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Is my child really too young for Kindergarten?

Anita Ede

Anita Ede teaches English language learners, grades 3-5, Kerr Elementary School, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Many years ago, as the parent of a child deemed "too young" for kindergarten, I dutifully accepted the advice of the experienced kindergarten teacher at my daughter's school and delayed her entry into school. As a registered nurse with no expertise in the field of education at that time, this sounded like good advice. Had I known then about the possible ramifications of delayed entry into kindergarten, however, I would have been more skeptical. Delaying a child's entry into kindergarten does not necessarily ensure smooth sailing for the rest of his or her academic career, nor does it automatically doom the child to future failure. Research has shown both positive and negative aspects of delaying a child's entry into school.

Delaying school entry for a year is most often viewed as an opportunity for children to mature and develop critical academic, social and emotional skills prior to entering kindergarten. Many teachers view delayed school entry as a kindness to younger, less mature students who need more preparation for the rigors of formal academics in 1st grade. Gender also becomes an issue when one is trying to decide whether or not to delay school entry; boys are often viewed as less mature and not as "academically ready" than girls.

In fact, lack of readiness is often cited as the reason for delaying a child's entry into kindergarten. "Readiness" may be defined as a quality that renders the child able to participate successfully in a regular public school curriculum (Carlton & Martha, 1999). As such, readiness is a nebulous concept that does not mean the same thing to everyone. Readiness could mean simply having the ability to listen attentively for short periods of time. Parents who believe that academic skills, such as counting, reading, and writing, are a prerequisite for kindergarten success will be more likely to view their 5-year-olds as unready and may be more likely to delay enrollment in kindergarten in order to give the child another year to learn those skills. My hope in writing this article is to provide a balanced review of research that looks at both the positive and negative aspects of delayed school entry.

Positive Aspects of Delaying Entry Into Kindergarten

The 6-year-old (or almost 6-year-old) kindergarten student has definite advantages over his younger classmates when it comes to early literacy skills. In a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 73 percent of kindergartners who were about to turn 6 at the beginning of the school year were able to identify letters by name, associate sounds with letters, and read easy sight words, as compared to only 56 percent of their 5-year-old counterparts (Zill, Loomis, & West, 1997). It stands to reason that older kindergartners would have a clear advantage when it comes to learning how to read.

A relationship between a child's age and proficiency in early math skills also exists. Sixty-six percent of kindergartners who are 6 or about to turn 6 are able to read numerals, count past 10, recognize patterns, and compare relative lengths of objects; comparatively, only 42 percent of their 5-year-old counterparts possess these skills (Zill & West, 2001). Older kindergartners seem to have a distinct advantage in the acquisition of math skills.

Social skills also are affected by a child's age. Teachers describe children who are closer to 6 than 5 on entering kindergarten as more likely to engage in cooperative behavior and less likely to be argumentative or combative (Zill & West, 2001). Older children are described as being more persistent at completing academic tasks and as exhibiting a positive approach towards school. Older kindergartners take leadership roles within the classroom more often than their younger classmates. Older children have been found to have more positive feelings toward their teachers and feel more valued than younger students, possibly because older children are often given more responsibility in the classroom. Zill and West (2001) reported that older kindergartners were significantly less likely to receive negative feedback from their teachers than other children.

Gender needs to be considered, as it also plays a role in kindergarten performance. Girls have a slight academic edge when they enter kindergarten. In a study conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education (Zill & West, 2001), 70 percent of all girls entering kindergarten knew their letters when they entered school, compared with 62 percent of the boys entering kindergarten. Thirty-two percent of the girls associated letters with sounds at the beginnings and ends of words, compared with 26 percent of the boys. Twice as many boys as girls (14 versus 7 percent) had difficulty speaking clearly, and twice as many boys as girls (18 versus 9 percent) had difficulty paying attention. Clearly, girls seem to have an academic edge over boys at this early age.

Retention rates for students who experienced delayed entry are lower than for their younger counterparts (May & Kundert, 1995). This does not seem surprising, since teachers may be hesitant to retain students who are already one year older than their classmates, regardless of their academic performance.

Over the short term, it appears that delaying a child's entry into kindergarten for one year is quite effective in ensuring that he or she will have a successful school experience. However, one needs to look more closely at the long-term effects before jumping to conclusions.

Negative Aspects of Delaying Kindergarten Entry

Even though delayed entry into kindergarten may give a child an "edge" while he or she is in kindergarten, there is very little evidence to suggest that this advantage carries over into the later school years. May and Kundert (1995) found no significant differences on standardized test scores across a New York City district between students who had delayed entry into kindergarten and those who did not. In a four-year study, the academic skills of 200 children in California were assessed to determine if age was related to academic performance (Stipek & Bylert, 2001). The results indicated that even though older students performed better than young students on standardized tests while they were in kindergarten, this advantage completely disappeared by 3rd grade. The proportion of students who receive special education services is significantly higher for those students who have experienced delayed entry as compared to children in the general population. May and Kundert (1995) found that 17.5 percent of all delayed entry students were receiving special education services, as compared to only 7 percent of the non-delayed entry students. With such high numbers of delayed entry students receiving special education services, one has to wonder if these children had an underlying special need that was incorrectly identified as a lack of readiness before beginning kindergarten.

Older students are more likely to self-report emotional distress, engage in socially deviant and health-risking behavior, or drop out of school altogether than their younger, same-grade peers (Byrd, Weitzman, & Auinger, 1997). Peer relationships between the old for grade and age-typical adolescents may be negatively affected due to differences in maturity. This study also points to the fact that delaying school entry may delay treatment for developmental delays and learning disabilities that may predispose an adolescent to behavior problems.

Overall, research suggests that delaying school entry does not improve long-term academic performance, nor does it enhance the long-term social and behavioral skills of children. In fact, it may actually waste a child's time, delay her entry into higher education or the job market, and possibly contribute to her dropping out of school.

Where Does This Leave Us?

Given what I have learned about delayed school entry in my years as a teacher, would I do it all over again? Probably not. My child is finishing high school as I write this, with no apparent ill effects from having started kindergarten at age 6 rather than 5. Given the big picture, however, I do not think it made her a better student, and I think she would have done just as well academically had she started school a year earlier. Her greatest benefit from being one of the oldest in her class probably has been being regarded by her teachers and classmates as a leader. This leadership role gave her a tremendous amount of self-confidence and a very mature outlook on life.

Delaying school will most certainly affect a child's life. Whether or not it will have positive or negative effects depends on the individual child. Parents know their children best. Learning about the ramifications of delayed school entry can help parents make an informed decision.

References

Byrd, R., Weitzman, M., & Auinger, P. (1997). Increased behavior problems associated with delayed school entry and delayed school progress. Pediatrics, 100, 654-661.

Carlton, W., & Martha, P. (1999). School readiness: The need for a paradigm shift. School Psychology Review, 28(3), 338-356.

May, D. C., & Kundert, D. K. (1995). Does delayed school entry reduce later grade retentions and use of special education services? Remedial & Special Education, 16, 288-295.

Stipek, D., & Bylert, P. (2001). Academic achievement and social behaviors associated with age of entry into kindergarten. Applied Developmental Psychology, 22, 1-18.

Zill, N., Loomis, J., & West, J. (1997). The elementary school performance and adjustment of children who enter kindergarten late or repeat kindergarten: Findings from national surveys. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 98-09). Available at http://nces.ed.gov/ edstats/

Zill, N., & West, J. (2001). Entering kindergarten: A portrait of American children when they begin school: Findings from the condition of education 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2001-035).
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Title Annotation:For Parents Particularly
Author:Ede, Anita
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:1598
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