Hold back in kindergarten?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 4, 2009 06:00 AM

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What is your opinion on boys entering (public and private) kindergarten in the fall who have just turned five during the summer? I have had conflicting opinions about my son. Some say he's ready, like his pediatrician and the kindergarten teachers at the private school where my daughter attends, and some (his preschool teachers) say he should do their 4 1/2-day pre-K program. Please let me know your opinion.

Thank you.

From: LisaD, Wrentham

Hi Lisa,

How social is your child? Does he have playdates? Are they reciprocated? Is he able to share? To take turns? What kind of attention span does he have? Can he sit quietly while a story is read? How independent is he? Is he able to generate ideas for his own play? Is he able to put on his winter jacket? What is your child’s temperament? Is he outgoing or slow to warm up?

The point I’m trying to make is that, generally speaking, it is not “academic” skills – not the ability to write one’s name or know the alphabet – that makes a child ready or not. It is the ability to be part of a group in age appropriate ways.

Since these folks have a difference of opinion, I’d want to know what, exactly, makes the preschool teachers think he needs to stay there and what, exactly, makes the kindergarten teacher think he’s ready. Push them to be specific in each case. Sit in on a kindergarten class. Can you picture your son in this environment?

In the end, my advice is to go with your gut. You know your child best. If there is a question in your mind, then I would hold back. (I speak as a parent who did just that and never regretted it.) But there is also a potential downside to holding back: in later grades, your son may well be the biggest, tallest, the first to get a license, the first to go through puberty, etc. All those “firsts” put pressure on a child.


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9 comments so far...
  1. I agree with the author, you know your kid best whatever the lineup of so-called experts says. Here is an interesting article that lays out some of the research on pro's and cons: http://www.slate.com/id/2196423/. But after you weigh it all, I think go with your gut - which is easy for me to say now with oldest just turning 3 and a Sep 3 birthday in no exceptions Sep 1 cutoff Boston. Will be in your shoes in 2 years...

    Posted by Stefan September 4, 09 06:30 AM
  1. My son has a July birthday and entered K when he was five. His pre-K teacher assured me he was ready, but I received a lot of social pressure from other Moms to hold him back, so I was unsure. My gut told me he was ready, his teacher told me he was ready - but the other Moms told me I was rushing him and that I should give him "the gift of time." It seems to me that starting kids on time can now be seen as rushing them.

    Someone ALWAYS has to be the youngest in the class (and my son was not actually that person - there are three August birthdays in his class). If they now push back the cutoff to May 31 to avoid this issue, then the summer birthdays would become the elders, and the problem would totally shift. I happen to think that some of the "red shirting" if Kindergarten is actually contributing to the problems - an age span of 15-18 months as opposed to twelve months is skewing the issue to be bigger than it needs to be.

    My son was absolutely not the star of the Kindergarten academically or socially, but he was also not the outcast (and there was one), not the discipline problem (and there were three or four), and not the shyest kid in the class (there are two that are painfully timid). He did absolutely fine. He had friends and playdates, loved school, and came out smiling every day. He had a perfect report card at the end of the year. His K teacher assured me he was going to have a great year in first grade.

    Also to note about size - my son is also one of the tallest in his class, even though he is one of the youngest. When I look over to the Kindergarten line this week, there is no way I can see him fitting in with that group, as he is a full head taller than most of them.

    Of course I will always do what I think is best for my kids, but it's hard to ignore social pressure.

    Posted by RH September 4, 09 08:06 AM
  1. I know this could be off base, and probably isn't the reason, but when I read this I immediately thought that the private kindergarten and the preschool both might have a monetary stake in what you choose. This could be more of an issue with the pre-K, because I wouldn't want to encourage a kid that wasn't ready to join my kindergarten class. That would make it harder for me as the teacher. That said, I think Barbara's advice is good. Look at his abilities in the areas she suggested and decide for yourself.

    Posted by cmgs September 4, 09 08:45 AM
  1. Kudos to Barbara. I have over twenty years in Early Education and this is some of the best advice I've heard given to a parent on this topic:

    "The point I’m trying to make is that, generally speaking, it is not 'academic' skills – not the ability to write one’s name or know the alphabet – that makes a child ready or not. It is the ability to be part of a group in age appropriate ways."

    Cmgs is right,too: there are other motivations that sadly do influence what programs say about a child's readiness.

