It’s school choice time. Parents of children with summer birthdays are beginning to fret: put their child in kindergarten, or have them wait another year?
My advice, for what it’s worth: give them another year to age at home.
Yes, your child may be bright. Or tall for her age. Or incredibly social. Or have a best friend who is entering kindergarten.
I would still wait.
I hear from far more parents who regret putting their child in too young. In another year, your child will still be bright, tall and social. But he or she will be at a much greater advantage as the oldest in their grade, versus the youngest.
Multiple studies back this up. In fact, one study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the advantage of having a September birthday (and thereby having to wait an entire year after turning 5) carries positive ramifications all the way to higher education. Older students are more likely to attend college and even stay out of the criminal justice system.
Those are powerful odds for our little 5-year-olds.
I can speak from experience, as we learned by trial and error with our oldest son. A June birthday, he was ready for school at 5. His preschool teachers assured me of this. He could read and work out basic math problems. And he was eager for the challenge.
It was a rough year socially and behaviorally, but he got through. Against my better judgment, I put him into first grade.
Six days into the school year, I came to my senses and pulled him. I kept him home for a year before re-enrolling him as a well-seasoned 7-year-old.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve made, even though his teacher and the school principal fought back against it. I was his mother. And mother knows best.
With my third son, also a late summer birthday, I didn’t even hesitate. I kept him in preschool an extra year. He is now the tallest, the oldest and most mature in his class.
Their advanced age has allowed my boys to succeed instead of struggle. It means that my high school sophomore is one of the few that could drive before the school year even began. (A pretty sweet deal.)
The biggest complaint I get from my boys is boredom. Because of this, I’ve had to advocate to advance them in certain subjects. My high schooler somehow convinced the math teacher that he could test his way out of pre-calculus without ever taking the class. And it worked.
Parents are more inclined to hold back their boys, citing statistics about girls maturing faster (see "New ‘redshirting’ study reveals that boys are held back more than girls— and it’s actually helping to close an achievement gap between the genders" from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis). While this may be true, girls can also benefit from starting late. I am a summer birthday. My mom held two of my brothers back, and put me in as a young 5-year-old. I did well in school, but I had to fight for it every step of the way, even through college. Looking back, I was always socially a step behind my peers.
As a kindergarten teacher at a small charter school, I’ve observed firsthand the disparity between my young students and older students. Of my seven students, five are summer birthdays. The older kids, even when older by just six or seven months, show a huge leap in ability. They can hold a pencil and manage actual cursive letters. They have number and letter recognition. They can track a story from beginning to end.
The other kids aren’t unintelligent, they’re just young. They have a hard time with impulse control. They aren’t that interested in numbers or letters. Some educators argue that the brain isn’t fully ready to start reading until the age of 7. Yet we keep pushing reading on students at younger and younger ages.5 comments on this story
From what I’ve learned as a parent and educator, the first four years of elementary school are crucial to laying the foundation for learning. These are the go years: learning to read, learning to write and learning basic number skills.
Proficient readers will soar. Kids who are able to manage their behavior will thrive. However, if learning and the very school environment are a source of frustration, a child will quickly equate school and learning with dread or disgust.
We redshirt our collegiate athletes so they can have time to learn the game and grow into their bodies. The same can be said of our children. Give them a year on the bench, and you might be surprised by what you see on the playing field.