School starts Monday in our town and our family has a Kindergartner. There’s no magic formula for determining whether your Kindergarten-age child is actually ready to start school. It’s about emotional readiness to separate from parents, adjust to being busy all day, being able to cope without too many meltdowns. You do have to watch for the age cutoff, but it’s about so much more than that.
I know girl is ready because she held her own in preschool. She also had a pretty no-nonsense attitude about Kindergarten orientation last spring. She seemed ready to mix with others and didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t staying close by. She got right down to business on the craft they had laid out and happily started working on it. In fact, she shooed me away while I was playing paparazzi.
I know that many schools use the first few weeks as observation time, keeping their class list kind of loose for a while. If they spot someone who doesn’t mix well with one group of kids, they might go to a different classroom for a while. Or, if a child appears to be easily overwhelmed and highly emotional, they might recommend that the parents hold the child back a year.
Back when I was a child, holding back just wasn’t done very often. There usually had to be a pretty significant reason for a parent to keep their child out of a kindergarten class. I’m not saying that with professional authority, I just know that there were plenty of kids on the young end of the scale like me. My birthday was just a month from the youngest cutoff time.
I think there might have been two other girls younger than me out of about 55 kids in my grade. I was one of the last in my class to drive and one of the last to mature physically. I remember finally coming into my own just the last year of high school when it seemed others had gotten more confidence the year before. During my freshman year of college, I kept mostly to myself and hung with a few friends I already knew. I was just 18 years old that entire year. My sophomore year, I had matured enough and felt pretty good about being there. Of course, those feelings aren’t uncommon among college freshmen, but I attribute at least some of that slow adjustment to my younger age.
When I look back, I say to myself, “What were my parents thinking?” But that was the norm back then. Unless there was a major issue, you sent your kids when they made the cutoff date. Now, parents get worried about holding them back if their child has a birthday in the spring. Most kids with summer birthdays seem to be held back now. Rather than getting your kid a “head start” on school, parents are far more willing to allow a little more adjustment time. Or, they are often concerned that their child will be among the smallest in their class.
Sometimes a very young Kindergartner may show readiness for that first year of school. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how ready they might be to deal with always being last to turn that next age, being last to drive, being just seventeen at their high school graduation. For some, the trend for waiting may pay off more at the end of education than at the beginning.
And since my crystal ball is in the shop, my husband and I are making a judgment call. From the best of our knowledge, she seems ready. There could very well be a few kids born very close to her birthday that won’t be enrolling this year. Sometimes the calendar age doesn’t tell the whole story. Our daughter will be one of the littlest kids in the entire class, but we’re banking on her confident engaging personality to serve her well. And if we’re lucky, maybe a growth spurt down the road.