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Parents Consider Advantage of Delaying Kindergarten

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Are 4-year-olds ready for the rigors of the new kindergarten? Should they instead be 5 or even 6? Gone are the days parents would send their children off to kindergarten to learn their ABCs and tie their shoes. Now they're learning to read and write. The change leaves many parents wondering if their child is ready for school. Reporter Joanne Faryon met some parents who struggled with the decision.

Carol Doremus : Well kiddos, I thought we'd have a little respite here and I want to read from one of my favorite winter time stories.

This might look like the kindergarten most of us remember.

Doremus : Sam had never seen snow.

But don't let story-time fool you. Kindergarten has changed.

Doremus : Think about what story you want to tell in today's writer's workshop.

It's only half way through the year and look at what this class is already doing.

Doremus : Kindergarten today feels a whole lot like first grade of yesteryear. I mean that's the truth of it. It's reading, writing and arithmetic.

Carol Doremus should know. She's been teaching kindergarten in the Poway school district for 20 years. She has seen a couple of things in those two decades. Expectations are rising and so is the average age of her class. In this class, many students are already 6 years old.

Tekla Keegan waited an extra year before sending her youngest son Josh to school.

Tekla Keegan: Academically, he wasn't ready. He didn't know his ABCs. He didn't know his numbers. He couldn't recognize them, and it was no question of holding him back.

Keegan has three boys: Michael, Kade and Joshua. And they all started kindergarten at different ages – Kade when he was just 4.

Keegan: My husband still worries about him, his size, in the future, sports. My husband did a lot of sports. How's he going to do in sports and he worries about him when you get to middle school and high school being small and being picked on.

This never used to be a problem. Most kids started school at 5, and how they did academically didn't matter much. But now, with so much riding on standardized tests, there's a lot of pressure on principals and teachers. Some parents are keeping their kids out of school an extra year so they can handle the rigors of kindergarten. It's called red-shirting. A term borrowed from college sports, when an athlete would be kept out of varsity for a year, with the hope he would be bigger and better when he was a little older.

The most comprehensive study on the issue was done about a decade ago. The National Center for Education Statistics found that nine percent of kids are red-shirted. More boys than girls are held back and most of them had birthdays in the second half of the year.

It just may be many of those parents paid attention to another study, this one by the National Center for Early Development and Learning. In its survey, 48 percent of teachers felt their students weren't ready for the kindergarten curriculum.

Cathi Armitage: It sure doesn't hurt to have that year of maturity and that year of maturity happens academically, emotionally, physically and socially too, especially when you get into middle school or high school.

Cathi Armitage says she didn't try to give her four kids an edge by waiting to send them to kindergarten. She wanted to make sure they were ready. At her school in Rancho Penasquitos, they call it “the gift of time.”

Armitage: The term for me “holding your kids back” was such a negative connotation that there was something wrong with my child. I felt it was a positive experience.

Cathi's four children range in age from 8 to 18. Her oldest Luke is in 12th grade and started kindergarten when he was almost 6. She says he was a confident boy in elementary school, but his age never gave him an advantage in middle school or high school.

A University of Southern California study found that while there may be some advantages of red-shirting in early grades, the practice does not create any long-term advantages for students. Research shows there are other myths about early childhood development. Like the one about boys lagging behind girls.

Gedeon Deak, UCSD Professor: The idea that girls are six months ahead of boys is simply not supported by the research literature. All parents and teachers have folk beliefs about gender differences about cognitive and academic abilities. If you look at the research literature where boys and girls are being compared on controlled tests, you find mostly no significant differences between boys and girls.

Yet boys are held back from kindergarten more than girls. And myth number two: Age can predict academic performance. Research shows vocabulary is actually a better predictor for academic performance.

So why are schools like this one in the Poway school district encouraging parents to give their children the “gift of time”? Wendy Smith Rogers is principal at Sunset Elementary School.

Wendy Smith Rogers: Especially living in a district such as ours it is very competitive. We continue to read in the papers about the honors that we receive, and the point is in order to play on a high school football team you have to be exceptional, good isn't good enough – let alone academics, scholarships and so on.

Waiting a year is so popular in this suburb the school district has a pre-kindergarten program for children with late birthdays.

Carol Dremus: What I can say is that it has made kindergarten first grade, second grade, easier, less stressful, more fun, they have more confidence.

Wendy Smith Rogers: What about middle school what about high school and college? If you have a 13 year old girl do you want her on a high school campus with 18 year old boys? Do you want her to be the first one driving or driving around with a bunch of 16 year olds? In college you are competing nationally and so do you want your child with an October birthday competing with those who are 10 months older than he or she is.

Professor Deak has a few words of caution for parents when deciding whether waiting is the right choice.

Gedeon Deak: You could wait until they're 8 or 10 and then start them in kindergarten. You know the question about waiting: What are they doing instead? We don't want to be completely conservative in waiting for children to have mastered all of the skills before we put them in the environment designed to teach them the skills.


California is one of five states that allows children as young as 4 to begin kindergarten. Many teachers, like Carol Doremus, who you saw in the story, would like to see that changed. They propose a cutoff date for turning 5 in August or September. There have been bills supporting the idea in the past; but so far, none have made it into law.

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