Ah, the question that all parents ask: do I send my four going on five year old to kindergarten this year or next year? I was faced with this predicament last year with my then four year old daughter.
I had recently attended a homeschool convention in our area and was making preparations for the next school year. I get a little eager when it comes to planning. But the trouble for me was deciding on curriculum. There is a pretty big difference between what I deem appropriate for preschool and for kindergarten.
In my opinion, preschool is more relaxed and the most important thing is reading to my little ones, exploring, playing and talking to them about what they see and experience. In fact, I probably don’t “do” preschool the way a lot of other moms might. And I’m okay with that. My philosophy aligns with the adage that “play is the work of a child” (Maria Montessori). But, I digress, my education philosophies can be saved for another post.
Kindergarten is still a very playful and exploratory stage. However, learning to read and beginning to see math formally becomes important. I researched which curriculum I wanted to use and found a few that I really liked. I thought that they would be great for us to work through. Then it dawned on me… do I really need all this now?
My daughter is super smart. I know she wants to start to learn how to read. I think she would enjoy doing school. But there was still something in me that was asking if she was really ready. I found out that in our state (you can find your state’s cutoff date here), children who turn five after January 1st may go to kindergarten the following September. My daughter’s birthday is at the end of January so that would make her one of the oldest if she were to go to public school. Coincidentally, the state where I went to kindergarten, the rule was that children must be five on or before September 1st the year they begin kindergarten. My birthday is at the end of September, so I was one of the oldest kids in my class. By the time I was in high school I didn’t like being the oldest. I felt that I was behind the other kids, and that I should be smarter because I was older. I really let the age thing bother me; I carried that through college as I bounced from major to major. I thought that I was “running out of time” and that I was “too old” to still be in school (crazy, I know, but I let society dictate what I was supposed to be doing and that I didn’t “measure up”).
My experience influenced my thoughts about why I wanted to put my daughter in kindergarten “early.” I didn’t want her to compare herself to other kids her age and think that she wasn’t smart enough because she was a grade behind. I talked to my mom about whether she had a choice to start me “early” or not. The conversation was enlightening: she did have a choice and she was considering sending me when I was four about to be five. She had talked to a few other moms and found out that those who sent their child to kindergarten “early” regretted it. Some kids even repeated kindergarten. The moms who waited were glad. The decision came down to maturity.
One teeny tiny year makes a big difference in maturity between a four and five year old. Attention span, self control, and emotional and social development change much in these years. A child is usually considered a “big kid” at five years old. They are showing greater independence and they begin to gain better control of their emotions.
It makes sense. Why push your child when they are not emotionally ready? I continued this conversation with my mother in law. She was saying the exact same things. I talked with friends who have kids who are only a year ahead of my daughter. They agreed with the maturity issue.
Finally, my hubby and I decided that we would wait. We are going with the state’s cutoff date. We don’t see the need to push our daughter at this stage in the game. It doesn’t mean that we won’t teach her certain things because it’s at a different grade level. It just means that childhood is such a short period of time. This is the time where we want to foster a love of learning. We want to make learning as natural as possible. And for us, a kindergarten curriculum at age four is simply too much.
Feel free to weigh in, what was your deciding factor for starting your child in kindergarten and at what age?