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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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