As the mother of three children, two of whom are now in early grade school, I’ve noticed the trend of parents keeping their children home another year. Lauren, our first child and now a third grader, was born on October 7th. The kindergarten cut-off for our school district is September 25th. Lauren was a bright, active and very extroverted toddler and was the same as a preschooler. I couldn’t keep her busy enough on our limited budget for preschool and five-year old dance classes. Had she been been born two weeks earlier, I would have gladly sent her to kindergarten. In hindsight, was it better to keep her home the extra year, even though I didn’t have a choice, so that she was older and therefore better able to meet school age expectations? Probably. But I still would have sent her.
Lauren was, however, not the oldest in her class. Not by a long shot. There were many kids, both girls and boys, who had been born right around mid-August, who made the cut-off for kindergarten by well over a month, but who didn’t attend kindergarten until the following year. This trend has not worked out so well for my April baby, Kate, who wasn’t “close enough” on either side of the cut-off to keep home for another year or not. Kate, now in first grade, has classmates who were born in August while she was born in April of the following year. What concerns me is this: the educational milestones that children are expected to meet in kindergarten are a far cry from what they were when I was a kindergartner in 1979. I remember coloring and singing and playing house and doing some work with letters and numbers. But it wasn’t until first grade when I remember learning to actual read—“the cat sat on the mat.” Now it seems that kids are practically expected to be reading at that level when they enter kindergarten. As a July baby, I was exactly five when I started kindergarten and six when I started first grade. But my five year old started kindergarten with kids who turned six before kindergarten even started. Looking at what is expected of children now, I can honestly say, I wish we’d had that option. But it is what it is and I have a feeling that as the kids get older, the gaps start to close. Babies change so much from one month to the next and until they are seven or eight, six months to a year can mean eons of change emotionally, physically and socially as their little brains and bodies continue to grow.
Two years ago, when Lauren was in first grade, she was reading at “grade level.” Even in the two years that have passed, what would have been grade level then, is considered “under grade level” now. So Kate, even though she is now reading at the same level Lauren was in first grade, is considered below grade level because the bar has been raised. I absolutely believe in giving our children a good education and it saddens me how far the United States has fallen behind compared to other countries. But here’s one of the problems: Grade schools are demanding more and more skills from our kindergarteners and first graders but all kindergartners come to school with different levels of preschool experience and some are much older than the other children. Some might have been in daycare, some might have been in a curriculum based school or even pre-K, some might have had a Waldorf background and some might enter kindergarten with no previous school experience whatsoever. We have private preschools and public elementary schools. With the higher expectations on kindergartners, it means some kids are more likely to be labeled as “under grade-level” right from the start. Is one option better than the other? I don’t know. But I do know that preschool is far from free, in fact, it’s pretty darn expensive.
Have you held any of children back from kindergarten even though they made the cutoff? Or do you wish you had? What are your thoughts on the expectations your school has of your young children?