Who's ready for kindergarten?

Who’s Ready for Kindergarten? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate. As kindergarteners do more reading and writing, upper-middle-class parents are “red-shirting” younger children, especially boys, to give them time to mature. Some states now require all kindergarteners to turn five before the school year begins.

Children from poor families need “cognitive, social and motor stimulation” in preschool and extended-day kindergarten to prepare for first grade, writes Hermine H. Marshall, professor emerita at San Francisco State.

In other cultures, four-year-olds are gathering firewood, weeding gardens, hauling water and watching younger kids, writes Meredith Small, a Cornell anthropologist. In the U.S., four-year-olds are sitting. They’d be happier doing chores around the house.

Should we put our four-year-olds to work? Ann Althouse, who points out that sitting is as unhealthy as smoking, hosts a lively discussion.

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  1. If kindergarten did developmentally appropriate activities, this wouldn’t be much of an issue. It’s this emphasis on sitting quietly and filling out worksheets that’s so problematic.

    The CA state standards for Kindergarten state that students must legibly write full sentences using proper form for both upper case and lower case letters and proper spacing. My young kindergarten boy couldn’t even write his name until February and he’s still working on writing individual lower case letters properly.

    In the past, writing full sentences was considered a first-grade skill. No wonder so many families decide to “red shirt”. DS is going to do “transition” next year instead of moving on to 1st to give him more time to mature and work on his fine motor skills such as writing,

  2. patricia says:

    A quote from Ms. Small’s essay: “In non-Western culture, parents expect children to learn about what it means to be an adult by doing adult work.” The problem with this fetishization of non-Western culture is that my 4-year-old can’t exactly learn, at 4, how to do the commercial real estate banking that I do for my “adult work.” Nor can she now learn to be a law professor, to do the “adult work” that her father does. We in the non-Western world don’t need our kids to collect firewood or tend chickens. I’d be willing to bet that the reason Mayan children spend 30 percent of their day on household chores is because the household requires just that much more work to maintain, which is the reality in a less-industrialized society, without the modern conveniences that we take for granted. I’m not sure how Ms. Small would have my 4 year old contribute meaningfully to my household’s economics, given this. (She does tidy her room and her toys at my request, and cares for her own dishes.)

    More to the readiness point, she’s starting kindergarten this fall “on time” according to the school. She meets the age cutoff, but she’s got a late August birthday and will still be 4 when school starts. Her preschool teachers tell us she’s doing first grade work already; she can read, write, add and subtract. But she’s not ready for the seatwork that comes with first grade; she’s still 4 with the maturity that implies. I’m hopeful her school- which is public but also one of the best in the city- will be able to keep her engaged and learning. I hope she won’t lose these gains that she’s made through this year.

  3. patricia says:

    Sorry, should be “We in the WESTERN world….”

  4. Its somewhat interesting that upper middle class parents are holding back students from entering school until a later age. Finland starts school at a later age then most places, and also has decent academic achievement.

    Starting school later- check
    Involved parents- check
    Home that values education- check

    Maybe we should just call this the finland model of education in the US.

  5. A red-shirted upper middle class child whose parents care enough about education to red-shirt him is going to OBLITERATE at-risk students whose parents need them in full-day school ASAP.

    I had never thought before about how this can affect test-score gaps between various groups.

  6. We may not need firewood, but my 2-year old has chores around the house. Whenever the dog is let back in, it’s her job to get the dog her treat. She also helps me feed the dog and the fish. Mind you, these chores are all at her own insistence. She likes to be involved, and we like to keep her involved.

    Cognitive and motor stimulation do not require significant financial resources. They require time and attention. I taught my daughter numbers and letters using a $13 magnetic writing pad. If you’re not willing or able to put forth that basic amount of effort, you have no business having children. (Of course, the only thing worse than society letting anyone have kids is society deciding who can and can’t.)

  7. Dave Schutz says:

    Anectdote: there was a kid in nursery school with my boys who was being redshirted. Six, and there he was in the world of naps, and read-to-on-laps, and circle time. He was utterly and spectacularly bored. I’ve seen him since at athletic matches and he doesn’t seem particularly better or worse connected than other kids. But boy he suffered in that extra year with the tinies.

