"Each year we are reminded that
it was the right decision, as he is doing
well and is academically and socially on
par with the kids in his grade."
Amelia turned 6 this summer, but she’s not starting first grade this fall. Instead, her Woodacre parents have decided to enroll her in a second year of kindergar- ten. She won’t be the oldest child there;
Amelia will even have one classmate who turns 7 before
the school year ends.
Whether by keeping kids in kindergarten for two
years or by delaying the start of kindergarten beyond
the traditional starting age of 5, putting off the day children must face the rigors of modern elementary school
is a national trend that educational consultant Nancy
Cappelloni estimates is more common in competitive
Marin than in other places. A lot of parents whose children have summer and spring birthdays come to her
for help deciding if they should “redshirt” their kids.
Cappelloni, a former kindergarten teacher and author of
the book Kindergarten Readiness, says there is no catchall answer to this question.
“On an individual basis, we have to look at the pros
and cons of holding the child back,” Cappelloni says.
Last year, knowing that Amelia would turn 5 less than
two months before the age cutoff, her mother Anne considered enrolling her daughter in kindergarten at their
local public school. Anne did some research and saw that
kindergarten and the early grades at mainstream schools
had become much more academic than in years past, with
homework and testing, and not much playtime. “There
seemed to be no reason to rush Amelia into that type of
environment,” she says.
Instead, Anne decided to enroll her in a Waldorf
school, where two years of kindergarten is traditional.
Amelia will turn 6 just before starting her second year of
kindergarten, then enter first grade as a 7-year-old.
Parents cite a number of reasons for giving their
kids “the gift of time.” A Mill Valley dad, Daniel, says
his family waited a year to enroll their son in kindergarten, whose birthday fell shortly after the cutoff, because
“he didn’t seem like he was ready.” Now his son is 9 and
going into fourth grade.
“Each year we are reminded that it was the right decision, as he is doing well and is academically and socially
on par with the kids in his grade,” Daniel says.
Some parents look far beyond the kindergarten year
when making the decision. Teacher Sonya Evans of San
Anselmo thought about whether she wanted her daugh-
ter to be the youngest in her peer group when the socially
“rugged” middle school years began. She even took into
account how old her daughter would be heading off to col-
lege and decided the girl would benefit from an extra year
of family time first.
It’s natural for parents to worry if their child will
be the youngest in their grade, and many feel holding
kids back can be “one more tool or strategy that they ...
might be able to employ to help their kid get an extra
edge,” Cappelloni says.
But, she warns, “You don’t want to automatically do it.”
There are drawbacks to delaying school enrollment. In
fact, the National Association for the Education of Young
Children recommends against the practice, arguing that
kindergartens and grade schools should welcome all
eligible children no matter how “ready” they are.
“The gift of time that many parents have been persuaded to give children by delaying school entry can
result instead in denying them opportunities for cognitive
growth through social interaction with their age-mates.
It also implies that children have failed at school even
before they begin,” the NAEYC warns.
The association cites research showing that kids who
start school late might do better at first, but lose any such
advantage by the end of elementary school.
The delay also creates a challenge for teachers by widening the age range in the class.
But perhaps the biggest problem to consider,
Cappelloni says, is this: “What are you going to do with
them that year?”
Families who opt not to enroll 5-year-olds in kinder-
garten can send them to another year of preschool, but
not only can that be a financial strain, it might be boring
for the child. Programs that were great for 3- and 4-year-
olds may not quench every 5-year-old’s thirst for knowl-
edge, Cappelloni warns: “Three years of preschool is
probably enough.” m
Hold Back or Push Forward
HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR CHILD IS READY.
BY CARRIE KIRBY