When to start kindergarten?

The New York Times has a very interesting article about the current debate around when kids should start kindergarten. I was very surprised to learn that parents “redshirt” or hold back a child a year

the term, borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.


The pressures of kindergarten?? Aren’t we taking things too seriously here? Apparently not. The article (which you should absolutely read) goes on to talk about the different nuances involved including the fact that a young child could fall behind and never recover from that. Let’s say a child qualifies in year x and in year x+1 to enter kindergarten. The theory is that if they enter in year x+1, they are much more likely to be successful and start a virtuous cycle of success. Interesting.

Another really intriguing part of the article is about poorer families – since they don’t have the financial wherewithal to keep a child at home and pay for childcare, they send their kids to school as soon as the child is eligible. These children are then faced with a double disadvantage – not having a parent at home to help them along and being the youngest in the class.

And there is the competition between various states – the older kids are, the better they perform on the national level grade tests. And states are ranked against each other, so they are incented to raise the age of entering kids so that their kids do better against the rest of the national population.

All I can say is that school seemed much simpler when I was a child. I entered first grade – not kindergarten, first grade – when I was still a few months shy of being five (in India, not the US, but still, similar systems in place). And now we are talking about five being too young for kindergarten? I am all for not pressuring a child to go too fast, but this doesn’t make sense to me. Why is the entering age creeping up at a time when kids seem to be getting smarter younger? I constantly see 4 and 5 year olds who are smart, vivacious and have the vocabularies of seven year olds!

“You couldn’t find a kid who skips a grade these days,” Morrison told me. “We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways — into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.” 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. “I’ve had children come into my classroom, and they’ve never even lost at Candy Land.”

Is this really preparing kids for the real world?

It is a complex issue and the article is a great overview of all the elements (and there are many) that go into the debate on when kids should start kindergarten.