Magic 8 Ball

            Zachary will turn five in September.  Perhaps that does not seem like much of an issue to you, in which case you probably don’t live in California or do not have children.  If however, you do happen to be raising children in the Golden State, then you know exactly what is going on in our house.  Each night, after we lasso the children into the bath, negotiate pajama colors, read several annoying books about Disney Princesses, and give the baby one last feeding, my husband and I snuggle up for a little adult time, which we use just as you would imagine we do.

            We discuss kindergarten. 

            Because California’s cutoff is one of the latest in the country, Zach makes it by several months and is eligible to start in September.  Cognitively the child is ready.  And I mean ready.  He is a sharp little cookie.  With emphasis on “little.”  Is it OK to send a kid to kindergarten while he is still wearing size 3T?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just affix that “kick me” sign to his back ourselves, instead of waiting for the class bully to do it?

            “I’d like to see a list of their kindergarten birthdays,” J tells me.  But it will just tell us what we already know: Zach is destined either to be among the oldest or among the youngest children in his class.  No matter how much we discuss it, he is never going to be in the middle.

            He is the type of child who will dumb himself down to fit in, so he should be with older children.  He gets anxious in a group, so he should be with younger children.  He mimics the other kids’ behavior, so he behaves better if he is the youngest.  He is sensitive about teasing, so he is safer if he is the oldest.

            What if, in a few years, we move to a state with an earlier cutoff, making him the youngest by far?  What if he hits puberty early and he is already the oldest in the class?

            We sit here, waiting for the right answer to come crashing through the roof and hit us on the heads.  This hasn’t happened yet, and I am starting to have this sinking feeling that perhaps there is no right answer.  Maybe, like everything else in parenting, this is a lesson in how limited is our control over their lives. 

            Or maybe I could ask you all to give your opinions so we have more fodder for tonight’s episode of The Great Kindergarten Debate.

47 responses to “Magic 8 Ball

  1. Seven and Zach seem very similar. We did not push Seven forward, even though according to his academic skills he should have been in second or third rather than K.

    We haven’t regretted it, though school is ridiculously too easy for him. Why haven’t we? Because he is so shy, worries so much about everything, that he absolutely, positively, 100% needs to be with his age group. It’s not even a question.

    Next year he will stay with his classmates but go out for math time with third-grade kids. This, to me, is a perfect compromise.

    Though it will be stressful for my son just to enter the math classroom with the older kids, I know it.

  2. I HATE cutoff dates. Despise them. My oldest, a girl, would have started kindergarten the year she turned 5, but we moved from California to a state that has the earliest cutoff in the nation and had to wait an whole other year. She spent a lot of time being bored, but had great teachers and a great GT program in Elem. My 9 YO, missed the cutoff by 3 weeks, and is always the oldest, and is bored, but doesn’t just do his best like my daughter did. He rushes and is sloppy and would rather be doing other things.

    And up next, a 3 year old who will make the cutoff to start the year he turns five, but will be one of the youngest and although he might be smarter than his siblings, I just worry about the fact that he will be young. AHHHH!

  3. If he is small, he will still be small next year. Send him.

    I was assisting with the first graders’ science fair project, which involved measuring the length of their arms. About half of them are only as big as my 3 1/2 year old.

    I also lead Daisy Girl Scouts, which includes K and gr. 1. Yesterday we did a project tracing their hands – soooo tiny, most of them.

    What is the class size? Will there be an assistant? Have most of the kids been in preschool or daycare already? If they are accustomed to discipline and there is a low child to adult ratio, he’ll be fine.

  4. My Tyler was always the smallest in every class. He’s a December baby, so he’s actually older than many of his classmates, but he’s just small. He has always compensated, somehow. He’s well-liked, but we did go through some bullying years. I don’t know that it really matters…if he’s the smallest or not, someone will decide to pick on him for something he cannot control. It’s just the way they are.

    And look, he could be like the kid in Almost Famous, and we’ll be watching a movie about him in 15 years.

