Controversy #1: Early Entry to Kindergarten

This is a two-part article series on “Controversies in Kindergarten.” Part I focuses on “Early Entry to Kindergarten.”

In North Carolina, we have dozens of parents who are stressed, frustrated, upset and confused.  They are frantically trying to research their options, get a straight answer, and make decisions that seem life-changing at the time.  What has these poor parents so riled up?  The August 31st birthday deadline for kindergarten entry.  If your child is born on August 31st or before, you can breathe a sigh of relief and know your 5 year old will bounce into a kindergarten class this fall.  Your child may not know his alphabet or numbers, or maybe she won’t know her shapes yet.  But because she’s five, the red carpet will be rolled out for her.

Now, if your child was born on September 1st or later, it’s a whole different ball game.  Even if a child was born at 12:03 a.m. on September 1st, parents must go through an intensive process including IQ and achievement testing to determine if their child is eligible for early entry.  Because the testing can’t occur until AFTER April 16th each year, this is the week parents are finally able to start the early entry process. As a child psychologist who administers and oversees these assessment batteries each spring, I often hear that the school system does NOT make this easy on parents.  The process is almost like completing a small dissertation by the time it’s all over with.

What’s involved with the “early entry” process:

  • Parents have to collect work samples that prove their child’s genius (“See that, that’s his interpretation of the Impressionistic era.  And see, that’s his drawing of the Eiffel Tower.”)
  • They have to garner letters of recommendation (Really, for a four year old?  “Susie’s use of macaroni noodles in her art project was truly inspirational”).
  • Then of course there’s the testing… a child psychologist must administer the IQ and achievement tests required by the school.  The child must score at the 98th percentile or higher.

In NC, the school system does not hide the fact that its bias is that kids should NOT enroll early.  In fact, their website says, “Most children, including most gifted children, will not benefit from early entrance to kindergarten.”  It’s important to consider why the school might discourage early entry: financial, class size, and having to provide gifted services for these kids which enroll early.

Although it’s a current trend to hold your child back so they’ll start kindergarten as one of the oldest and biggest (see article “Controversy #2: Redshirting Kindergarteners”), I disagree with this as a general rule.  I think many kids who are a “fresh five” or about to turn five are completely ready for kindergarten.  In fact, there’s a window where a child is eager to learn and ready for the next developmental leap.  The kids who have passed the tests at my office and go on to early entry to kindergarten THRIVE!

 The advantages of starting your child in kindergarten “early” are often:

• Providing the challenging and enriching curriculum for which a child is ready. If a child is bright and ready for the next stage of learning, it is important to provide that challenging environment at the right time.

• Hitting the “window” for a child’s excitement and readiness. Many times a child who will be turning five in September or October has been anticipating going to kindergarten at age 5. Many of his peers are going to kindergarten this year and it’s helpful to enroll a child when he is excited and ready to go to “big school.”

• Financial – no more paying for expensive daycare and preschool.

• Time – Your child would be taken care of for 6-7 hours a day now leaving more time for parents to work, focus on other siblings, clean the house, get coffee…you get the idea.

The disadvantages of starting your child “early” in kindergarten may be:

• If the child is immature emotionally, socially, or behaviorally, you may be setting your child up for failure or frustration. If your child has demonstrated in preschool or daycare that he is not able to sit and attend to a lesson, get along well with peers, or transition easily from one activity to the next, he may be put in a situation for which he is not ready.  This may set his entire educational experience off to a negative start. (This child may also cause problems for the teacher and the other students who have to deal with his behavior.)

• If the child is not ready academically, again, she will be set up for a very frustrating year. If she is consistently requiring extra attention from the teachers because she does not understand the material, she is likely to develop a negative attitude towards school.

• If for whatever reason, your child is not developmentally ready for kindergarten, you may see other behavioral or emotional problems pop up (i.e., your child acts out because he is not ready for the structure and expectations of kindergarten.)

Early entry to kindergarten is equivalent to a child skipping a grade. Although there is no perfect list of criteria to know whether your child is ready for kindergarten, you want to see that your child:

• Knows her ABC’s and numbers at least 1 – 10. Even better if she can sound out some simple words or recognize some sight words. Also better if she has shown applied math skills (i.e., she has four blocks and you say, “If I gave you two more blocks, how many would you have?” She says, “six.”)

• Has demonstrated the ability to sit for periods of time in a structured setting and attend to a “lesson.”

• Can handle separations from mom and dad well.

• Is able to play well with peers. It’s still normal for children to squabble over toys or fight, but you want to see your child playing well much of the time.

• Has demonstrated the ability to respect adult authority figures (other than you) by following directions and instructions.

• Can handle transitions during the day from one activity to the next.

• Is mature enough to be able to function comfortably with approximately 23 older children throughout a 6-7 hour day.

Although this is a personal decision and parents have to look at their individual child, I encourage parents not to get discouraged by “the system” and assume it’s a dead end.  Yes it takes a little time and money to go through this process.  But if you consider the time and money of another year of preschool or daycare, it’s a great deal if you can go ahead and send your child early.  On a personal note, I have a daughter with an August 20th birthday.  She was a “fresh five” when she started kindergarten.  She has excelled in school and is now a “gifted” third grader.  If she had been born 12 days later, there’s no doubt we would have attempted early entry.  She would have been bored to tears doing one more year in preschool learning the “letter of the week.”  The bottom line is you know your child best.  Follow your parental instinct and don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged by the process.  At the very least, you’ll have great documentation of how wonderful your child is at this age!

Dr. Kristen Wynns is the owner/founder of Wynns Family Psychology, a specialty child/adolescent practice in Cary, NC providing therapy, testing, and custody services for children and teens.  (WynnsFamilyPsychology.com) She is also the founder and creator of “No Wimpy Parenting” SM.  NoWimpyParenting.com is a resource for parents who want to take their power back.  Articles, videos and podcasts, blogs, and a Q/A section for parents provide tips for parents to gain more confidence and competence as parents.  Dr. Wynns also offers phone, Skype, or face to face consultations to provide your family with individualized and customized recommendations and feedback.  Visit NoWimpyParenting.com or call (919) 805-0182 for more information.

 

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