Monday, June 04, 2007

Kindergarten readiness?

(Cross-posted from the other blog...)

Lots of posts out in the world today about yesterday's NYT article on kindergarten readiness. The take-home lesson I got from it was that if you can afford to think about "red-shirting" your child (keeping him--and it's most often him--home for a year when he's technically eligible for kindergarten), then whether you do or not, he'll probably be fine. That is, school "success" is primarily a socio-economic, not an age, issue. If you need the free day-care, and your kid isn't really ready for school, you'll send him/her anyway and s/he may not "succeed" as well as one might hope. If, on the other hand, you don't need the free day-care, you can probably provide what your kid needs.

Yes, this is reductive. But note that all the "red-shirt" success stories are from people who didn't need free day-care.


I was a young starter: with a February birthday I should have started kindergarten at five, but since I knew how to read, I started at four. (I was briefly "held back" when we moved, but then started first grade--in another school--at five.) At my recent college reunion I kept reminding people I was a year further away from fifty than they were. Nice. (Hmm, maybe those social skills still need work?)

I probably should have taken a gap year between high school and college. My parents wanted me to, but I was academically ambitious and up for the challenge. Emotionally/psychologically, maybe not so much, but I got by ok and I don't feel scarred by the experience. As a nerdy kid, I was used to being a bit on the outskirts of things socially anyway--I'm not sure age had a whole lot to do with it. I did take three years between college and graduate school, and that was an absolute necessity, in my case. I think grad school would have chewed me up and spat me out at 21, but at 24 I had supported myself for three years, moved across the country, and figured out that I was both employable and at least marginally date-worthy. I no longer thought my only successes would be academic, and that made grad school's pressures much easier to bear.

Mariah, with her December birthday, is one of the older kids in her grade. One of her best friends, three months older, just graduated from high school; Mariah's got another year. She's academically at the top of her class and seems to be holding her own socially/emotionally. She could have skipped at one point, but we opted for a multi-age grouping (in a Montessori middle school) instead. She doesn't seem to have any regrets, and is considering taking a gap year between HS and college even though this would have her turning 20 as a first-year college student. (I wish all my students would take a gap year...)

Nick, with his early August birthday, is one of the youngest kids in his grade. He's not markedly smaller than other boys--this is the year some are shooting up and some aren't, and he's still right in the middle--nor is he particularly delayed socially as far as I can tell. (He does sometimes cry more easily than other kids, but is that his age or just his temperament? Hard to say...though it's true that his mother was a big cry-baby in elementary school.) Academically, he's doing more than fine. According to "conventional wisdom"--which is that boys mature more slowly, so should redshirt if anyone should--he should have been held back and Mariah sent ahead, but we actually did benefit from the free day-care (public preschool at age four) and never really thought seriously about holding him back. Will he struggle in college? If he's like his sister, maybe we'll suggest a gap year at that point. Right now, though, he's fine.

One more anecdote: when my younger brother was tested for kindergarten, he was asked to draw a man, but drew something else--maybe a table?--instead. He was a bit young (November birthday) but pretty bright. The teacher or principal or someone called my mother and said he wasn't ready, he couldn't draw a man. My mother, though, talked to my brother who said he just didn't feel like drawing a man--and convinced the school administration to take him anyway. Years later he admitted that he really couldn't draw a man--but he did know how to game the system!

So there are my anecdotes. I find myself wishing more and more for flexibility in schooling, for some kind of readiness-testing that looked at the whole child rather than just the age or just a test or two. Obviously that's what home-schooling gives people, and that's absolutely what's most appealing about it. But for those who can't or won't take that option, for whatever reason--what to do?


Susan said...

ohhhhh man I wish we had held BOTH of our girls back, for different reasons. Mollie has an October birthday and is one of the youngest in her class. Emma has a JUNE birthday and is ALSO one of the youngest in hers! When they were four and five years old, they seemed so "done" with preschool, and ready to move on, but especially with Emma, I wish we'd waited. She'd be a more than capable sixth grader now, and as it stands she has struggled academically since kindergarten. (and btw, ALL of the other kids in her baby group, born through the summer, are now in 6th grade: the big thing to do here is DOUBLE KINDERGARTEN - have you ever heard of that?) Two years of kindergarten, in two different schools.

Magpie said...

I was always the youngest - born 12/29 (for a 12/31 cutoff). I never remember it being a problem. And I'm not worried about my child - who'll start kindergarten when she's four, and who'll be close to the youngest (mid-November for a 12/31 cutoff). But I was startled when one of the daycare mothers - who happens to be a pediatrician - told me that she was going to keep her son in daycare for an extra year because of his mid-December birthday. I'm looking forward to the Times's in my bag for my commute home.

Susan said...

The thing is, when they're four, they can seem ready. They're chomping at the bit. But it has implications for when they're 13, 16, 17 and going to college. When our kids were four and five we really had no clue what was best for them, and we jumped.

Susan said...

The thing is, when they're four, they can seem ready. They're chomping at the bit. But it has implications for when they're 13, 16, 17 and going to college. When our kids were four and five we really had no clue what was best for them, and we jumped.

Libby said...

Susan, I know what you mean--they can be so different at four than at fourteen, for example. We're not seeing problems yet w/Nick, but who knows? Magpie, Mariah would be graduating from high school in a week if she'd been in a school system w/the same cutoff as yours...hmmm.

Jody said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole "my child would be bored with another year of preschool" stuff. I see a lot of parents around me whose kids do learn their letters and numbers early, and have mastered the typical pre-school tasks. But would they be BORED if they spent another year playing dress-up and doing crafts and building with blocks? I'm just not sure. I tend to think it's easier to make a simple task more complicated for a moving-fast child in preschool than to give a leg up to the young kindergartner. And attention span (which I don't think of as connected to learning speed) seems more age-dependent than many other school-related issues.

In general, I wish kindergarten would go back to being a last year of preschool, with flexibility for the moving-fast kids to do more with the academic side of it when they start to show signs of boredom. It's telling to me that the elementary school teachers of my acquaintance have, universally, held back their summer-birthday children and started them "late."

Libby said...

I think you're right, Jody, that a lot of this has to do with a way-too-academic focus in kindergarten. That's what always appealed to me about both Waldorf and Montessori education.