Your child’s first foray into the "official" classroom can prompt some thorny questions. Here's a look at three kindergarten quandaries, with advice from educators on how to determine what’s best for your child:
- Dilemma #1: Start this year or delay entry until next fall?
If your child is 5 years old by a certain date (anywhere from September 1 to December 1), he’s got the green light to start kindergarten. However, some parents — especially those with kids born in summer or close to the cutoff date — consider keeping their children home for an extra year, a practice known as "redshirting" or "hothousing." In some communities, the practice is common among parents of boys who hope that the extra year will later give their young athletes an advantage on the sports field.
If you’re thinking about "redshirting" your would-be kindergartner, consider these questions:
- What do I hope to gain? Do you want to give your child time to mature physically? Develop better social skills? Improve fine motor dexterity?
- What will happen down the road, when he does enter school? Find out if teachers will be able to address varied skills levels so that your child will still be challenged, even if he is older than his peers.
- Dilemma #2: Half-day or full-day?
More and more schools are moving away from half-day sessions and toward full-day programs. In 2000, 63 percent of kindergartners were enrolled in full-day programs at either a public or private school, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. One of the benefits of full-day kindergarten is the luxury of time. Studies are also pointing to full-day as a smart idea.
Typically, this decision rests on what your local school offers and whether you’re willing to pay extra to get what you want. Perhaps you feel strongly that your child needs to ease into the elementary school years with a half-day plan. If your school offers only a full day, you may opt for private or parochial schooling. Conversely, some public schools offer tuition-based programs to turn a standard half-day offering into a full-day program.
- Dilemma #3: Repeat kindergarten or move on to 1st grade?
If your child has struggled in kindergarten, her teacher may suggest holding her back for a year before moving on to 1st grade. On average, research has shown that retention doesn't have any positive effect on kids, but that doesn't mean there aren’t some situations when it might be appropriate.
To help you decide if repeating kindergarten is the right move for your child, ask for a conference with your child’s teacher, the school counselor, and/or the principal, and pose these questions:
- Why are you recommending retention?
- Are you concerned my child might have a learning disability?
- What accommodations were made to help my child?
- What is the school offering as an enhancement of this year’s experience?
- What assurance can you give me that retention will help my child continue to be successful after the repeated grade?
Finally, if your child ends up repeating kindergarten, keep in mind that retention doesn't have to be a negative. It's an opportunity for him to catch up now, while the stakes are still relatively low.
Regardless of the situation, keep in mind that your child's teacher is your ally in kindergarten success. Keeping the lines of communication open will help ensure a smooth transition from preschool to grade school.