Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Parenting Articles - When Should Kids with Late Birthdays Start Kindergarten?

On the agenda for many parents this month: Kindergarten registration. Children turning 5 by December are supposed to report to their districts to sign up. And that can cause a dilemma.

Parents whose children fall on the younger side -- who won't turn 5 until October, November or December -- often struggle with the option of holding the children out of kindergarten an extra year.

"Much of these decisions are almost a gut feeling of the parent of whether the child can handle the rigors of a kindergarten class," says Steve Hartman, a psychologist in the Sachem school district in Long Island, N.Y.

Even experts disagree on a best course.

"There's never a downside as far as I can see. It's really giving the child an advantage," says Wendi Fischer, a psychologist for kindergarten through third grade in the Elwood school district. There's no stigma, she and others say, to holding a child out of school until the next year.

But Doris Fromberg, professor of education at Hofstra University, argues that the most powerful brain development happens in the first half-dozen years, and if a child sits out, he or she might miss that opportunity for rich experiences. Gains from holding a child back usually disappear by second or third grade, other experts contend.

Tamar Muscolino of Melville, N.Y., has 5-year-old twins -- a boy and a girl who were born Dec. 3. In her school district, the cutoff birth date for kindergarten is just a few weeks later -- Dec. 31. If she started Brooke and Jacob on time, they would forever be among the youngest in their class.

"My daughter was so ready to go. She's Miss Social Butterfly," Muscolino says. But Jacob had speech and occupational therapy when he was 3, and was more socially reserved.

Muscolino and her husband, Jordan, wrestled with whether to hold the twins back a year. "We stayed up nights talking about it, changed our minds 20 times," she says. In the end, they kept their children in preschool. "It was the best decision I ever made," Muscolino says. Jacob's confidence grew and he blossomed, and now she feels sure he's ready to start kindergarten in September.

Fischer offers two caveats to her hold-them-back leanings. One, if the child has a lot of preschool classmates or neighborhood friends who will be starting, reconsider. You don't want him to wonder why he didn't start, too. And two, think again if the child is bigger than other kids his age.

Hartman agrees on the size issue: "Even the youngest child will be able to pick up on the obvious difference and say, 'Wow, that boy is huge' or, 'That girl is much bigger.' That could open a child up to ridicule."

Lisa Valentine's two children both have late-October birthdays. She says she never seriously considered holding either of them back from kindergarten because their preschool teachers never raised an issue indicating they wouldn't be ready. "My attitude was, 'Don't fix it if it's not broken,' " Valentine says.

Both kids were also tall for their ages -- "off-the-charts tall," Valentine says. "If I kept them back, they'd be monsters." Shaye and Palmer are now 9 and 7 and doing great, she says. "They have no issues," Valentine says. "I feel like I did the right thing."

Donna LaSpina, a special-education teacher at Charles Campagne Elementary School in Bethpage, N.Y., also encourages parents of children with special needs not to hold them back because they will get language services and other support through the school system. "Early intervention is the best route with these children," she says.

Parents should look more at social, emotional and developmental readiness than at academics, all child experts interviewed agree. In general, parents might look more closely at holding a boy back, many say. "Girls mature a lot faster than boys," Fischer says.

A small boy interested in sports might benefit from starting later, so he'd be more competitive for teams, Fischer says. "I would never keep a child back because of that," she says, but add it in with other factors.

A family also might have financial considerations. Holding a child out of public school could mean paying an extra year of child care.

Some experts say that being older in high school can be advantageous because it might engender more mature decisions.

If parents are still on the fence, routine kindergarten screening that goes along with registration will point out concerns. Some districts have a solution: Summer school to get children up to speed for kindergarten.

Source: Detroit Free Press -

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