To kindergarten or not to kindergarten? That is a question for many parents with children who have birthdays on the months immediately preceding the cutoff date. In a time when expectations of young children are increasing, and kindergarten in Oregon is now full-day, families are choosing to delay entry into the formal school system. While it is a decision that affects your child’s trajectory, it’s also one that should be made with thoughtful consideration of who your child is today.
With a June birthday, our son was in that bubble, and when it came time to enter elementary school, we did our homework to help us determine if the timing was right for him. It was a thoughtful process with many factors to consider beyond age and birth month. The biggest thing that helped us determine when our son should enter kindergarten was considering his learning environment.
Talk to your child’s current teacher or care provider. While we know our children inside and out, teachers know our children in the classroom setting. They know how they respond in social situations as well as learning environments. Ask about strengths and challenges and what type of learner they observe your child to be. Determine how your child responds to transitions and disruptions to the schedule. You chose the daycare/preschool for a reason, so trust the perspective of the adults who have spent their days getting to know your child.
Attend kindergarten round-up and let the school know about your situation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the principal; remember, you are taking the first step in establishing a long term relationship. If possible, set up a meeting with a kindergarten teacher to see a classroom in action. View the environment from your child’s eyes; will it be soothing or overwhelming? How many transitions in a given day? Is there unstructured free play? Understand the schedule and imagine your child going through it.
The most valuable thing we did was talk to current families at the elementary school. Through friends of friends, we connected with parents of other children with summer birthdays, and parents of active, energetic boys (knowing the personality of our own son). We spoke to parents of both kindergartners and first graders. We learned about the routine from their viewpoint, and they shared with us their kids’ moods at the end of the day, their frustrations, and joys. They told us what they felt the school did really well to support their children, and we talked academics, expectations, and friendships.
At the end of the day, our son’s academic readiness told us he would be well-suited to enter kindergarten at age five, however we chose to consider his social readiness, too. That ultimately led us to the decision to hold him back until he was six. He is now exactly where he should be, and there is not a week that goes by that we aren’t glad we gave him that extra year. He is truly one among his peers. Academically he is striving, reading at an appropriate grade level, and can complete assignments without struggle. We are grateful for his academic strengths because it allows him to focus on social skills and to navigate the waters of a structured classroom with stricter expectations. He still has days when he comes home and collapses into a puddle, however they are few and far between. Most days he goes on about his friends and which classroom job he has, yet he never remarks about being older than the others.
When we were going through the decision-making process someone pointed out that by waiting an additional year to start kindergarten, we’d be setting the stage to have an eighteen-year-old in our house for a year. I recognize that will bring about decisions of a different nature somewhere down the road. For now, I see him delight in his friendships, stretch himself academically, and grasp at any independence he is offered. I believe I will be grateful for that extra year. Another year just to be.