Waiting an Extra Year Before Kindergarten
What Educators Had to Say
Out of the 3 educators I consulted, 2 strongly recommended waiting regardless of the student, and 1 suggested we send based on academic readiness. The director of a well-regarded preschool in our area told me that she recommended waiting a year because "everyone knows the school year starts in September" across the country and many parents in those districts hold back kids with summer birthdays, so our children would potentially be 18 months younger than other students their year. This made the decision a lot easier for me because I went to elementary school in New Jersey, where the cutoff was in the fall. That means that if we lived in my old district, my kids would automatically be part of the next year's class.
Another preschool director, who knew my children, suggested that I start my kids in kindergarten according to the school district's schedule because she felt they were academically ready. But my concern, and the concern of all the parents I've spoken with on the matter, is social and emotional readiness. She didn't have any general thoughts to share on the matter.
I also spoke with a family member who taught 3rd grade boys at a private school in Massachusetts, and runs their reading program. I shared with her my concerns that an extra year might remove the academic challenges of kindergarten that would otherwise teach my kids the importance of striving to achieve. Her take was that it's much easier to seek out enrichment opportunities than to try and bolster a kid who is not up to speed yet.
One Pediatrician's View
I put quite a bit of stock in what our pediatrician says. As a medical professional, she is practical and at the same time, sensitive to the specific circumstances of each family. She also has the benefit of seeing the impact of decisions on her patients over time, since many of them are with her for 18 years or longer. She made the same point as the first preschool director about September birthdays, and added that in her opinion, no 4.5 year old is ready for a full-time job, and she thinks that's what kindergarten is these days in our area.
She went on to make an interesting point that there is a year around 3rd grade when half the boys start moving onto more grown up interests (e.g. football) and the other half is still into imaginative play (e.g. superheroes). She said that this can be a difficult period of time regardless, but more so if you're stuck in it for an extra year or year and a half. In her experience, almost all her patients with December birthdays wait, all the boys and half of the girls with November birthdays wait, half of the boys and nearly all the girls with October birthdays start, and pretty much all kids with September birthdays start.
She also noted that based on what parents told her, the only ones who wound up regretting their decision were those who didn't wait a year. She added that it's really hard to change your mind once you're in the public school system here because they almost never make kids repeat a year in elementary school for academic reasons, and won't do it for social or emotional reasons. You would essentially have to pull the kid out of public school for a year, repeat in private school, and then re-enroll in public.
The Parents' Perspective
There was a post about this topic on our school district's Facebook group that is run by parents. Many opinions were provided. A pediatrician and a kindergarten teacher both said to wait a year. The parents were divided, with most being happy no matter the decision they made, and one or two regretting not waiting a year. I have also spoken with parents in the area, and almost all were happy with their decisions, whether they waited or not. One mom gave her twins with October birthdays an extra year, but sent her oldest son who has a September birthday. In hindsight, she says she would have waited with her oldest as well because even though he's in double advanced math for his year, she would have liked more time for his maturity to grow.
So there you have it ... opinions from the educational, medical, and parental perspectives. My kids are wrapping up their last year of preschool over the next several months, and will start kindergarten this September. I think that it will all work out and am looking forward to this next milestone.