So your child is turning 5... in July or August, and you're wondering, "Is he really ready for kindergarten? Or should I hold him back?" You're not alone. It is estimated that 9 percent of parents will choose not to send their child to kindergarten. Interestingly, most of these children will be white boys of a high socioeconomic status. Girls are more likely to be sent to kindergarten early, and, according to research by Bassok and Reardon, 1 percent of black children, 2 percent of Hispanic children, and 2.7 percent of Asian children will be held back from entering kindergarten, even though these parents are actually more likely to voice concerns over academic readiness then the parents of Caucasian children.
Most parents who hold their boys back from entering kindergarten do so because they are worried about their son's emotional and social maturity and their ability to handle the academic requirements, but what does research say about the practice? Does it give children an academic or social advantage? Does it make them any happier at school? Well... there's no clear answer here.
As far as any academic benefit, if you are at a high socioeconomic status, holding a child back may not be as helpful at as you might hope. In the same study by Bassok and Reardon, they found that the children who were being held back from entering school had actually performed better than many of their peers on pre kindergarten assessments. And other studies have shown that any academic benefit that is gained is negated by 4th grade. The social benefits of late entrance are far more impressive. In a study of adolescent boys with summer birthdays, Dr. Suzanne Jones found that the boys who started kindergarten late were happier than the boys who started when they turned 5. They were glad to be among the oldest in their grade level, and neither they, nor their parents, could think of any adverse effects to starting school a year late. You can hear more about this study at The Cult of Pedagogy.
The studies that look at students from a low socioeconomic status (SES) are far more grim. They have found that when schools encourage students to start kindergarten a year late, the academic achievement of those children suffers. In fact, the National Association for Educators of Young Children, is firmly against encouraging children to wait until they are older. According to NAEYC, "When parents are counseled to delay a child’s entry or when children are placed in “developmental” or “readiness” classes to prepare for kindergarten or “transitional” classes to prepare for first grade, it is often because the school program is perceived to be too difficult for some children. In this view, children must be made ready for the demands of the program, in contrast to tailoring the program to the strengths and needs of the children."
What the NAEYC statement brings to light, may be the reason so many parents are considering holding back their children in the first place--a fear that the program their child enters will be grossly mismatched with the unique developmental needs of their child. Indeed the research supports that when children are asked to delay school entrance before they are ready for academics, instead of matching the academics to the child, the overall achievement suffers.
For teachers, the clear answer seems to be that suggesting a child waits to enter the classroom should never be a solution or suggestion, but adapting and diversifying classroom teaching for all of the five year olds in the room should be the proper response.
But when it comes to parents who are trying to decide what to do with their own situation and their own unique needs there is no right or wrong answer. Fortunately, parents have a special insight into their child's strengths and abilities, as well as the strengths of the programs that are available to them. So if you are trying to decide if your summer birthday child is ready for kindergarten or not my advice is this: go with your gut.
You won't regret it.
If you would like to see if your child is on track academically for a typical kindergarten experience, you may wish to try these assessment packets. You can find them here or at Teachers Pay Teachers.