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Rigorous Kindergarten Curriculum has Some Questioning Child’s Readiness

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Remember Kindergarten.   Learning to use scissors, reciting your abc's, a quiet nap on your blue foam mat. Well, that's all ancient history now. Kindergarten today is more about academics then play-time. And that has many parents wondering whether the average five year old is ready or not. KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon explains.

Doremus: And I want to read one of my all time favorite winter time stories

This may sound like the kindergarten most of us remember, but don't let story time fool you. Kindergarten has changed.

Just ask teacher Carol Doremus who's been teaching in the Poway school district for 20 years.

Doremus: Kindergarten today feels a whole lot like first grade of yesteryear.  I mean that's the truth of it.

Doremus says academic expectations are rising and so is the average age of her kindergarten class. Many of her students are already six years old. They've been red-shirted. That's the buzzword for kids who are held out of kindergarten for a year, even though they're old enough to go.

The term comes from college sports. Athletes are sidelined for a year to extend their eligibility, assuming the extra year will make them bigger and better.

Keegan: Nine, ten, big fat hen. Very good.

That's five year old Joshua Keegan reading at home with his mother. Joshua has two older brothers. One who began kindergarten when he was five, the other when he was four. But Joshua's mother Tekla, wants Josh to wait another year before he goes to Kindergarten.

Keegan: Academically he wasn't ready. He didn't know his abc's, he didn't know his numbers, couldn't recognize them. And there was no question of holding him back.

Cathi Armitage lives across the street from the Keegans. She has four children. Three of the four waited an extra year before they started school.

Armitage: It sure doesn't hurt to have that extra year of maturity. And that year of maturity happens academically, and physically and emotionally and socially too. Especially when you get up into middle school an high school.

The National Center for Education Statistics did a comprehensive study into red-shirting about a decade ago. It found that one out of 10 students is held back. And most of them are boys with late summer of early fall birthdays. In fact, most of the studies into this issue find that boys are often held back more than girls. UC San Diego Professor Gedeon Deak says that maybe because of a common folk belief boys lag behind girls. Although there is very little evidence of that in the research literature. Deak says age and gender aren't necessarily the best reasons to delay kindergarten.

Deak: You could wait until they're eight or ten, and then start them in Kindergarten. The question about waiting is what are they doing instead. We don't want to be overly conservative in waiting until children have already mastered the skills before putting them in the environment designed to teach them the skills.

Cathi Armitgae, who held three of her kids back says she doesn't believe waiting an extra year gave them an academic advantage. But it did make he kids a little more confident.

Armitage: The term holding your kids back was there was something wrong with my child, it had such a negative connotation. Where I felt it was a positive experience.

Doremus: Going sledding. Let’s get a pencil and write that.

Teacher Carol Doremus says she can't say whether waiting an extra year will make a difference in a child's long-term academic career, but she says it may make life a little easier for some kids, given the rigorous of the new kindergarten.

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

There are two boys in this class exactly 12 months apart. And the research shows that by the time they get to third grade, their age will have very little to do with how well they don in kindergarten.

For KPBS, I'm Joanne Faryon.

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