At 5 years old, most children are ready to begin kindergarten. They can handle organized activities, manage themselves in a classroom setting and are prepared to make new friends and take on the challenge of school.
The Michigan Department of Education requires that students must be 5 years old by Sept. 1 in order to start kindergarten. For children who are close to that deadline or who turn 5 just after, parents face the decision of choosing a kindergarten for their kids – or waiting a year.
Waiting a year would make them the older students in the classroom. There are pros and cons on delaying kindergarten. Two metro Detroit early childhood education experts weigh in on when to start kindergarten – and when to wait.
Starting school early
Denise Deane is a former admissions adviser from Grosse Pointe Farms. She’s served several local schools, guiding parents of elementary school-aged children through the admissions process and answering the age-old question: when to start kindergarten. She says there are several reasons to send children to kindergarten early, but the foremost is academics. Children entering kindergarten will be challenged in a new way.
“Parents need to look at the program as a whole. It needs to meet the needs of children academically,” Deane says. “If they look at the program and it’s just more preschool stuff and the child is ready for more, (then) they don’t want them to be in the program that just repeats more of what they already know.
“That wouldn’t be a program that stimulates curiosity, wonderment and exploration. It isn’t going to benefit the child.”
Steve Gay, program coordinator for Macomb Community Action Head Start Birth to Five Program, says starting kindergarten early can teach kids how to interact with peers at different ages and stages.
“In some other countries and areas, they have mixed-grade classrooms,” says Gay. He points to the example of split-grade classrooms, which have students at varying levels and grades taught by one teacher. “It teaches them how we deal with people in life.”
Gay says it’s more important that parents and teachers examine the child’s developmental age rather than going off chronological age in all cases. He says some children have the tools to succeed earlier than others.
While some kids are ready early on, Gay says other kindergartners are pushed into school because the calendar says it is time – and they just aren’t there yet.
“I, personally, was held back. I was 4-and-half years old and I went to kindergarten for a month, and then the teachers and my parents realized I wasn’t ready,” Gay says.
He recalls that drop-offs each morning were unbearable for everyone involved, and he just wasn’t ready to participate in a classroom environment. He says his parents waited a year before trying again, and it was the complete opposite experience. “Everything was fine.”
In fact, delaying or “redshirting” kindergarten is better for some kids.
Deane says the social-emotional development of a child is an important factor. It isn’t always the kindergarten teachers who catch this, she says, but rather teachers in fourth of fifth grade down the road who notice a difference – one that’s directly connected to the ages of the children.
“Sometimes younger children handle the academic side of things just fine, but socially, they are just a little off from their peers,” Deane says. “The older children in the class are often more socially adept at handling life situations and solving conflict.”
Deane says the interpersonal relationships will not just impact the students in school but also later in life.
“If you have difficulty with personal relationships, you are really at a disadvantage. The EIQ, or the emotional intelligence, plays such a factor in someone’s success as a human being,” Deane explains. “It impacts how you feel about yourself, the way you handle groups and the projects you want to tackle.”
Gay adds that the older children in the classrooms often take on a larger role.
“The oldest get to learn to be leaders and learn those skills,” he says.
Which choice is right for you?
There are positive and negative reasons for delaying the start of kindergarten. Deane and Gay agree that teacher and parent conversations are important to the process.
“Ultimately, it depends on each child and the teacher,” Gay says. “The teachers know group learning. The two of you are working in a partnership. Together, you must decide if this is the time or whether another year would make a difference.”
He says typically, preschools can evaluate students and determine if they are socially and emotionally ready for this next step – or if they need a little more time preparing for kindergarten. Deane adds that school administrators and teachers can see if a student is ready for a program through observation and conversation.
“There has to be a partnership with the teaching staff, the school psychologist or anyone who can talk about the program and what kind of child is successful,” Deane says. “If there is any question, the parents and the school need to be very open and transparent.
“It may mean altering their trajectory for the next few years and they may not necessarily move directly to the next grade.”
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.