To Kindergarten or not to Kindergarten?

With kindergarten registrations happening all around the state of MN, Miss Kim and I have been getting questions from many of our parents on whether or not they should send their children to kindergarten. The parents who have been asking this the most have been those who have boys with summer birthdays. 20100920 016

I remember 7 years ago when I taught in MN, it seemed to be a trend to keep summer birthday boys back until they were newly 6. In the district I worked in, there were many options available for kindergartners. Parents could choose from half-days; all day, every other day; or all-day, every day (for a fee). As a parent, I can understand what a big decision this is, as I had to go through it with my daughter. It’s hard to know what is the best choice for your child. Many factors go into such a big decision. In the end, because of how academically-ready my daughter was, we opted for one of the all day choices. I think we were going to send her every day – I don’t remember for sure, because we moved to WI a month before kindergarten started for her.

When I taught in WI, pretty much everyone sent their children to kindergarten when they were 5, no matter when their birthdays were. There were no “options” for kindergarten. They went to school all day, every day. It was a big adjustment for my daughter. She was still taking naps at home. The first couple months were rough, because she was so tired at night. Once her body adjusted to the schedule, she did great.

Now I am back in MN, in the same district I previously worked in. I only had a couple parents ask me last year whether or not they should send their children to kindergarten. In the end, most of them sent their children. One or two held them back for one more year of practice in preschool. This year, I have had at least a half dozen (or more) parents asking me what they should do.

I believe the reason that more parents are questioning what to do, is because Kindergarten is largely moving to an all-day, every day program. It’s becoming more and more academic. Children are now doing in kindergarten what we did in first grade back in the 80’s. They are learning to read, doing simple addition and subtraction, etc. Our district’s policy is that the schools will “meet the child where they are at.” As preschool teachers, we are doing our best to find the balance between following age-appropriate guidelines, and preparing them for the academic world they will soon be entering.

Here are some of the skills your child ideally would have before going to kindergarten:
*Being able to sit in a large group without disturbing other children, and listen to the teacher. This includes being able to raise their hand before blurting out answers, and is probably the biggest thing that is difficult for many children heading to kindergarten (or at least are age-eligible).

*Being able to follow multi-step directions. In preschool we mainly practice this at the art table, and in small groups.

*Participation in group activities.

*Being able to share and take turns.

*Being able to enter a group of peers and have meaningful interactions with them.

*Being able to ask for help when they need it. This includes both self-help skills (i.e. asking for help if they can’t zip their coat), and social skills (i.e. being able to ask for help if there is a problem between peers).

*Being able to recognize at least 30 out of 52 letters (combination of upper and lower case letters). This is our goal for preschoolers getting ready to go to kindergarten, though many children go knowing more or less. Addition on 2/2/13: After looking at the benchmarks for kindergarten, your child will be even more successful if he or she can identify 40 letters at the beginning of the school year. This is not the expectation, but will help in the overall goals of the year.

*Being able to point and count 25 objects. This is a different skill from being able to count from memory to 25.

This is just a sampling of things we take in to consideration when parents ask us if their children are ready for kindergarten. I wrote a post a while back on some of the reasons you might want to send your child to preschool in the first place. We work on the skills above, and more.

For parents who still aren’t sure, I recommend signing their children up for both kindergarten and preschool for the following year. As it gets closer to fall, they will have a better idea on whether or not their child is ready to move on, or needs one more year of practice. They can always drop their child from whichever program they are not going to go with. It would be a bummer if during the summer, they did not see the growth they had hoped in their child, only to find out the preschools are full.

One more thing to keep in mind, a child who is naturally cautious, slow to warm up, or otherwise incredibly shy, may not necessarily “outgrow” it with one more year of practice. If that is your child’s temperament, another year of preschool might not help. True, they will have an extra year to learn and practice social skills, but he or she will likely still start out kindergarten very shy and quiet. Hopefully, as the year goes on, your child will open up more and have a great year of school.

On a Personal Note:
Miss Kim and I both have boys with summer birthdays. Kim kept her child in preschool until he was 6. She’s never regretted her decision. I sent my son. We lived in WI, where that’s just what everyone did. He was already reading some, and academically was ready. I never regretted sending him as a newly 5 year old, until this year. He is in 2nd grade.

He has always been a very active child. Every year since preschool, I asked his teachers if they thought he had ADHD. They all said, “No, he’s just a busy boy. He’ll outgrow it.” Well, at 7 years old, he still hasn’t outgrown it. He gets in trouble often for fidgeting, and having a hard time paying attention. Academically, he is doing quite well. His behavior is, unfortunately, getting in the way of being completely successful in school. Whether or not an extra year before kindergarten would have helped him, I will never know. The down side is that he is feeling bad about getting in trouble all the time, but can’t seem to help it. My challenge as a parent is now to help him learn new strategies, and to keep his self-esteem from taking a further hit.

Every child is different. The decision to send your child to kindergarten or wait a year, is yours. Ultimately, you get to decide what is best for your child. Talk to your child’s teachers, explore all your options.

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2 thoughts on “To Kindergarten or not to Kindergarten?

  1. Sarah S. says:

    Obviously, this is a hot topic! Here’s an article that explains in another way where the struggle comes in to play, and makes decisions even harder: http://www.hepg.org/hel/article/479#home

    Here’s a news report on this very subject as well! http://www.weau.com/home/headlines/Time-for-kindergarten-Whens-the-right-time-to-enroll-190359851.html#.URVTiWzK8sA.facebook

  2. Miss Night says:

    I’m a kindergarten teacher and curriculum coach for our early childhood programs. I blogged my thoughts on this exact topic: http://missnightmutters.com/2011/04/ready-freddy.html. Hope it helps!

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