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What Is the Right Age to Start Kindergarten?

 

How old is old enough for kindergarten in 1997? Who decides the answer for kids today?

Last year, a kindergarten-teacher friend and I were talking about the opening days of school. She was excited, and exhausted, and very eager to meet the challenges of the new school year when she said of her new class of kindergartners, "I forget how young they are in September." That got me thinking...

 

Parents all over the country have been wiping their brows and many have been thinking, "Is Sara really old enough for kindergarten? Should I have sent her to kindergarten this year? Maybe I should have waited until next year."

It might surprise those parents that kindergarten teachers and school administrators are thinking, "Is Ted really old enough for kindergarten? Should he be in kindergarten this year? Maybe this child should have waited another year."

Regulations regarding kindergarten entrance age vary throughout the United States because each state determines its own rules. Many children enter kindergarten at age five. Some children enter at age six. And some children are still four. A few states, including Connecticut, enroll children in September who will reach their fifth birthday on or before January 1 of the next year. Other states have "cut-off" dates of September 1 and even earlier.

Regardless of the cut-off date, questions about age persist because of the 12-month chronological age span between the oldest and youngest kindergartners. (A year is a big difference when you're five!) And the developmental age span is even greater. The official school age, the legal age at which children must be educated, is often different from the kindergarten entrance age. When that is the case, parents have the option of keeping their children out of kindergarten for an extra year if they feel that the children are not ready. When this happens, the chronological age span in kindergarten classes increases.

 

WHAT DO THE STUDIES SAY?

Studies on the effects of age at kindergarten entry yield mixed results. In The Effect of a Child's Age at School Entrance on Reading Readiness and Achievement Test Scores (ERIC Document ED366939) Karen Magliacano reported that scores from Metropolitan Reading Readiness Tests and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills were compared for two sample groups of second graders. Sample A was made up of students who were between the ages of 4 years 11 months and 5 years 4 months (younger students) when entering kindergarten, and Sample B was made up of students who were between the ages of 5 years 5 months and 6 years 1 month (older students). The study found "no significant difference between the samples in reading test scores as a result of chronological age

In a study published in the Journal of Educational Research (Jan-Feb 1991), Summer Birth Date Children: Kindergarten Entrance Age and Academic Achievement (ERIC Document EJ426449), Sandra L. Crosser compared academic achievement indices of seventh through ninth graders (n=45) who entered kindergarten at age five with indices of similar children who entered at age six (n=45). "All statistically significant differences favored older males and females, especially in reading for older males," states a summary of the findings.

Readiness for Kindergarten: Parent and Teacher Beliefs, an October 1995 report of The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), found that parents of preschoolers and kindergarten teachers don't always agree on what skills are necessary for kindergarten success. The reports states: "Parents of a majority of preschoolers believe that knowing the letters of the alphabet, being able to count to 20 or more, and using pencils and paint brushes are very important or essential for a child to be ready for kindergarten, while few kindergarten teachers share these beliefs...[C]ompared with teachers, parents place greater importance on academic skills (e.g., counting, writing, and reading) and prefer classroom practices that are more academically oriented. One reason for this may be that parents perceive that there are specific activities they can do to teach their children school-related basic skills, whereas ways of changing the social maturity or temperamental characteristics of their children are less apparent."

 

AN EXPERIMENT IN NORTH CAROLINA

At the same time that many parents and educators are worrying that some children may be too young to benefit from kindergarten, some states are making provisions for younger children to enter kindergarten after a screening procedure. North Carolina regulations allow all children born on or before October 16 to enter kindergarten. This year, a new policy in North Carolina allows children who pass their fourth birthdays by April 16 to be screened for kindergarten entrance in September. To be eligible for kindergarten, a four-year old must achieve a score in the 99th percentile on tests administered by private psychologists. (Parents pay for the testing.) Both the child and the parents must also meet with local school officials. A spokesperson in the North Carolina Department of Education had no numbers yet regarding the number of children enrolled under these new guidelines. Those numbers should be available in the next few weeks.

In Michigan, in the first quarter of this century, some public schools enrolled classes of children twice each year. Some children entered school in September; other children entered school in February. These half-year classes continued through high school. Perhaps a six-month chronological age range would lend flexibility to today's system.

Now, back to my kindergarten-teacher friend: When I dropped by her kindergarten class this year, she said again, "I forget how young they are in September." When I looked in on her class, I saw a classroom of children who seemed to be actively involved and very happy to be there. They are young, but growing, and learning. Their kindergarten year is just beginning.

I would enjoy hearing what you think is the right age for children to start kindergarten and why. Are you in agreement with your state's regulations? Share your answers with me at akguig@compuserve.com

You might also:

  • Become familiar with the regulations regarding kindergarten entry age in your district and state.
  • Engage in dialogue about kindergarten entry age with other professionals and with parents of kindergartners.
  • Educate parents of incoming kindergartners about school-entry laws which allow parents input regarding when their children begin school.

Article by Anne Guignon
Education World®
Copyright © 1997 Education World

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09/22/1997