When should your child begin kindergarten?
In Alberta, any education before the age of six years (grade 1) is optional. Most elementary schools have a kindergarten program to meet children’s needs and the general consensus is that the child is four years old by the end of February in order to register for the next year. Assuming that you choose to register your child in a kindergarten program, if your child’s birthday falls on or close to the cut-off date, you may find yourself in a dilemma.
For example, if the birthday is in February, you may choose to begin the year having the youngest student in the class, or, delay entrance to kindergarten, starting the following year when your child will be the oldest in the class. In some cases, you may feel as though your child is academically and socially advanced and desire to start your child in kindergarten earlier than the recommended date. Investigating studies done with children who had delayed and those who had early starts to kindergarten, as well as evaluating your own child’s readiness, will help you make a decision. Parents who feel that their child is socially, emotionally or otherwise unprepared may delay entrance into kindergarten, often with supporting advice from educators.
Why developmentally overload a child instead of allowing the skills to develop at the same rate as the brain? Some Calgary schools cater specifically to parents who feel their children would benefit from such an approach. Using brain-based research, these educators never ask for more than their young charges are ready to achieve (such as letter awareness) until such development is evident.
On the other hand, some parents feel their child is very advanced developmentally for his/her age and requires further stimulation. These parents may opt to start their child in kindergarten early and hold high expectations for learning throughout the school years.
What does the research show? According to the American National Association of School Psychologists-delaying entrance has not improved standardized test scores in reading, writing, and math. While the youngest students in kindergarten do score lower, that difference usually disappears by grade 3. Four to twelve years later, delayed entrance students were no better academically, socially or athletically than their peers. Students one year too old for a grade were more likely to drop out of school as adolescents. Academic, athletic and social skills of students who entered kindergarten early were at least as great as other children’s. And finally, there is no reason to believe that early starting students would have done better if they had waited until the recommended age.
A 2004 Quebec study found that kindergarten and grade 2 teachers of early entrants noted some socio-emotional problems for boys and the youngest children, but no substantial difference between those who entered school early and the regular admissions students. It seems as though current studies do not support delayed entrance to kindergarten, but the reality is that it depends on you and your child. Most teachers realize that age does not determine development and allow for this differentiation when planning their program.
Ensure your involvement in your child’s education by discussing with the teacher how kindergarten will be tailored to meet your child’s individual needs and skills, whether advanced or not. Request a formal assessment for educational disability or for giftedness and guarantee individualized attention for your child. Become a volunteer at your child’s school and familiarize yourself with the curriculum so that you will be able to find opportunities within your community to support the classroom learning. These are a few ways to build positive early school experiences for your child. For more information about kindergarten visit www.education.gov.ab.ca.