Preparing for Kindergarten can be overwhelming. While most children start at 5 years old, some public and private schools are enrolling children as young as 4. The decision about when to start kindergarten should depend not only on what is offered in your area, but on your child's abilities and maturity. Here are some questions to think about if you are considering "testing in" for early kindergarten admittance.
1. Is Your Child Ready Academically?
Many parents who consider their child to be advanced academically prefer the early start route, and some schools, both private and public, will let them. Ashley F.'s school district allows 4-year-olds who will be turning 5 during the fall months to start kindergarten early. She signed her daughter up based on her academic readiness: "She knows her ABCs, 123s, Colors, Shapes, can write and spell her own name, mine some other family member names, and a few other daily used words and can read beginner books."
Jenny started her daughter in kindergarten early (at the age of 4) because she didn't want to underestimate their potential: It worked out fine for Jenny; her daughter excelled in kindergarten; she was reading "off the charts" by the time the year was over, "and was thrilled to be there."
But even if your child is familiar with letters, numbers, shapes, and colors at the age of 4, is she really ready to handle the rigorous curriculum of some kindergarten programs? Cassie C. advises waiting. In her school district, kindergarten is very structured: "Children are pushed very hard to read and write all day (even if they are not developmentally ready). The kindergarten curriculum has become very demanding on young children and can add a lot of undue stress and pressure to a 4-year-old or a newly 5-year-old."
(To find out where your child should be with reading, writing, and math in order to start kindergarten, this article can help: What Your Child Should Know By Kindergarten.)
2. Is Your Child Mature Enough?
It's hard to predict how any child will handle a major change such as starting kindergarten. You might know your child's technical reading and math skill level, but the social and emotional challenges of kindergarten are hard to predict. This is especially true if your child will be the youngest, or one of the youngest in class. As Lindsay H. says: "Some kids thrive in kindergarten and some struggle but it's hard to know how they will handle it until they are actually in that setting."
Circle of Moms member and preschool teacher Karol D. offers some advice on behavioral skills that are helpful in kindergarten: "The things I try to work on with my class are ability to follow 2-part directions (get a toy and sit on the carpet), [and] being considerate of others' feelings (Jenny is upset because you wouldn't share with her, is that okay?). Lastly, I make certain my class can sit quietly to listen and not be disruptive." Does you child have the maturity to learn in a kindergarten environment?
Some parents advise considering the possibility that your young child could face bullying, even at the kindergarten level. Being younger or smaller than the rest of the kids at their grade level can put a child at extra risk of being targeted by a bully. As Jane H. says, "Size. . . is important. He'll be developmentally behind... so when puberty hits, he will be left behind. Tweenagers can be cruel. All food for thought."
3. What If They Get Held Back Later?
Although most early starters will make it through kindergarten and beyond, the gap in maturity and learning ability can become apparent later. Being held back is a tough process for everyone involved, and one that can sometimes be avoided by starting kindergarten at the appropriate time. Tonya M. shares her experience after starting her son in kindergarten at age 4: "Halfway through kindergarten his teacher recommended holding him back because he was behind some of the other kids, and did not blend as well socially. . . we felt a bit pressured by the school. . . we all agreed to let him go to the first grade, however about halfway through the first grade it was the same thing, he started falling behind. . . It was at that time the school convinced us to hold him back."
Many moms whose children have been held back after kindergarten or first grade say it was ultimately for the best. As Risa T. says: "Better to do it when they are young than wait until the later years when there a stigma about being held back."
4. What Are The Long Term Effects?
For kids who are ready for kindergarten at the age of 4, starting early can give them opportunities they crave. This was the case for Rebeka B., who started Kindergarten at 4 and was always the youngest in her class: "Once I got into college I loved it. I started college at 17 and graduated with my BSN at 21 years old and that was great!
Jody B. is a Circle of Moms member and an elementary principal, and she gives a different perspective on the long run approach and the pressures that lay ahead: "When parents ask me to start their kids early, I always ask them to think beyond kindergarten. . . beyond elementary school. . . ask yourself if you would rather have your son dealing with middle school bullies and pressures a year younger than his peers. . . ask yourself if you would rather your son deal with dating drama and pressures in high school a year younger than his peers. . . and ask yourself if you would rather your son leave for college as a young 17-year-old."
Ultimately, Mom Knows Best
If the school district qualifies your child for an early start, the decision is in your hands. You know your kid better than anyone, and you have the most firsthand knowledge of her skills and maturity level on a day-to-day basis. Sarah M. agrees that this decision should be the parent's, and should depend entirely on the particular child: "You know whether your child will cope or not."