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Ask Mrs. Brooke | Should I hold my child back a year for kindergarten?

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

One question that I'm going to have is whether to hold my son back a year or enter him into Kindergarten next year. He has an August birthday. I'm not sure if others have the same question, but I'd love to hear from a teacher's eyes what some of the benefits and negatives might be.

Thanks, Julie

Dear Julie,

Thanks, Julie. Your question is great and one that I get asked often actually, but one I wish many parents would think more about. Once again, I believe this is an answer that is truly dependent upon the child. However, in most cases I really believe it is best for most children to start a year later.

There are many disadvantages for starting a child too young too soon. From my experience as a teacher, it is quite rare to find a child ready cognitively, socially and emotionally. I hear parents all the time say, “But my child is reading and adding and subtracting.” However, just because your child is ready academically, doesn’t mean the rest of the child is ready.

If your son is turning 5 in August that means just two months prior to beginning kindergarten he was 4 years old. Most 4 and even 5-year-olds are just developing self control and focus, just realizing there are other people’s points of views besides their own, learning how to solve problems, and becoming independent thinkers.

Emotionally our children may not be ready. And then we have the social aspect as well. When our children were infants, we saw how fast our children grew developmentally by weeks, even days, and as 5 and 6-year-olds that developmental growth does slow, but a span of 11 months or even a few months between peers can still make a big difference in peer relations. We forget to look at the whole child and even the most academic-ready child may not be emotionally ready to be a part of a classroom with 21 other students and/or not socially ready to be amongst peers almost a year ahead of them developmentally.

And then as responsible parents, we must think of the future of our child. Even if we have a child who is cognitively, emotionally, and socially ready for kindergarten, does that mean they are ready to enter high school when they are 13 or college at the age of 17? We must look at the whole child now and in the future.

As far as your child being a boy, there is plenty of research that shows typically boys and girls do develop at different rates, with boys developing a little later in certain areas such as fine motor skills and language development. However, we must once again remember to always look at each child as a whole and on an individual basis. There are plenty of boys who are more ready or just as ready as their peers who are girls.

From a parent’s eye, another reason to start your child a year later might be to fit in a little more quality time with your child. My mother tells me I was "kindergarten ready," but her reasoning for starting me a year later was that I was her baby and she being a stay-at-home mom and with my three older brothers and sisters in school, wanted to savor that time. I appreciate that now as an adult and I actually treasure those memories of my mom and I going to lunch and to the library together, helping her with her Avon orders, just me and her.

Now, once again everyone's situation is different. Many parents both work full-time now, and think school would actually be a better place than the childcare option they are receiving. I totally understand that, too and so do many educators. Research has shown that a child who may receive a better education at school than at home or in another care environment should go to school earlier.

However, when research suggests “school” here it means early learning programs, not necessarily formal schooling or kindergarten. As a teacher I know firsthand that if there is any kind of academic or behavior concern with a child and the child is young for their grade, there may be a need for retention, especially in kindergarten. This is, of course, in an extreme case, but it can be very damaging to a child. This young child begins school with their peers, builds friendships, and then the next year all of a sudden they find themselves behind another grade, while their peers move on. Research shows this can lower a child's self esteem and cause them to have anxiety about school and future learning. I cannot imagine any parent wanting this for their child.

Regulations regarding kindergarten-entrance age vary throughout the U.S. because each state determines its own rules. Many children enter kindergarten at age 5. Some children enter at age 6. And some children are still 4. By comparison, children in France, Portugal, Belgium and Norway start school at 6, while the school starting age in many Scandinavian countries is 7. This is the starting age in Finland, where students recently beat those from 39 other countries to come out top in math, science and reading, according to a study by the Program for International Student Assessment.

But, from a teacher's eye, I would say the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. Now this is not to say I have not had students who were very successful and mature for their age, because I definitely have. I will say there were very few this way. If you can, I would highly recommend you giving your son that extra year to develop and grow. Once again, there really is no need to rush these years and I truly think in the long run your child will thank you for it.

However once again, you are responsible for making these careful and wise decisions. Whatever you decide, remember you are your child's first and most important teacher. Thank you!

You may contact Mrs. Brooke by email at dearmrs.brooke@gmail.com with any questions regarding your child’s learning.

Mrs. Joy Brooke is the first and most important teacher of her four year old son and two year old daughter. She resides in downtown Kirkland with her husband and two children. Mrs. Brooke currently teaches AM Kindergarten at Ben Franklin Elementary in the Lake Washington School District. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Literacy: Reading- Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood, holds a B.A. in Educational Studies and a M.A. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon and endorsements in Early Childhood Special Education, English Language Learners, and Reading K-8. The opinions provided in this column do not reflect that of the Lake Washington School District or any other organization she is affiliated.

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