  5. There are all different size kids in my son’s kindergarten class. It all kind of evens out later. If he is ready then send him. You wouldn’t want him to be bored to tears in all of his classes later on.
    If it really isn’t working out you can take him out and try again next year, right?

  6. My parents went through the same thing with me. They actually included me in the decision-making process. They told (in very simple terms) what their concerns were about both, but told me that it was my choice. I decided that I wanted to move up a grade.

    Now, whether or not that was the right thing to do, I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible that this affected me negatively on some deep psychological level that my therapist has yet to uncover. I do remember having clear, strong feelings on the matter, and feeling good about making my own decisions. And to be honest, I think it worked out pretty well. I took a year off between high school and college, and graduated from college right on schedule.

  7. I grew up in California and in the same boat re cutoffs at the time (early November b’day); plus I was hyperactive and quite tiny. I was held back in kindergarten… best thing my parents ever did for me.

  8. I know it’s agonizing for you now, but in the end it just doesn’t matter.
    I’m at least 18 months younger than most of my class, and have been so since I was 5. I think I turned out ok ;), and never suffered for it. Sure, I’ve always provoked strong reactions, but that had more to do with my character than my age.

    Speaking from a die-hard practical point of view, it’s probably better to be the youngest than the oldest in class. Nothing like time on your side – gives the option of taking a gap year, having one more chance to take an important exam… and of course getting a paycheck from an earlier age.

    That’s just my 2 cents, in the end it’s up to you and Zachary to choose. All the best!

  9. I think what is important to remember is the kindergarten of OUR youth and the kindergarten of today are NOT THE SAME, not by a long shot.

    My niece has an oct b-day, in Missouri the cut off is June 30th, so she started school just before she turned 6 and by the third qtr of kindergarten they were doing weekly spelling tests of 20 yes 20 words!!! IN KINDERGARTEN.

    My son has an end of April b-day….he will be eligible to start school the following August (a newly turned 5 year old) I am leaning towards waiting a year. Every kindergarten teacher I know or have talked to says do us a favor and send them when they are 6…. its almost never a smarts thing, its a maturity thing……and in my opinion they already grow up way too fast…….. I want to hold on my kids just a little big longer!

  10. I say you avoid the whole dilemma, and just send the boy straight to college.

  11. I echo the sentiments of many when I say it’s not such a big deal. Fortunately education in this country is flexible enough that you can do whatever you want. You could even keep him at home and teach him yourself (perish the thought).
    I was put in a HS French class when I was in 7th grade. It sucked. But that’s middle school, with insecurities and complexes. As small as he may seem, he’s obviously ready, and would probably thrive. But if he doesn’t? Try again next year.
    Spend that Great Debate time kissing.

  12. Diminutive One was in the same position when he entered kindergarten. His bday is July 30, and the cutoff is Sept. 1.

    Like you, we wrestled with what to do. Like Zachary, he was more than capable, academically speaking.

    We decided to let him go.

    I discovered that kindergarten is really geared to adress a wide range of abilities because there is such a difference between just turned 5 and nearly 6. They expect disparities and, at least at our school, addressed them every effectively.

    Academically, he did well and adjusted quickly.

    Socially…he still struggles. But I think that has more to do with his personality than his maturity. He will always struggle socially, I fear.

    I think the worst enemy of a bright child is boredom, and that’s what drove our decision. Another year in preschool would have resulted in a regression, most likely and also a lack of motivation.

    Follow your heart. He’ll be okay.

  13. As I can see in the other comments, everyone has a different experience. My own advice would be to wait. In my kids’ classes (they are now in grade 2 and 5), older kids have an advantage. My h was the youngest in his class and then he skipped a year. Middle school was very hard on him not intellectually, but socially bec he was so young. His sister would have been the oldest in her class but she was also skipped a year and it was tough on her, too–and she’s a pretty outgoing, social person. There is no rush. And there are lots of programs available for your son to be challenged and stimulated if he needs to be. Just my 2 cents. I know how agonizing this decision is. For us it wasn’t about age, but about French immersion, or about what class to request when we had input. We just did the best we could and that’s all you can do because the outcomes are unknown. All of us would love a crystal ball, but we aren’t granted that.

