I’ve recently been learning about investing, and one of the variables that allows the greatest return is time. Allowing time for your stocks or real estate to grow is where the magic happens, and you see your money grow exponentially. I’m struck by how true this is of parenting as well. As parents, we are in this for the long game. We will see the dividends of our efforts payoff as they grow and mature. If we made the investment in our children, it is exponentially rewarding when they become adults. However, much of this parenting journey is filled with a multitude of decisions where the results are often not revealed until time has passed. This leaves us parents with a lot of time to doubt, wonder, hope, and pray that those decisions are the right ones. One of the greatest assets to a parent is having someone to consult with who’s been there and has had the benefit of time to weigh the decisions they made. As a parent who has two children who have graduated High School and two that are still school age, I’ve had many years of reevaluating our school decisions and adjusting them to meet each child’s needs, and lots of time to reflect on our parenting decisions. I write this so that you can learn from my mistakes and benefit from the lessons I learned the hard way.
First and foremost, I want to help give you confidence in making one of the most nerve-racking decisions a parent faces… When should my child start Kindergarten? Many of you will not even give this decision a second thought, “It’s when my child turns five.” Several of you though, whether you’re enrolling in public school or homeschooling, might be agonizing over this question as Fall is fast approaching.
When it came time for our first son to go to school, we didn’t give it much thought if he was ready at age five, though there were many fears about him doing well at school. Looking back, I wish I had someone to help us with the knowledge of how to set him up for success.
He was a very active child that hated preschool, had no interest in reading, and had to be constantly redirected to focus on most tasks that we set before him. I didn’t know what ADD looked like in a young child and how other children who didn’t have ADD behaved at five. I assumed this was what every five year old boy was like. My husband often said, “all boys hate school, it’s normal.” But had we waited and given him a year to mature, he would have avoided two years of tears, frustration, and ultimately the negative self-image that resulted. School was not working for him and he was significantly behind. He noticed the difference between his performance and his peers’. He would often verbalize how much he hated school and how stupid he was. This was crushing to us, and we knew something needed to change in order to help him. So, with no prior experience I started homeschooling him in the second grade, and I learned as we went. I allowed him time to go at his own pace, and went from tears while reading beginner books to him reading 5th grade level books on his own in only 2 years!
I learned a valuable lesson through that experience; to pay attention to the individual needs of each child, and not to compare them to others. Everyone I knew at the time was sending their five year olds to school. Even though his birthday was in May, and we suspected he wasn’t ready to start school we figured it would all work out in school. When it was time to enroll our third child, who had a summer birthday, we happily waited and kept him home for another year. He is now in his sophomore year, and I have been grateful for that decision every year. His confidence and maturity has been apparent all throughout his schooling, and his start to school much better than his older brother’s.
As an elementary school teacher for the past six years, I don’t remember a single conversation about a child who started school later and was at a disadvantage. More often than not, it’s the opposite that is noted. Students are typically behind for two reasons; they haven’t had enough exposure to the material, or they need time developmentally to master what they are learning. I have noticed for years that the majority of my students who struggled in class were my youngest students. However, it didn’t solidify in my mind as a problem of our system until this summer. I realized that six of my fourteen summer school students had summer birthdays and two had birthdays in May. These students were all average learners without special needs. They were in summer school because they were behind their peers and struggling with grade level material. Some of them had ADD, but most of them did not. The common variable for half of these students is their late birthdays. These were bright children who were very capable, but most of them didn’t like school or feel that they were not “good” at school.
If you aren’t in the education world, you might not be aware of how curriculum expectations have increased over the past several years. Our learning standards have shifted reading and mathematics by almost a whole year. What students were learning in third grade, they are now learning in second. What they were doing in first grade, they are now doing in kindergarten. It is a drastic change in expectations from the half-day kindergarten start to school that many of us had. Subsequently, if you are in the homeschool community it can be tempting to agonize over where your child is academically. Looking for a road map for your child’s education, you look around and compare your child’s learning track with families whose children are learning Latin, memorizing whole excerpts from books, and have already started community college at fourteen. Can children learn this much, and this quickly? Sure they can! But should that be an expectation of them? I don’t believe that it should. Helping each child to learn at their own capacity should be the goal.
Research has shown that younger students are at a disadvantage, but that they usually catch up by third or fourth grade. I would ask: Even when they do catch up, what effect did struggling from kindergarten through third grade have on them? Forgotten is the understanding that sometimes five year olds need a nap. That it is just as important developmentally to run around and engage in imaginative play as it is to learn letters and string them together to make words.
Whether you’re Homeschooling or sending your child to school, let me propose that you use these points below as criteria other than the September 1 birthday cut off to determine if you should start your five year old in Kindergarten this year.
- Is your child regularly going through a full day without napping or having meltdowns from exhaustion at the end of the day? (Homeschoolers can still allow for naps, and some schools still implement naps, so do your research!)
- Are they crying from separation from you when you leave them at preschool, their class at church, or at daycare?
- Do they not like preschool and ask to stay home often?
- Can they follow simple directions and stay seated for 10-20 minutes at a time?
- Do they know the basic colors and shapes? Can they recognize the letters in the alphabet and numbers 1-10?
- Can they sit and enjoy reading 10 minutes with you?
May I suggest that if your child’s birthday is up to six months before the cut off date, and they are not meeting some of the above criteria, it might be significantly beneficial to wait to start them in Kindergarten? If you are sending them to school, imagine for a minute that instead of being at the bottom of their class developmentally, your child could be at the top. What if they had the extra time to spend with you learning these skills at home? What if they were more coordinated, instead of less coordinated in sports than their peers? What if when they go off to college they have had more time to develop critical reasoning skills? Six months makes a tremendous difference in child development. It is easiest to see in infants and toddlers, but is still true in young children through adolescence.
As a parent and a teacher, my goal is to help my students be confident in their abilities and excited about learning. Ultimately those qualities are what will lead to success, not the speed in which they can perform academically. Setting your child up for success in the beginning is going to pay off exponentially throughout their schooling. Allowing them more time might be one of the sweetest gifts you give them. Take a deep breath and be confident in going at your child’s pace. They will end up where they need to go, and you can make the journey enjoyable for you and them.
Certified Parent Coach
Jennifer has been blessed to be married for 23 years, and to have four children. She has taught and trained children for the last twenty years as a mom, homeschool teacher, and an elementary teacher. As a licensed Life Coach she works to identify the needs of struggling children and overwhelmed parents. She walks alongside parents with strategies that facilitate peace and success in the home and school. Working through difficult challenges in her own family, of ADD, Dyslexia, Anxiety, and Depression, have given her a reliance on God and the opportunity to experience what works and what doesn’t.