Postponing Kindergarten: What Makes the Difference

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Growing up, I was unsure of what made parents postpone kindergarten. I never quite understood why some of my friends were much older than me, why certain kids went to pre-school while others did not, or the complexities behind a child explaining that their parents “just kept them home” for another year. Having finished school and working with various families, I now see the reasons why parents would opt to postpone kindergarten and tack on another year of pre-school or pre-kindergarten.  2000 Days Pre-Kindergarten Calgary Preschools

Postponing kindergarten is not a new phenomenon. I read an NYTimes article about the subject just last week, but after a bit of Googling, found articles from 10 years ago, highlighting the same topic. The most popular reason for holding children back, or as the article calls it “redshirting,” is age. Parents are counseled to keep their children home another year if they are going to be the youngest in the class. Most cut-off dates are between October and December, insisting that children be at least 5 years old by said date. The consensus seems to point towards fear of inferiority of both age and size; parents prefer their kids to be older and able to keep up. But does the extra year allow them to simply keep up or push them ahead?

Maturity also plays a role. Older students perform better and are much more focused, causing less trouble for teachers. What then happens to the younger students who are “behind” these older students, but are technically on track for kindergarten? The Times aptly describes kindergarten as “the new first grade,” a comment I cannot fully disagree with, having worked with a variety of kindergartners in the New York suburbs and seen some of the homework teachers assigned. Further, such actions will only widen the socioeconomic gap in many districts as lower-income families may not be able to afford another year of pre-school or to miss another year of full-time employment. One mother considers this an extra leg-up, and put her daughter in school at 4, even though she was born just 5 days before the October 1st cut off.

But maturity is more than just academic and can have social and emotional repercussions as well. What about children who will go through puberty before their peers, or have moved onto more mature interests, abandoning their Barbies and tea sets for teenie-bopper CDs and makeup kits? As someone who has watched an entire episode of Hannah Montana with a couple of 6-year-old girls, I am in still in awe that parents permit their first graders to watch such things, as they encourage the boy-crazed years to come all too soon.

As parents make claims that keeping their child back will help them in the future, all I can wonder is how they can come to make such predictions. Doctors tell parents all the time that their children might be a bit slow starting out and that parents should be concerned; sometimes those kids end up being valedictorian in their graduating class.