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Ready For Kindergarten? The Great Debate

Would you red-shirt your kindergartener?

While some parents red-shirt their five-year-old to give them an edge in kindergarten, others are chafing to get their four-year-olds into public school classrooms. How can we tell who’s ready for kindergarten?

The New York Times rounds up a handful of expert opinions for their op-ed pages, and the answers are not what you think. For the most part, they agree on one thing: age doesn’t matter. In deciding whether or not to red-shirt, or where to set the cut-off age for kindergarten admission, parents and educators are asking the wrong question.

Instead, they should be taking a harder look at what kindergarten is all about.

One thing all the NYT debaters agree on is that ensuring academic readiness for disadvantaged kids should be a priority. Moving the kindergarten age of entry back without providing high-quality preschool for those 4-year-olds who get left behind won’t help. What’s needed is comprehensive early childhood education that levels the playing field for kids coming into first grade. Access to high quality preschool makes a much bigger difference than a few months age gap.

My colleague Carolyn suggests schools should keep the 4-year-olds in their kindergartens and ditch the 7-year-olds at the upper end of the age range. She may be on to something. Another big theme in the NYT debate is that kindergarten has become too academic. Kids that age need to play, move their bodies and learn how to socialize with each other. While some may be precociously learning to read, academics shouldn’t really be the focus of the kindergarten year. Instead, it’s about taking a wide range of developmental readiness and ability and getting all those kids ready for the academic work of first grade.

It may not be kindergarten age limits that need to change but kindergarten itself. A kindergarten focused more on social skills and learning readiness would meet the needs of a wider range of kids than one focused on test prep.

Still, we have the kindergartens we have. As parents, we each have to decide when our young kids are ready to launch into that arena. My kids both have summer birthdays. Each is the youngest or second-youngest in her class. I never considered red-shirting though. My oldest was more than ready for kindergarten. Going to school at all was her idea. The little one is thriving in preschool, and I’m sure she’ll rock kindergarten when her turn comes.

On the other hand, I’ve seen kids older than mine struggle with the rigors of a classroom. Some of them might have really benefited from an extra year at home, or another year of preschool. I never considered red-shirting my kids, but I understand why parents make that call.

What do you think? Should the age cut-off for kindergarten be moved back? Does red-shirting make sense given the way kindergarten is taught today? What will you do with your child?

Photo: tanya_little

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