  14. my (girl) child started K in september, and turned 5 in november (dec 31 cutoff here). there were eight children in her class of 18 with november birthdays. i’d send him.

  15. I’d send him. You never know what the breakdown will be, and it’s worked out for all of my friends in your situation.

    I lucked out, as my son’s birthday is in December. He’s one of the older kids in his grade. He wouldn’t have been ready right when he turned five, at least not socially.

  16. Welllll . . . based on what you wrote, I’d lean toward sending him. Only because I was that kid, and I think I would have had a harder time if I were older than my class.

    He is the type of child who will dumb himself down to fit in, so he should be with older children.
    Also, I don’t know what his social level is, but my friends were usually older than me, anyway. Intellecutally, I was more mature than kids closer to my age.
    He gets anxious in a group, so he should be with younger children.
    On the other hand, sometimes being the youngest has its advantages: no one expects you to assume the role of group leader, and you can sort of hang out in the back, which if you’re anxiety-prone (I was) can feel safer.
    He mimics the other kids’ behavior, so he behaves better if he is the youngest.
    HA! Oh, yeah. I was that kid, too.
    He is sensitive about teasing, so he is safer if he is the oldest.
    It breaks my heart to say this, but he will get teased either way. As the oldest, he won’t get teased in kindergarten or early elementary school, but as he gets to be 8 or so, other kids will tease him about being the oldest: they will make fun of him for being “slow,” even if he’s not. I watched that happen to the older kids in my classes.

    I would say that if he’s a smart kid – if he’s intellectually capable of kindergarten now – send him. There will be pros and cons no matter what you do, but as someone else pointed out, at least this way if it really isn’t working out, you can pull him and re-start him next year.

    But the best thing you can do (which it’s clear from meeting you and from your posts that you already do) is give him a rock-solid sense of self at home. That will help more than anything else.

    (Also, if he’s really a SMART-smart kid, pick up a book called “Guiding the Gifted Child.” I found years after I had grown up and cried when I read it: it was like reading my biography and contained all kinds of things I wished I or my parents had known when I was little.)

  17. *snort* I love when I mention that I was a smart kid, and then misspell words like “intellectually.” I heart irony. 😉

  18. It is tough – for me, my two boys are the youngest in their kindergarten classes and in 2 years, my daughter will be the eldest in hers…crazy!

    For us, we had the choice for the boys and we decided to start them as the youngest – and if need be, hold them back…it is a tough call – but I think just deciding on current facts is best and if he is ready in most areas – then go for it!!!

    Good luck!

    PS – loved your last post – I get a lot of “does your hubby care” also!

  19. I think that I would give it a go, as a few others have suggested. If it doesn’t work out you can always pull out and try again later. But it might be great.

    Each kid and each situation is so different that I think this is one of those things you have to try to see how it works out. There are pros and cons both ways, but they’re hard to evaluate without actually giving it a try.

    And me? I skipped kindergarten altogether. Although my birthday is in May for various reasons my parents chose not to send me and I started grade 1 on schedule. It was fine for me. So I’m not sure that kindergarten is even necessary, although I will absolutely send my own children.

  20. Do you really want to hear my answer? I have LOTS to say on this subject as a teacher, a mom to three boys with birthdays near the cut-off, and someone who struggled tremendously with the same question last year…

    Given the length of the comments here, it is clear you hit on a biiiiiiggggg question. I do have some angst-y posts on the same topic from my own blog.

  21. I am no help, since Morgan skipped kindergarten. also, she’s a December baby, so she’s way young. I find that her classmates kind of make her their mascot, since she’s younger and smaller. Hopefully Zach will be okay, no matter which way you do it. But if it were me, I’d put him in kindergarten. You dont want him to get bored in school, before he even gets into it.

