In Minnesota, where I live, children entering kindergarten must be five years old by September 1 with no exceptions that I am aware of. Being that my children have birthdates of August 28 and September 23, this cut-off date had a major effect on our family. I always assumed that I would hold my oldest daughter back from starting school because that is just what people seem to do around here. I heard all of the horror stories about how kids who are the youngest in their class are immature, fall behind and never seem to catch up.
However, by the time Rachel started preschool, it was evident to me that she was extremely bright and thrived in a social and learning environment away from home. She was definitely a “handful” before she started formal schooling. I believe this is because she had no outlet for her energy and endless curiosity. I felt it would be a mistake not to send her on to kindergarten with her peers, so this is what I chose to do. She is now in the summer between her sophomore and junior year of high school, a straight A honors student and active in many extra-curricular activities. Being the youngest in her grade has had no detrimental effects on her whatsoever.
And Then There is My September Baby
After watching Rachel thrive in school in the early grades, I felt bad that my younger daughter, Abby, would have to be held back due to being born after the September 1 cut-off. With a birth date just 26 days after her older sister, Abby was just as bright and ready for school. She attended preschool through the district for two years due to her hearing loss. Even though it allowed her to enter three-year-old preschool a few weeks before her birthday, the districts around here won’t budge on the kindergarten entrance age. I felt I had no choice but to send her to preschool for three years and have her start kindergarten when she was almost six years old. Then I heard about charter schools.
Kindergarten Options for Children Who Missed the Cut-off
If a child born in September or later completes kindergarten somewhere else, the public school district must accept him or her as a first grade student. That is what happened in our case. I overheard a mom at Abby’s preschool talking about her child with a birth date of September 2 and how she was considering sending her to a private school. I didn’t even know that was possible, so I started looking into private schools myself. Unfortunately, even kindergarten tuition was out of my league, so I did research on charter schools.
Charter schools are open to the public, but do not have to follow state mandates since they are operated with private funds. The charter school where I enrolled Abby allowed students who would turn five all the way up to December 1. Some parents of kids with fall birthdates used this year as a trial to see if their child would be ready to enter first grade the following year or repeat kindergarten at the public school. I had that thought in the back of my mind, but in my heart I knew that Abby was ready to start kindergarten for real.
I believe that homeschooling for kindergarten is also an option, but it isn’t one that I have any first-hand knowledge of. It also likely dependent on the laws of the state where the child lives.
Even the States Can’t Agree
The practice of holding kids with summer birthdays, especially boys, has become so prevalent that it has earned the nickname of “redshirting.” The benefit of doing so is mixed, and it seems to depend on who you ask. Older kindergarten children tend to do better on standardized testing all throughout their school years, but they are also reported to exhibit more behavioral problems.
In the United States, the cut-off date for kindergarten is determined by each individual state. 37 of the 50 states have set the date between September 1 and October 15, with a few states having cut-offs as late as December 31. This goes to show that there is no agreement even between professional educators. It all comes down to knowing your own child and what is best for him or her.
Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?
The experience with my two daughters taught me that September 1 is just an arbitrary date that doesn’t mean anything. I had to look at my girls as individuals to determine if they were ready to be in a formal learning environment on a daily basis. Here is a formal checklist from the website Family Education that may help you decide if your child is ready for school:
Can your child jump? Hop? Skip?
Can your child handle snaps, buttons, and zippers?
Can your child tie her own shoes?
Can your child use the toilet by herself?
Can-and does-your child wash her own hands?
Does your child help do simple tasks, jobs, or chores around the house?
Can your child participate in group activities?
Will your child (at least sometimes) share with others?
Does your child have one or two close friends?
Does your child make friends easily?
Can your child express her needs clearly to adults other than you?
Can your child control her own behavior much of the time?
Can your child function in a social setting without constant supervision?
Does your child know the names of at least eight colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and white) and five shapes (circle, oval, triangle, rectangle, and square)?
Can your child distinguish among different sounds? Can she recognize similar sounds?
Does your child know some simple songs by heart? Can she join in when you teach her a new song?
Can your child listen and follow a story line and then retell it in her own words?
Can your child follow instructions when she’s learning a new game or you’re introducing a new activity?
There are so many individual factors that go into a child’s readiness for school, including the child’s birth order, the family income level, whether the child has had any previous schooling and so forth. School officials can provide insight, but keep in mind they have their own biases. When my daughters started school, most teachers and administrators had their own ideas about being the youngest in the class, despite the fact that neither of my girls fit the stereotype. In the end, it is a decision that only you can make. Your child and your own heart will guide you toward making the right choice.
- When to Start Kindergarten – FamilyEducation.com