  8. All four of my kids (now mid-20s to mid-30s) were the youngest in their classes. Two of the boys who just missed the deadline went ahead and the other two barely made the deadline. Their classmates were at least a year older and many were two or more, especially in the younger kids’ classes, due to increased redshirting (both in number of kids and in the distance over the age cut-off). They all had enough AP credits to start college with sophomore status and they had no social problems. The fact that they all were serious athletes (3 soccer, 1 swimming) certainly helped, and their age/size didn’t handicap them athletically and they all had leadership on their teams. The younger two almost certainly would have had/created problems had they been redshirted, because they were accustomed to being with and competing against older kids. It’s one thing to hold back a kid who has specific areas of unreadiness, but a kid who’s ready won’t be “readier” next year, in my experience.

  9. “Starting school later- check
    Involved parents- check
    Home that values education- check

    Maybe we should just call this the finland model of education in the US”

    Kindergarten may be the beginning of education for some but it’s the beginning of free daycare for many.

  10. Genevieve says:

    Both of the boys in my daughter’s class that had summer birthdays and went to Kindergarten on schedule are towards the top of the class. They are also of above average height. Both my sister and I have fall/winter birthdays (1st grade when we were 5 turning 6) and were towards the top of the class. Among my classmates, the top students were all younger than average. I wonder if parents with smart younger children are more likely to send their children and parents with more average children don’t.

    I also wonder if we worry to much about students being with others their own age. Both my sister and I participated in ballet and swimming where practice times/classes were based on ability and not age. We learned to socialize with those younger and older than ourselves.

    . I see the same thing with my daughter now in the same activities. She is with younger children in dance and a mix in swimming (her lane ranges from 7-12 year olds). She seems to do fine with both.

    Additionally, when I was in high school, groups were based on interest not age (ie drama, choir, orchestra, etc). There was also a lot of dating across grades (though I’m sure my mother was worried when I was a freshman dating a senior).

  11. Soapbox0916 says:

    I am one of those age borderline kids that wish I would have been red-shirted. Several kids were a whole year older than me in my grade and that is huge difference when one is young. Academics were no problem, I am enough of a nerd that I could have handled coursework several grades ahead easily, I am quiet and acted mature so behavior was not an issue, the problem was social interaction and sports.

    I was tiny for my age which was only made much worse by being basically the youngest person in my class too. I was not even tall enough to reach the kiddie water fountains at school without being held up by my classmates in kindergarten. I always felt socially behind my whole childhood.

    I was not bad at sports if I played with kids a little younger and I was not worried about being the best, but that little gap in physical coordination development was enough that I was always just a little behind my classmates, by the time I caught up, the bar would be raised again, and I would feel behind again and again. Like raising the net for volleyball, as soon as I caught up, the net would actually be raised and we would have to stand further back, or the game was made just a little harder. I was not wanted on sports teams even for recess by my own classmates, I actually was glad for the times that we got to share the playground with the grade younger than me, because the younger grades wanted to play with me.

    I wound up preferring to hang around kids in the grade after mine and quite a few from two grades behind me. People in my own grade seemed old to me, I did not relate to them as the same age. I am a female who during my senior year in high school dated a freshman, but the truth is that we were closer to being a year apart. He was one of the oldest in his class and he excelled at everything he did, I think being just a little bit older helped him.

    The way schools works in that people are judged for really small differences growing up, a few seconds faster can win a race for example, I think there is more of an advantage to being older than younger in a school class.

  12. Soapbox0916 says:

    I should say I WAS one of those age borderline kids. LOL I have been adult for years. But I hate to say it, the decision still affects me today. I still feel behind people my own age, like I still have to catch up somehow.

  13. The comments show, principally, that children differ. I was the youngest child in my kindergarden class (December birthday, a few days before the cutoff) and I always liked it. I was already a fluent reader, and if I hadn’t been in love with Miss Vail, I would have hated kindergarden. My brother was nearly the oldest in his class, and he should have waited, rather than having to repeat third grade because he couldn’t read yet. (Also smart, but dyslexic.) Let parents judge; they may be wrong, but they know more about their child than anyone else.