Kindergarten can be one of the most stressful decisions a family is thrust into making, typically complete with much internal dialogue, tons of reading, and plenty of advice seeking. Is my daughter or son ready, should I hold them back, she's not emotionally there, will they get picked on, are they mature enough, I don't want them to be the last one driving, he'll be bigger for football, she doesn't quite seem ready. Those are all other's words. Words I've read, words that have come up in countless discussions. There is no formula, age cut off, or magical red shirting to give a child the perfect school experience. We simply have to give a look at the whole child and make a decision and watch how the path leads from there.
Being an elementary school teacher and working right up until giving birth in September, Kindergarten cut off dates were at the forefront of my mind. While I thought a third week of September due date was enough of a cushion to not have to worry about Kindergarten cut offs, I remember telling my Doctor when I was a week late, this baby has to be out before October 1st. My oldest daughter was born, on the cut off day for our school district. On THE day, people. One may assume my mind was made up in utero, but truly it wasn't, I pinky swear promise. I'm also going to throw into the mix right now, I am the product of starting Kindergarten at four, graduating at 17, and escaping unscathed to tell about it.
While initially I wanted to share an anecdotal account of my 8 year old's Kindergarten experience, I have decided to list out what we considered when we made the decision to send her to school at four. Please note, she is now ending her third grade school year, headed to fourth grade. Gulp. While her overall school success has yet to be determined, being a few years out I know we made the right decision at this point and time.
Saying Yes To Kindergarten at 4:
Sj's oral language developed consistently and on par with the majority of her peers. What I believe set her apart was the linguistic acquisition of her vocabulary and articulation. She could carry on a conversation at two, having a very short window of what I would consider to be "baby language". Her articulation also gave us a deeper understanding of how she was feeling, allowing moments where other children may shut down more easily not being able to verbalize how they were feeling, she could tell us. This was huge for us, it allowed us to feel like emotionally she was ready.
Sj was drawn to fine motor skill activities from a young age as well. By two she was coloring, painting, drawing, cutting, pasting with ease. She was drawn to art. At preschool she was always engaged by craft projects and showed consistent ability to focus at the task on hand.
Her experience at preschool for two years was always an easy transition. She loved school and would've gone five days a week if we sent her. We never saw huge gaps in her ability to "keep up" with her older classmates. She easily worked in groups, with partners, and on her own. She was thriving in preschool, having experiences that she was ready for, that I wouldn't of been able to give her in our home. Our conferences with her experienced teachers instilled in us that she was at the right place in her development.
We felt drawn to seek out a half time Kindergarten experience. With Sj being on the younger end of the spectrum, I felt like full time Kindergarten would've been a difficult transition for her. Plus half time Kindergarten still provided us with time to take art, dance, or gymnastics classes. We could still do afternoon activities like go to the Zoo and Natural History Museum, we still had playdates. While I can't exactly recall when she stopped napping, I can almost guarantee she was comfortably resting with a few naps per week, at the age of four. When she turned five, there were no more naps. I had a vastly different experience with my youngest, that stopped napping at two, but I'll save that for her Kindergarten story.
All signs pointed to go. We had conversations with our pediatrician, with her preschool teachers, and I chatted with my friends that taught Kindergarten. I read many view points and didn't find huge gaps that convinced me to hold back for a year. I also knew if the decision turned out to be a total disaster, we could put her back in a private preschool until the following year. We decided to move forward with our decision to send her to a public, five days a week, part time Kindergarten.
Concerns About Sending My 4 Year Old To Kindergarten:
My biggest overall concern was that she wouldn't be ready to handle school everyday. I didn't know if the experience would take a toll on her. After visiting her new school, I was worried that Kindergarten felt so down to business and that play based Kindergarten was extinct in public schools. Here's a post I wrote about her first day of school, Where Did Sissy Go?
Most of Sj's preschool friends were boys. I distinctly noticed that her gross motor skills were not even close to where her male counterparts were at that age. While she would be off drawing pictures at playgroup, her boy friends were figuring out how to climb on top of the countertop. I didn't think this would be a huge factor in her Kindergarten experience. She was also dancing ballet and taking a gymnastics class and doing just fine keeping up. By no means was she excelling at gymnastics, but it was a positive experience for her.
Three years later:
Sj is off to fourth grade next year. My mind hesitates when I say fourth grade, as fourth grade seems way too grown up to me. How can my first born be headed to Upper Elementary school, just two years away from middle school... Her Lower Elementary school experience has overall been very positive. Sj is reading and writing above grade level. She has a deep appreciation for literature and enjoys writing her own short stories and poetry. Just this year she has received advanced grades in those subject areas. Emotionally she seems to be at par with her girlfriends, I don't think any of her teachers would even know that she was the youngest in her grade. She's a leader in her classroom and often is allowed to give lessons to younger classmates. She is very well organized and takes pride in her schoolwork. Homework is not a battle, she completes a weekly packet days in advance (a trait she does not get from her parents, we are procrastinators through and through). She can hang with the best of them and I have to remind myself she is younger, sometimes almost a year younger than her fellow classmates. We've also had the good fortune for her to attend a school that has multi-age classrooms (1-3 and 4-5), which allows learning to happen at the level that is needed. With someone like Sj and her ability to focus, it has given her the opportunity to work most often above the "middle" where one would anticipate she should be working. We haven't had a completely glowing, stellar elementary school experience. There's been friendship drama and lots of emotional maturity that we've had to really process through. Honestly, I don't think there is any escaping the ups and downs that come with forming friendships. So is life, in my opinion.
Overall I feel confident in our decision to allow our oldest to start school at four. Frankly I find myself biting my tongue when I hear outrageous factors coming into play when a parent is deciding if their child is ready to take on Kindergarten. Remember that, I don't want her to be the last kid in her class to be driving comment? That mom was completely serious and I was completely floored.
My strongest advice is talk to other parents, talk to your pediatrician, talk to family members, read all perspectives, talk to the preschool teachers, talk to teachers your child may have had in extracurricular activities. Recognize your child for their strengths and weaknesses and make a decision. There will always be options if the decision you have come to was not perfect. None of us are perfect and can predict a child's experience. Be kind to yourself and always put your child's needs first.
Related: My youngest will have the exact opposite experience. She missed the Kindergarten cutoff, having a December birthday. She'll be the oldest in her class, 10 months older than Sj is at the same grade. She's already reading and writing in preschool and I wish quite often she could be in Kindergarten now. Her story will be told, soon enough.