  22. We have 5 kids,all of whom we started as early as possible due to the fact that they were reading, etc well above grade level. In addition to that, once they started it was obvious that they needed more brain stimulation, even though 3 of them were the youngest in their classes. They caused all sorts of trouble being young and bored. Not a good combo at all.

    The best situation for us has turned out to be homeschool, where they can learn on their brain level, play on their play level, and socialize with all different ages of homeschoolers, being the learners and the teachers in a variety of social settings and experiences.

    I wish I had homeschooled from the beginning.

    Good luck with your decision!

  23. The cut-off here is Dec. 31, so Bub didn’t turn five until two months after he started kindergarten. I wish, wish, wish he had been born in a month (or we lived in a district) where he could be among the oldest rather than the youngest in his class.

    I was always one of the oldest and I think I thrived on that – I do remember being bored occasionally, but I was competitive enough that I never slacked off or became indifferent.

  24. I taught Kindergarten (in Cali) for years and this cutoff date is BS and means nothing at all in accordance to his expected behavior or outcomes. His success in kinder will have to do with his peers, his teacher and his loving parents guiding the way. Fear NOT for what this may mean or not mean as you may or may not move. This sounds cyclical and crazy. He’ll be ok, I promise. Regardless of a kindergarten start date, boys are always light years behind girls until they’re like 36 or something. So don’t worry.

    Always remember:

    The magical recipe to childhood success!

  25. That’s a tough one – L will be in that position too in a few years although she’s ginormous and will never be the smallest in her class even if she skips 2 years. I started early but was already bored out of my mind in Kindergarten. Then I actually failed second grade and was held back. Then I skipped a grade in HS so ended up graduating at 17. These things have a way of working themselves out. Being the smallest can be rough, though, unless he’s really funny.

  26. Go see these places. You can’t work this one out intellectually. Get through the doors, watch the kids at play and drink in the atmosphere. It will become apparent to you very quckly which places may make the final cut. Having had my son in a huge range of different schools, I know now that atmosphere and culture are the key elements.

  27. I had the opportunity to skip some grades when I was a kid and my parents decided against it. While the issues are slightly different here, there is some similarity. I would wait the extra year rather than sending him on early. It will have a trickle down effect throughout his schooling. It’s always easier to deal with issues through maturity. He may or may not be bigger/more physically developed than his peers, but he’ll have that much more maturity which will enable him to deal with the adversity that his sensitive nature will likely force him to face.

  28. I was one of the oldest in my (our) class. I hated it. My brother was the youngest in his class. He hated it. Out of the two of us I am the better adjusted (scary thought), but I think that has everything to do with personality and little to do with our entry into elementary school. You know your boy. I think someone else wrote ‘go with your gut’, and I agree.

    Whatever you decide, it will be OK. He is loved.

  29. obviously a lot of strong feelings here…and like many have said, there’s no one right answer.

    as a teacher, i tend to side on the “if you think they’re ready to deal with the structure of school, then send ’em” side of things. if they have the literacies (using the term loosely) to understand and navigate the processes (social and intellectual) that kindergarten will involve, and parental support to help them where they struggle, then holding back usually does little good.

    mind you, i’m biased towards sending them, as i started k at four and a half and always liked being among the youngest in my cohort. others have the opposite experience.

  30. Do not, I repeat DO NOT send him. As a teacher, we can always tell the young ones- even if they ARE reading early, etc. However, it is even more apparent in BOYS. As a MOTHER I also say don’t send him. My son is a June birthday, but I sent him mostly because I didn’t want him to be the biggest in the class and teased about it. He is STILL the biggest, even though he’s one of the youngest, and would make a LOVELY fourth grader. As a matter of fact, most of his friends ARE fourth graders. Dammit. I basically do NOT live with regret—except for THAT.

