooled for kindergarten and with a little bit of a struggle the school system allowed him into first grade the next year. in second grade, he was pulled out of class once a week for advanced math and reading programs. he's starting third grade this fall and i still think that 'pushing' him early in to school was the best decision we made.

    Posted by stephanie August 5, 09 11:09 AM
  1. I started kindergarten at the age of 4 and a half (cut-off in my state was February 1). Yes, I was one of the youngest in my class, but I was also one of the brightest. I turned 17 just 5 months before I graduated from high school (9th in my graduating class). Not looking to brag, just pointing out that kids need to be looked at individually. Some can handle the pace, some can't. Some are mature enough, some aren't. Parents need to be realistic about what their kids can really handle and plead their case to the school district if necessary.

    Posted by jozkid August 5, 09 12:30 PM
  1. My daughter will be starting Kindergarten this year and she just turned 5 last week. However, she will be going to a private school (Montessori) that really focuses on childhood development rather than the testing approach utilized in most public schools. She has had summer camp with some of her future classmates who are on par with her socially and mentally and we think she will be just fine in Kindergarten although she will be a little younger. In fact, her school has a mixed-age group approach so that kids are not always the youngest or oldest in their class.

    I also happened to be always the youngest in my class -- started school at 4, skipped the 6th grade and just turned 17 when I was a freshman in college. Didn't have any problems socially or mentally; in fact quite the opposite. I think it worked out ok since I now have 3 degrees and have a successful legal career.

    Posted by Proud Dad August 5, 09 12:49 PM
  1. I know 3 boys in my circle of mom friends who were "red-shirted", and just like where the word comes from it was done purely for sports and they admitted so. They will be bigger/faster/stronger and do better at their respective sports than their classmates.

    All 3 kids seemed to be ready, socially and otherwise. Like mentioned in the article, this is a very affluent community.

    Posted by Kathleen M. August 5, 09 02:37 PM
  1. Please keep your child at home for another year. No matter how smart, how ready etc. the social aspect with her peers will begin to show in middle school and continue through college. My lovely daughter (now 38) went to Kdgtn at age 4 3/4, smart as a whip. For the rest of her academic time she was always the youngest in the class. This becomes troublesome when it comes to wearing lipstick, being 15 1/2 and not allowed in cars with other juniors & seniors who are at least 17. These are the practical problems, there is also an immaturity level also, this can follow into the workforce. My daughter

    Posted by a o'leary August 5, 09 03:54 PM
  1. I always remember my grandmother saying that her biggest regret (of her whole life) was not holding my uncle back a year because he was an early December baby - that's when the cut-off was Dec. 31st. It always made me laugh that 40+ years later it still bothered her (he turned out just fine). She felt bad that he was so much smaller than the rest of the boys in his class. It makes a big difference if you're a boy (or a girl) and you're competing in sports or just in general physical development. My husband (a September baby) is convinced that it would have worked wonders for his hockey career if he started school a year later. Surely I would be an NHL wife now.

    On the flip side, my genius-level brother was the youngest in his class and still bored out of his mind (thus acting up). Every kid is different! I'm not a mom yet, but I guess I'll try to have kids in March...

    Posted by Patty August 5, 09 04:08 PM
  1. Cathy DID suggest that people whose kids show an early interest in reading are full of it:
    "Many parents claim 'I couldn't stop little Suzi - she's so smart she talk herself to read at age 3'; this is nonsense."
    I was reading by age 4, and it wasn't prompted by my parents. My 28 month-old son is showing an incredible interest in letters and numbers right now, and it's not something that we have particularly encouraged. Perhaps he is learning some of it from Sesame Street. He will come up to us with a Leap Frog book and ask us to quiz him on his letters (by pointing to them and asking him what they are). Some kids just want to know what is going on around them. I can't claim that he will be an early reader or incredibly intelligent, but to suggest that anyone whose kids show an early interest in letters or reading is "nonsense" is over-the-top. Enjoy the Waldorf method for your own kids. We're going the Montessori route ourselves.

    Posted by JK August 5, 09 04:33 PM
  1. Anyone else want to weigh in on the idea of skipping a grade? I never skipped any myself, but my Dad was the youngest in his class, my mom skipped three grades (!!!) and graduated from high school at the age of 14, and my husband started school early and then skipped first grade. All of them say that they didn't suffer academically, but it made things really diffcult for them socially as they got to the high school level. What do you think? -- Lylah

    Posted by LMA August 5, 09 04:55 PM
  1. My son will enter k this fall even though he turns 5 in the summer. There is huge pressure in my town (Hingham) to hold children back to have them get an edge, academically, but also for sports! Yes pathetic but true. I have no problem with him being one of the youngest in his class but it truly annoys me that he has to be the youngest by 16 months! Parents hold their children back if they turned five in April. It is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the administrators do nothing about it as it probably helps them out in the short run with testing. Very frustrating. One parent actually told me she was holding her daughter back so she would dominate. YIKES

