My daughter just turned 5 and while I wish my biggest worries had been about what her party theme was and how many kids to invite, there was a giant milestone that accompanied this birthday and it's still giving me great pause.
Sure, my daughter will eventually attend kindergarten. Whether or not she is ready is the issue that's been giving me trouble. A decade ago, when I was making this decision for her older brother, I didn't consider waiting a year. He had a spring birthday. Surely 5 and a half rendered him ready for a kindergarten curriculum. Over the past 10 years, however, kindergarten has changed. Full days have replaced half days and expectations have advanced. My gut is telling me my daughter isn't ready for that kind of rigor even if the state of Ohio, which has a cutoff date of October 1, disagrees.
One would think that as a former elementary school teacher and principal, I could make a confident decision rooted in experience and backed up with research. Unfortunately, it's the research that I find so contradicting.
One of the more famous studies on the effects of redshirting, a term coined for children being held out of kindergarten until the age of 6, was conducted by Elizabeth Dhuey and Kelley Bedard of the University of Toronto. They found that the advantages of being an older student in a class has positive impacts on academic achievement. They are often put in higher reading groups and hone their skills, resulting in them being put in higher reading groups the following year.
Malcolm Gladwell refers to this phenomenon as the “cumulative advantage." In his book, “Outliers,” he extolls the idea that an extra nudge ahead when a child is 6 can mean the child is better positioned for not only academic but also social success at 7, which means he’s got a leg up at 8, and so on.
But then I read the research by Sam Wang, a Princeton associate professor of neuroscience, who warns parents in a 2011 New York Times article that holding a child back could negatively impact how a child learns to respond to challenges. Wang would rather see my daughter learning close to the limits of her ability, making errors and learning to correct them quickly instead of coasting through a curriculum that comes easily because she isn't being challenged.
Since the research isn't clear cut, I turned to an experienced elementary educator.
Sally Koppinger, a veteran principal with 28 years of kindergarten entrance under her belt and a former mentor of mine, urged me to follow my instincts. "The decision to delay the start of kindergarten should always lie with the parent. You know your daughter best," said Koppinger, who teaches at St. Joseph School in Sylvania, Ohio.
She went on to caution me to pay careful attention to the reason for redshirting.
"If you decide to hold your daughter back because of a social immaturity, a delay could be warranted even in spite of her academic readiness. Where I believe a redshirting does damage is when a parent decides to delay kindergarten because their child is showing signs of developmental delays. When critical early childhood milestones are not being met, an 'extra year' out of formal schooling is actually a year of early intervention lost and can ultimately do irreparable damage."
My concerns for my daughter have nothing to do with developmental milestones. I'm just not sure the kid can go to school five days in a row for eight hour days without collapsing from exhaustion. She still falls asleep every afternoon. In addition, I've noticed that she gravitates towards children a year younger than herself.
So, I’m following my gut and erring on the side of caution. I'm hoping an extra year of preschool will give her a chance to mature, and hopefully better equip her to excel both academically and socially through formal schooling.
Still, it’s not an easy decision to make, but as her mother, I’m the best equipped to make it.
Have you delayed your child's entrance into kindergarten? Have you started your child early? On what basis did you make your decision and how’s it going so far? Share you thoughts on our TODAY Moms Facebook page.
When not stressing about life altering decisions about her five children, Carolyn Savage can be found writing about her adventures in parenting at mamaonthefly.com.