    If he can hold himself together and follow the routines, he should be able to focus on the tasks put before him. That said, holding back is a double-edged sword, as explained above. If he can do the social part, my advice is to let him go to K. Check in with the teacher in 6-8 weeks and see how he's doing compared to other children within a few months of his age. She should remember not to compare him with children who are almost six in his class. If he's having any trouble you may need to take more care to spend time with him on his tasks until things level off. You might want to go to mass.gov and get the MA Curriculum Frameworks so you can get a sense of what children are learning in K. I recommend the K Learning Experiences doc, too. Here's a link. http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/current.html

    Posted by wg September 4, 09 10:55 AM
  1. Where I live some of the private schools have very early birthday cutoff dates (June 1st, state is December) and make the kids go to Junior Kindergarten. One more year of tuition, plus when the kids take all the standardized tests in Grade X, they average six months older than average and get better scores.

    Posted by di September 4, 09 05:42 PM
  1. Mine is a summer baby, too. I was assured (sort of, not really) by her elementary school guidance counselor that she was ready for K. She had all the skills listed - but one. It turned out she was young for her age; she took snarky comments from other children very personally, and felt unable to defend herself. In first grade she was held back so that she could have a year to mature, plus for an academic skill that needed work. She is now one of the oldest, but it is "young." I wish I had gone with my own gut, and kept her in pre-school another year. The upside: I get to have her home an extra year before she goes to college :)

    Posted by reindeergirl September 5, 09 10:31 PM
  1. You should follow your school's guidelines. In Mass, anyways, I believe the K cutoff is now September 1, which means everyone will be 5 by the beginning of school. They do this for a reason. Before this cut off was change in our community, a lot of people were keeping their fall babies back because they really were too young--not turning 5 until November or December. Its gotten better now that the cutoff has changed.

    As the first poster pointed out, someone has to be the youngest. All this holding back is making for a huge age range in the students and this is also contributing to the problem of being the youngest and the oldest. Its hard enough when there is a one year age difference in the oldest to the youngest, in my daughter's class, there is about an 18 to 21 month age difference between the youngest and the oldest. Her birthday is in August, we did not hold her back and were not required to, and there are still kids who are more than a year older than her.

    I agree that social considerations are an issue, but only to a certain extent. If a child is naturally reserved or shy, they could do pre-K for 10 years and it would still not make a difference. I think I child has to pretty socially immature to be held back at this level.

    I agree with what the poster said about the monetary part of this which you can not ignore. Even though they are often well intentioned, schools sometimes do think about the bottom line when they ke their recommendations.

    Posted by ash September 7, 09 08:22 AM
  1. I like what everyone has said, but as an educator I will tell you that there are certain concepts (math, reading) that a child won't get until their brain is developmentally ready. It's not all about social skills and maturity. Kindergarten might go smoothly, but by 3rd grade some of the younger kids really begin to struggle. I would personally hold any summer birthday back and not risk it.

    Posted by Sally October 25, 09 02:23 PM
  1. Here's my dilemma: My wife and I are legal guardians of our 5 year old grandson. His DOB is Dec 29, 2004. We had him enetr K' this past january after the Xmas break. He is doing very well academically, but his teacher thinks he should be held back based on maturity. Our fear is that he will get bored next year or have self esteem issues seeing the majority of his class move on, the teacher said others will be held back too.
    We're not sure what is best for him....help! P.S. I work at a college, but I am not an educator.

    Posted by Papa April 15, 10 06:46 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. I agree with the author, you know your kid best whatever the lineup of so-called experts says. Here is an interesting article that lays out some of the research on pro's and cons: http://www.slate.com/id/2196423/. But after you weigh it all, I think go with your gut - which is easy for me to say now with oldest just turning 3 and a Sep 3 birthday in no exceptions Sep 1 cutoff Boston. Will be in your shoes in 2 years...

    Posted by Stefan September 4, 09 06:30 AM
  1. My son has a July birthday and entered K when he was five. His pre-K teacher assured me he was ready, but I received a lot of social pressure from other Moms to hold him back, so I was unsure. My gut told me he was ready, his teacher told me he was ready - but the other Moms told me I was rushing him and that I should give him "the gift of time." It seems to me that starting kids on time can now be seen as rushing them.

    Someone ALWAYS has to be the youngest in the class (and my son was not actually that person - there are three August birthdays in his class). If they now push back the cutoff to May 31 to avoid this issue, then the summer birthdays would become the elders, and the problem would totally shift. I happen to think that some of the "red shirting" if Kindergarten is actually contributing to the problems - an age span of 15-18 months as opposed to twelve months is skewing the issue to be bigger than it needs to be.

    My son was absolutely not the star of the Kindergarten academically or socially, but he was also not the outcast (and there was one), not the discipline problem (and there were three or four), and not the shyest kid in the class (there are two that are painfully timid). He did absolutely fine. He had friends and playdates, loved school, and came out smiling every day. He had a perfect report card at the end of the year. His K teacher assured me he was going to have a great year in first grade.

