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Summer Birthdays and When to Start Kindergarten

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Summer Birthdays and When to Start Kindergarten

My daughter’s birthday is August 31st – the absolute last day for a child to be old enough (5 years) to start school. Since the day she was born, I have been bombarded with the question, “Oh my goodness…what are you going to do about school?” (i.e. hold her back a year or send her to school a day after she turns 5 – knowing she will be the youngest child in her entire class).

So, intead of trying to make an uneducated decision on my own, I decided to research the topic and ask the experts what they have to say about the impact it makes (or doesn’t make) if a child is old vs. young for their grade. Here is what I found:

In the best-selling book on success, The Outliers, an entire chapter is dedicated to the older kid vs. younger kid debate. Author Malcolm Gladwell found that about 16 of the 21 young men on European professional sports teams were born in the first 3 months of the qualifying season – which made them all the older kids on the sports teams.

Why? Because when kids are young, they are often labeled (both athletically and academically) as either an average kid or a ‘gifted’, ‘talented’ or ‘slightly better’ than the rest. The older kids have a better chance of being labeled ‘better’ so they get special attention, better classes, better training and more support from a very young age. This has a ripple effect which turns them into professionals, sends them to better universities and ultimately better paying jobs.

Many parents say, “I’ll just get my kids tested and let the schools tell me if they are ready for kindergarten or not.” In their best-selling book Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman conducted extensive research on Kindergarteners and the push to have young students tested for Gifted and Talented programs. First, they found that “all tests are all astonishingly ineffective predictors of a young child’s academic success.” In addition to this, all of the 20 largest school districts in the country who test Kindergarteners for their intelligence do not re-test the students in third or fifth grade. Bronson and Merryman found that 73% of the kids labeled “gifted” in Kindergarten did not meet those qualifications when re-tested in third grade.

School is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, a journey, an adventure. Far too often the mentality is get your kids through school quickly. Only troubled kids get held back. Why?

Most parents I have talked to about this issue have primarily focused on how their children will do the first few years of school. But I am more concerned about the long haul. A few more questions I asked myself which helped me make my decision to give my children an extra year before starting Kindergarten:
* I will save a lot of money not having to pay for pre-school if I send my kids to Kindergarten early. But by holding them back, I have one extra year to save for college on the back end. And which is more expensive: pre-school or college?
* Academically my kids might be OK being the youngest in their class, but how will my daughter handle pressures from peers and boyfriends when she is 15 and the other kids are 16? Will the chances of them being bullied increase or decrease if they are older for their class?
* If my kids are the last to get their driver’s license, do I want them being a passenger in a car with a teenager I don’t know or trust, or would I feel safer if my kids had the opportunity to be the driver and not the passenger?
* Do I want my kids going to college only weeks after their 18th birthday?

Naomi Schafer, early childhood specialist, says, “Typically older students are more successful in school because they can do many things better that the teachers notice and classify as more intelligent: they can follow directions better and they have more knowledge going into the school year. Often if a child is noticed early for their intelligence (often it is only perceived higher because they are older and have better self-control) they will be tracked with the higher achieving students. By being labeled so, they will be challenged more thus becoming more intelligent than many of the students in groups working at a slower rate. Every passing year they get additional opportunities because, as they have mastered previous materials through extra practice and challenges.”

And to answer the question What if my daughter is bored and not challenged enough by being held back? It is my job as a parent to keep her stimulated and hungry for knowledge – not the school’s. We are the best teachers our kids will ever have – and we must never forget that.

Kate Raidt Kate Raidt is author of The Million-Dollar Parent: How to Have a Successful Career While Keeping Family a Top Priority and founder of advantage4parents.com. She is also an alumnus of the Southwestern Company's summer work program. Kate is also the mother of two young children.
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