Should You Hold Your Child Back?

When I was growing up, kids only got left back when they had serious academic or behavioral difficulty. When we started school, we either made the cutoff date, or we didn’t. My younger sister’s birthday is December 30th. The cutoff for Kindergarten in New York at that time was December 31st. The question of when she would start school was never raised — she started when she was supposed to. But … Ahhhhh! Therein lies the new confusion. What does supposed to mean? Yes, there are specific, state-dependent cutoff dates, but when is a child really ready for school? The answer is not very clear. To be fair to the present, Kindergarten is harder than it used to be. Some children, according to experienced educators, are simply not academically and/or socially ready. In these instances, giving them one more year is a gift that carries with it, the hope they will end up on par with their classmates. Some children, according to their parents, will not be able to compete successfully in sports if they enter school in the year designated by the Board of Ed. In these instances, teachers are expected to  instruct roomfuls of young kids whose academic ages span not only 12, but 16 and 17 months. And, on the all-important playing field, unless kids are on travel teams, they may be playing with and against kids 1 1/2 years older. This may be great if you are the soccer mom of the oldest child on the team, but believe me, isn’t as great — or safe — if your child happens to be the youngest.

1. Education experts who support the decision to retain a child, say chronological age is much less important than developmental age. Where your child’s birthday falls is only part of the picture. Some young children are ready for school far before their older peers.

2. Economists do not recommend holding your child back.  They defend this position with evidence that any initial academic advantage tends to be gone by the time kids reach the 8th grade. As economists, they will also remind you that you will be depriving your child of another year of earnings — hard to factor that in for a five year old, I know.

3. Things to consider: attention span, social skills, interest in learning, behavioral control.

4. Older children, as a rule, do not perform better academically. Retaining a child who is actually ready for school, can deny them experiences they need to mature.

5. So, despite the very specific cutoff dates, there is a huge gray area. What is clear however, is this is a debate needing to be carried out on a case by case basis. If you are concerned about your child’s readiness, speak with her current teachers and the staff at the school she is to attend. Many parents find it helpful to observe the class their child is scheduled to enter. Seeing the maturity, or lack thereof, of the other students can help in this process. Your child is an individual and you love her for all her unique qualities. This is one of those times when advice from other parents is less than helpful — they are not parenting your child. Therefore, their experience, good or bad, may be irrelevant to yours.

If there were more hours in the day, I would start lobbying for a nationwide cutoff date. People move, kids cross state lines for college. A uniform date, whatever it may be, just makes sense. I am stuck in NJ with twin boys born on November 9th. The cutoff here is October 1st. I am considering moving to NY for a few years just to get this show on the road. I am too old for three years of preschool!

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