    Also to note about size - my son is also one of the tallest in his class, even though he is one of the youngest. When I look over to the Kindergarten line this week, there is no way I can see him fitting in with that group, as he is a full head taller than most of them.

    Of course I will always do what I think is best for my kids, but it's hard to ignore social pressure.

    Posted by RH September 4, 09 08:06 AM
  1. I know this could be off base, and probably isn't the reason, but when I read this I immediately thought that the private kindergarten and the preschool both might have a monetary stake in what you choose. This could be more of an issue with the pre-K, because I wouldn't want to encourage a kid that wasn't ready to join my kindergarten class. That would make it harder for me as the teacher. That said, I think Barbara's advice is good. Look at his abilities in the areas she suggested and decide for yourself.

    Posted by cmgs September 4, 09 08:45 AM
  1. Kudos to Barbara. I have over twenty years in Early Education and this is some of the best advice I've heard given to a parent on this topic:

    "The point I’m trying to make is that, generally speaking, it is not 'academic' skills – not the ability to write one’s name or know the alphabet – that makes a child ready or not. It is the ability to be part of a group in age appropriate ways."

    Cmgs is right,too: there are other motivations that sadly do influence what programs say about a child's readiness.

    If he can hold himself together and follow the routines, he should be able to focus on the tasks put before him. That said, holding back is a double-edged sword, as explained above. If he can do the social part, my advice is to let him go to K. Check in with the teacher in 6-8 weeks and see how he's doing compared to other children within a few months of his age. She should remember not to compare him with children who are almost six in his class. If he's having any trouble you may need to take more care to spend time with him on his tasks until things level off. You might want to go to mass.gov and get the MA Curriculum Frameworks so you can get a sense of what children are learning in K. I recommend the K Learning Experiences doc, too. Here's a link. http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/current.html

    Posted by wg September 4, 09 10:55 AM
  1. Where I live some of the private schools have very early birthday cutoff dates (June 1st, state is December) and make the kids go to Junior Kindergarten. One more year of tuition, plus when the kids take all the standardized tests in Grade X, they average six months older than average and get better scores.

    Posted by di September 4, 09 05:42 PM
  1. Mine is a summer baby, too. I was assured (sort of, not really) by her elementary school guidance counselor that she was ready for K. She had all the skills listed - but one. It turned out she was young for her age; she took snarky comments from other children very personally, and felt unable to defend herself. In first grade she was held back so that she could have a year to mature, plus for an academic skill that needed work. She is now one of the oldest, but it is "young." I wish I had gone with my own gut, and kept her in pre-school another year. The upside: I get to have her home an extra year before she goes to college :)

    Posted by reindeergirl September 5, 09 10:31 PM
  1. You should follow your school's guidelines. In Mass, anyways, I believe the K cutoff is now September 1, which means everyone will be 5 by the beginning of school. They do this for a reason. Before this cut off was change in our community, a lot of people were keeping their fall babies back because they really were too young--not turning 5 until November or December. Its gotten better now that the cutoff has changed.

    As the first poster pointed out, someone has to be the youngest. All this holding back is making for a huge age range in the students and this is also contributing to the problem of being the youngest and the oldest. Its hard enough when there is a one year age difference in the oldest to the youngest, in my daughter's class, there is about an 18 to 21 month age difference between the youngest and the oldest. Her birthday is in August, we did not hold her back and were not required to, and there are still kids who are more than a year older than her.

    I agree that social considerations are an issue, but only to a certain extent. If a child is naturally reserved or shy, they could do pre-K for 10 years and it would still not make a difference. I think I child has to pretty socially immature to be held back at this level.

    I agree with what the poster said about the monetary part of this which you can not ignore. Even though they are often well intentioned, schools sometimes do think about the bottom line when they ke their recommendations.

    Posted by ash September 7, 09 08:22 AM
  1. I like what everyone has said, but as an educator I will tell you that there are certain concepts (math, reading) that a child won't get until their brain is developmentally ready. It's not all about social skills and maturity. Kindergarten might go smoothly, but by 3rd grade some of the younger kids really begin to struggle. I would personally hold any summer birthday back and not risk it.

    Posted by Sally October 25, 09 02:23 PM
  1. Here's my dilemma: My wife and I are legal guardians of our 5 year old grandson. His DOB is Dec 29, 2004. We had him enetr K' this past january after the Xmas break. He is doing very well academically, but his teacher thinks he should be held back based on maturity. Our fear is that he will get bored next year or have self esteem issues seeing the majority of his class move on, the teacher said others will be held back too.
    We're not sure what is best for him....help! P.S. I work at a college, but I am not an educator.

    Posted by Papa April 15, 10 06:46 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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