As we have noted before, New York City has the latest school birthday cut-off in the country, December 31st. This means that one-quarter of children are forced to start kindergarten before they turn five years old.
There is research to support both sending young children to school and holding them back. So what should you do? We asked two parents, who wished to remain anonymous, about the choices they made and how those choices worked out.
New York School Talk: How did you feel about your child needing to start public Kindergarten months before they turned five years old?
Parent #1: I did not feel my child was emotionally ready to start school. I was concerned that he would be tired and overwhelmed by a large class, commute, and structured environment.
Parent #2: I was very worried about my daughter needing to start K at four and a half years old. She was probably not going to be ready, especially for the very large, very academic public school we are zoned for. But I didn’t think I had a choice. I had been told in no uncertain terms if I held her out another year, she would have to go directly into 1st grade.
NYST: Why did you decide to go ahead and send them?
P1: He placed in the same G&T program as his older sister. We felt that there was a risk of keeping him a year at home and then missing out on the opportunity.
P2: I really wanted my kid to go to a neighborhood public school. And I didn’t want to sell her short… what if I was wrong and she did well?
NYST: Did you find your concerns were justified?
P1: He would get very tired. He kept it together and was well behaved in school, but all hell broke loose at home as he was very tired and overwhelmed.
P2: After a few tough weeks of adjustment, she made friends and seemed happy enough. But she also used to come home sometimes and say “it’s too much for my head.” And the homework was ridiculous.
NYST: How did you and the school deal with the issues that arose?
P1: We had a chance to speak to a PTA-hired psychologist who had some useful tips. We also tried to keep his after-school activities to a bare minimum to help him adjust to the long days.
P2: Her teacher told me with a shrug, “your daughter is a kinesthetic learner and I am a visual teacher.” Um, OK then. My efforts to have her held back at the public school fell on deaf ears, as she was not “behind enough.” I worried that her self-esteem would start to take a hit as she progressed through school always being slightly behind. She was lucky to get into a small private school, with a generous financial aid package. I haven’t doubted my decision for a moment. (I only wish I had applied to privates for pre-K and avoided the public K experience altogether). She is in exactly the grade that she should be, academically and socially. She thrived in a small class with several nurturing teachers. My original plan had been to put her back into public school for second grade. Her public school had told me it would take her back in the appropriate grade. Not every school will do this, at least not until the upper grades. I didn’t think going back to her old school would be the right thing for her. Once you are in private school, with small classes, lots of resources and high teacher/student ratios, it’s really hard to go back. In the end, I opted to keep her in private school.
NYST: What advice would you give to parents in the same situation?
P1: A decent zoned school or an opportunity to go to G&T is still a viable option. Just go easy on afterschool activities and be ready for some meltdowns at home since the kids are young.
P2: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. You know your kid better than anyone. It is NOT redshirting to keep a kid back who turns 5 after K starts. Four and a half years old is objectively too young to be forcing kids into what 1st grade was when we were growing up. Do not feel guilty about it!
Are strict birthday cut-offs a way to ensure equality and equity in education, or are they an outdated attempt to make schools one-size-fits all in an age moving towards personalized instruction?
What do you think? Please comment!