The Gift of an Extra Year
Amy Cavanaugh Chally
Kindergarten has changed. Gone are the days of play-based kindergarten classrooms offering young children the benefit of a gentle preparation for their formal start to their academic careers in the first grade. First grade academics and standards have now been pushed into kindergarten, and this can be a challenge for children who aren’t ready socially and emotionally. Children with summer birthdays, who make the September 30th cutoff, may not have the developmental readiness to succeed. In these cases, parents can make the choice to give their children the gift of an extra year before starting kindergarten. It is now fairly common for parents to delay the start of kindergarten, opting instead to wait until their child is turning 6 years old (and more developmentally ready) for kindergarten.
A Stanford study found that “kids who delayed attending kindergarten to the later year were far more likely to be able to pay attention in school and had ‘dramatically higher levels of self-control’ than their peers. And that advantage was sustained for years afterward.” In addition, researchers noted that by delaying kindergarten, you are able to reduce the chance of hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. Parents of boys, in particular, have embraced the delayed kindergarten trend for this very reason, as boys tend to display more of an inability to have their attention held at age 5 than girls.
Researchers explain it as the “relative age effect,” meaning the older children in the class, when compared with younger ones, possess a more “advanced physiology”.
Delaying kindergarten does have long-term effects as well. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Affairs is one of the first to follow children who were given an extra year before kindergarten into adulthood. In regard to the study results, NPR notes that “children who start school at an older age do better than their younger classmates and have better odds of attending college and graduating from an elite institution.” The study specifically focused on children who turned 5 in August and then immediately started kindergarten and compared them to children who turned 5 the previous September and were in the same class. Researchers found the older children scored higher on college entrance exams, with an achievement gap of almost 40 points on the SAT. Also worth noting is the fact that the socioeconomic level of the children had little to do with any age achievement gaps - meaning even the children of higher-income families with more resources saw the same disadvantages when starting school at age 4.
Your summer birthday child may indeed be ready for the leap into kindergarten, but the research is worth considering. A child might be developmentally ahead in academic areas, such as reading, but socially and emotionally is not ready for that next step. If that child spends their kindergarten days overwhelmed with anxiety, their focus is geared towards getting through the day, and the curriculum becomes lost to them. Your preschool teachers will give you their recommendations for placement for the following year. And, if interested, we can set up a time for you to preview the Kindergarten Ready Program at Mt.View where you can see first hand what the gift of an extra year can be.