I remember that night in August vividly. I was anxiously sitting in an elementary school cafeteria, waiting for the principal to say a few words. I looked around at the other parents gathered there and I remember thinking of the diversity of the group. Some of the parents looked like seasoned veterans while the others, myself included, looked almost shell shocked. The principal came in and welcomed all the parents then introduced the staff. He looked like a kid himself. As the lights dimmed to show a short movie, I could feel it happening and there was no stopping it. The tears welled up in my eyes and for the next 12 minutes, I sobbed like a baby . I mean, I inconsolably wept in the darkness of that lunchroom. “How could this be happening to me?” I thought to myself. He’s only 4 years old. He can’t be starting kindergarten yet!
My first-born had been in the same daycare/preschool since he was 6 months old. From the infant room to Miss Victoria’s Pre-K4, he and his little classmates grew up together. We honestly hadn’t really put much thought into the kindergarten question until the preschool director asked us after returning from Christmas break if he was going to return in August or go on to kindergarten. We naively waived it off and said he was going on to kindergarten. I mean why not, right? Then she said something that caught me funny as she walked away: “Well, he’ll do just fine…”
As the days and weeks went by, her statement really began to bother me and started to do a little research on my own. I started reading kindergarten readiness articles online and talking to other parents at pickup. Turns out, there is an alarming amount of information out there about this subject. I found a whole section on Amazon books devoted to “Kindergarten Redshirting” and somewhere in those months there was even a 60 Minutes episode devoted to the topic of delaying kindergarten entrance, the child’s birth month, and excelling at sports. Apparently it’s a racket! My husband didn’t seem to have the same sense of hesitation to this decision as I did. He was dismissive to the conversation about repeating Pre-K4 really and more excited that we were going to save $800 a month in daycare expenses. He kept saying, “He’ll adjust, it’ll be just fine”.
Back to orientation night. After I had dried my eyes and gathered my composure, we visited the classrooms and met the teachers. We toured the colorful room and took our seats at the itty bitty chairs and tables. I’ll never forget this next statement: “Parents, let me tell you, it’s not all about fingerpaints and Play-Doh anymore.” Boy! Over the next few months, were we going to find out how true that statement really was. Just two weeks into the school year my husbands’ tune changed dramatically. There was homework Lots of homework. Actual tear-producing homework. Can you just see me doing the “I told you so dance?”
Over the past 20 years or so, there have been dramatic changes in the kindergarten classroom. The kindergarten of today is like first grades of the past. So, if you are on the fence or like me, hadn’t really thought about it at all, here are a few of the important things to consider when your child has a late summer birthday.
Maturity and gender
Does your child have a late summer birthday? If you haven’t figured it out yet, boys and girls, in educational terms, are very different. In addition to everything else obvious, they approach learning very differently. Just because they meet the recommended age cutoff, doesn’t mean they are ready. My oldest son has a late summer birthday, September 5th, actually. At that time, the age cutoff for entering kindergarten for Shelby County Schools was age 5 by September 30th. He was actually 4 years old during the first few weeks of school. 4 years old and the youngest in his class. Since then, the age 5 cutoff for county schools has been moved up to August 15th. Most private/independent schools follow the kindergarten enrollment policy of June 1st as the age cutoff for turning 5. You’ve heard it before that boys mature slower than girls. There are definite links between maturity and academic success. Boys generally lag behind girls in motor and language development skills. Boys also have (in general) a much harder time sitting and focusing for longer periods.
Social and emotional skills
Does your child self-regulate his emotions without intervention? Children will have to be able to interact with new friends and process new emotions. Children who still express anger and frustrations by physical contact or throwing tantrums will have a difficult time making their needs in the classroom understood. Tantrums take the teacher away from instruction and disrupt the entire group. Additionally, they could socially isolate themselves as well. Understanding how to communicate their needs and express feelings plays a key role in making friends and navigating the new classroom environment.
Self-Control and Self-Discipline
Even if your child has been in a preschool or MDO program prior to kindergarten, the real thing is much different. Most preschool classes have 8 to 12 children to a room with 2 teachers. Kindergarten classrooms can have up to 24 children with possibly no assistants. Does your child understand how to control their impulses? In kindergarten, there is a lot of time spent having to sit still, take turns, work independently, control impulses, and pay attention. There will be very little individual supervision for students in the classroom. For most children, just sitting still and listening for lengths of time is a lot to ask.
Kindergarten is a big milestone and this one hit me like a punch in the gut. It’s okay if they repeat kindergarten or PK-4. Again, it’s okay if they repeat. Better now than down the road in third or fourth grade when reading skills and independent learning are fully involved. If they are not adjusting as well as you anticipated, fear not because there are other alternatives. There are “stepping into kindergarten” programs available. These are specifically geared for those that could benefit from an additional year in a smaller pre-school/school environment.
Kindergarten readiness depends on social and emotional maturity as well as discipline. If children can self-regulate behaviors, follow the structure and schedule of a school environment and get along with others, then they will succeed in school. Getting off on a good foot is critical to lifelong learning.