When are children old enough for kindergarten? As kindergarten becomes “the new first grade,” states are moving start dates back to ensure kindergarteners are more likely to be ready to start learning academic skills. Parents — especially affluent parents — are “redshirting” their children to give them a social and academic advantage.
Since the 1980s, about 6 to 9 percent of kindergarteners have been redshirts, but in affluent areas 25 percent of students may start a year late, writes Elizabeth Weil in New York Times Magazine.
Fred Morrison, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan, sees . . . a parental obsession not with their childrenâ€™s academic accomplishment but with their social maturity. â€œYou couldnâ€™t find a kid who skips a grade these days,â€ Morrison told me. â€œWe used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways â€” into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.â€ So parents wait an extra year in the hope that when their children enter school their age or maturity will shield them from social and emotional hurt.
Elizabeth Levett Fortier, a kindergarten teacher in the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, notices the impact on her incoming students. â€œIâ€™ve had children come into my classroom, and theyâ€™ve never even lost at Candy Land.â€
New studies seem to show that students who are older than average when they start school do better than younger students through eighth grade and perhaps longer.
But disadvantaged children, who rarely attend high-quality preschools, probably benefit from starting kindergarten as soon as possible.
. . . one serious side effect of pushing back the cutoffs is that while well-off kids with delayed enrollment will spend another year in preschool, probably doing what kindergartners did a generation ago, less-well-off children may, as the literacy specialist Katie Eller put it, spend â€œanother year watching TV in the basement with Grandma.â€
My husband, who was old for his grade because of his January birthday, thought it was a big advantage. We planned to have our child early in the year so he or she — we were more worried about a boy — would have that edge in size and maturity. Born in February, Allison was average in size, socially adept and reading fluently when she started kindergarten at a Palo Alto public school. In a class of 26, four kids could read at the start of the year and a fifth joined the Big Red reading group after a few months. None were redshirts. The youngest, smallest child in the class, who made the Dec. 1 cut off by two days, was in Big Red too, if memory serves. At any rate, she ended up at Harvard. The girl who had the most difficulty forming letters — she wrote like a boy — caught up in first grade and eventually went to Yale. Well, that’s Palo Alto.
The district offers a “Young K” program for young or immature children who turn 5 by the Dec. 1 cutoff but need two years in kindergarten.