Parenting Traps

Moving on up

Does our 5-year-old need kindergarten?

By Lylah M. Alphonse
May 9, 2010

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Our youngest daughter’s birthday is in October, and the cutoff for kindergarten in our town is September 1, so even though her teachers thought she was ready last year, we had to wait.

This spring, her pre-K teacher asked me if we were considering having our girl skip kindergarten altogether. She’s reading and writing well, plays comfortably and happily with her classmates, and is clamoring for more challenging activities. She has friends and neighbors who are a year ahead of her, so she’d know other children in the class if she did move up. And after nearly three years in a full-time preschool, would she get anything out of the half-day kindergarten our district offers?

Kindergarten attendance is not mandatory in Massachusetts, though school districts are required to provide at least a half-day (2 1/2-hour-long) program. Per Department of Education rules, children must begin school starting in the calendar year in which they turn 6. A generation ago, skipping a grade was a sign of smarts. But now, with kids already being pushed to achieve academic success earlier, does skipping a grade – even kindergarten – make sense?

“It’s a really critical year in every child’s school experience, regardless of God-given brainpower or skill level,” says Nancy Harris Frohlich, head of The Advent School in Boston. First grade is far more structured than kindergarten, with a focus on in-class work rather than creative play, and there may be homework. In kindergarten, there are more opportunities for kids to be creative and curious, Frohlich says. “Once they’re thrown into a subject-by-subject curriculum, those experiences are quickly a thing of the past.”

And then there’s standardized testing to consider. “Once teachers are put under the microscope in terms of how their children do in a standardized test, kids are even more at risk for losing the kind of kindergarten exploration time and chances to apply what they already know or are in the process of learning,” Frohlich adds.

We haven’t decided what to do yet, and the decision isn’t entirely up to us – it depends on readiness assessments and enrollment at the local elementary school. In the meantime, we’re still wondering: Is it better for a kid to be bored in kindergarten, or to risk floundering in first grade?

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