    Posted by winnie August 5, 09 05:29 PM
  1. Hi Lylah, I can weigh in on a family experience with skipping a grade. My brother was young for his class (October birthday with a December cutoff) and still skipped first grade. He flew through school with perfect grades and SAT scores - and actually the opposite was true for him with regards to a his social progress. He had the worst trouble when he was a child with bullies and teachers that truly resented his intelligence, and he didn't adjust socially until high school (an all-boys Catholic high school, if that matters to anyone). At that time he was able to completely spread his wings and find people whose interests and talents matched his own - science clubs, chess team, math competitions as well as competitive swimming. Does he sound like a complete nerd? Well, he was and still is, but come high school he had loads of friends and still does. His social life blossomed at that time and has never slowed down. There were always a thousand girls calling the house for him and he always had a girlfriend. I still have to schedule a lunch with him a month in advance, ha ha! The reason? His completely magnetic personality, dynamic sense of humor, and compelling way with words.

    Me, on the other hand? I have the magic February birthday and did very well in school all the way through...but I'd say I was the one who suffered socially when I got older. I'm just not as charismatic as my big brother.
    It's all in the personality of the individual. There isn't a cure-all statement on either side of the issue.

    Posted by RH August 5, 09 05:43 PM
  1. Decisions regarding starting kindergarten should be based on the individual child and family circumstances.

    It is foolish to compare my academic experience starting school 32 years ago with schooling my children face. The academics now are far more rigorous and the demands on even the youngest are significant. Kindergarten is no longer about socialization. This would argue in favor of waiting the extra year before starting school.

    The counterpoint to this is the very real demands on the modern family. Many families must have two incomes to get by now. Kindergarten represents the first respite from the ever present problem of child care. Many children will start kindergarten on the young side, by necessity.

    Perhaps this debate should focus on meeting the needs of the children who attend kindergarten regardless of age and maturity. In other words the younger children should be given space and time to mature. The older children should be challenged by enrichment activities and perhaps mentoring their younger classmates. Ideally, we shouldn't be arguing about who is wrong and right in this debate. Rather this debate should be about getting all the children to the same place academically and socially by 3rd grade, when academics ramp up and kids take their first MCAS.

    For the record my kids started on time and lagged behind the first year or two. My fourth grader just had an outstanding report card (all A's and 1 B). When asked what my goal was for my children by their school, my response was that finish kindergarten loving school. One of my kids loves school and the other one, not so much. We can't control everything, we can only try to make a good decision and hope it is the right one.

    Posted by TLK August 5, 09 06:27 PM
  1. This blog takes too long to post comments, which harms the chances of real dialogue. I see comments here that were not here yesterday at 5 pm that were actually posted around noon. I encourage the bloggers to find a way to post comments more quickly. This is not just a problem on this blog but on all the boston.com blogs.

    Posted by blogarella August 6, 09 08:42 AM
  1. Hi Blogarella - Under our current system blog system, all comments must be approved before being published, but we are considering changing the system so that comments go live automatically. Thanks for your comment!


    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff August 6, 09 01:17 PM
  1. TY for that great article. I enjoy that blog very much.

    Posted by best anti aging moisturizer August 10, 09 07:47 PM
  1. I, my sister and my brother all started Kindergarten at age 4, we were all among the youngest of our class especially myself because my birthday was even later in the year than theirs, howver, we were just as mature, just as smart and passed all the same classes with honors as our much older peers. The decision on whether a child is ready to start school, is different for each child. It is the choice of the parent. Success rate of a child in school is not as much how old the child is as how well the child is made responsible for their actions. No matter their age if they are tought the importance of homework and study time they will be just fine.

    Posted by Ashley August 23, 09 08:01 PM
  1. Every child is different and progresses at different rates. Don't hold them back unless they are not ready. My daughter, age 3, was reading because her 4 older siblings close in age were reading. At the school's discouragement I had her tested for K at age 4. They said she was ready for 1st grade developmentally and let her start. She finished high school in 3 years, age 16. She was one of the taller girls all through school. Just graduated, age 19, from a four-year university on academic scholarship the whole time. She has always found it to be a huge self-esteem boost and liked being the youngest.

    Posted by cherrie August 27, 09 07:24 PM
  1. Has anyone seen Malcolm Gladwell's comments on this issue? he shows that kids who are older are more likely to be chosen for giten programs and that extra experience does help them in the long run. In countries that don't identify gifted children so early, kids with all different birthdays are identified as gifted. (The same thing is true for sports.). He suggests several different cut off dates, so kids could be in a class with other kids near their birthday. It seems like a great idea.

    Also--in response to Cathy, I do know of research by a Berkeley professor named Anne Cunningham that shows the importance of learning to read early. It seems to play a big part in getting kids exposed to more text. I'm not sure if you can make up for later reading by reading to your kids or having them listen to books on tape, but there are benefits to reading reading early.

    By the way, I'm also a September baby who started school at 4.9 with no ill effects. I'm trying to decide what to do with my son whose birthday is right around mine.

    Posted by Clare November 3, 09 07:43 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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