  31. My son is four and here in Ontario you go to public school for junior kindergarten at age four, and it is half a day, every day. So he takes the bus to school and is in a “real” class. He is tiny, by far the smallest in the class, although he is one of the oldest b/c his birthday is in March. We have not yet had any issues with him being smaller than the other kids, but I still worry sometimes. The age cut off is to be four by December 1st, so ironically my second son will start junior kindergarten this fall and he is three and won’t turn four until October. Bizarre.

    I’m also a teacher, so in my experience your instincts as a mother will tell you if he is ready or not. If you feel he is, I’m sure he will do absolutely fine (I’m assuming he would have a very good and supportive teacher). Best of luck!!!

  32. your son reminds me of myself. I have done whatever I needed to do or say in order for others to feel more comfortable (superior) around me but it had nothing to do with age. Phoebe is an August baby and started K this year and I’m thrilled I did it. You have to live in the now not the “what ifs”.

  33. Hold him back. The psychological age is much more important than the intellectual skills–and also, especially for boys, it is MUCH preferable to be one of the bigger, older guys in the class. Most of the moms around here start their boys later if they’re even anywhere near the cutoff date, and boys, sad to say, mature much slower than girls.

  34. I don’t have time to read all the comments right now (time for gymnastics soon) so if I repeat others, I apologize in advance.

    Mary-LUE’s official two-cents worth on the subject.

    Lots and lots of research studies show that by third grade there is no difference for children who started school at a younger age. Everything balances out. I am currently in a educational research and methodology class and our professor tells us about different studies all the time. She just talked about this one a couple of weeks ago. She also mentioned studies that say that retaining a child is one of the worst things you can do. It has a major, major impact on self-efficacy. So, if you do put him in and eventually he struggles, her advice would be to make it work for him and not keep him back.

    Teachers, however, tend to prefer students–especially boys–to be older coming in.

    I was a young–YOUNG–kindergartener. My birthday is late November. I don’t remember ever feeling like it mattered until I was actually older and all my friends were driving, etc., before me. My mom was a single, working mom so she didn’t have many options.

    Is it possible to sign him up for kindergarten now and then, if you don’t feel like he is ready, just withdraw him before he even begins?

    I have a friend who did her Master’s in Ed on kindergarten readiness. Her position was that it was mostly a social thing–in the sense that it was societal pressure that leaned toward starting later. The issues that often came up when assessing kindergarten readiness and were used to recommend waiting are almost always longer term issues for the kids that waiting a year will do nothing to resolve.

    There are educational testing places that will run a battery of cognitive, social, etc., tests and give you an opinion. Now, I will tell you that a friend of mine did this and followed there advice… and everything worked out fine. However, I always felt that her daughter would have been fine because the only reason they thought she should wait was that she was a little hesitant in new situations. Guess what? She still is. That is just her personality. So, my point on this point is, I don’t think you have to necessarily follow the advice of a place like this, but they can give you some more information to make your decision.

    Making your own decision is, in my mind, the number one advice I can give… which, because it is you, I am not worried about! You and your husband have to make the decision you head, gut, etc., tells you to make. Some people will criticize you, but what’s new, right?

    Let’s see, I think I have said all I have to say on that subject. I wish I could speak more from my children’s experience, but I didn’t really have questions about their readiness. I only have mine and that was almost 40 years ago and the world is a very different place.

    Oh! One more thing… are there any alternative programs in your area? My daughter is in a multiage class that follows, to a certain degree, a developmental emphasis. Children are allowed to move more at their own pace, academically, socially, etc. Her program is part of the public school system. Maybe there is something like that around?

    Okay. That’s it. Seriously. As usual, all the above is just so much hot air and should be taken as such.

  35. Wow – scorching hot topic.

    I’ve hesitated to comment, since I’ve actually met Zach and feel like I really needed to give it serious thought. My gut reaction is to send him. The fact is that he is small, and will likely still be small even if you hold him back. This will part of his personal development and only your guidance and his personality will determine how he deals with it. My dad was very small, as was one of my brothers. My dad is a self-possessed, confident, compassionate, accomplished man. My brother is angry, anxious and agitated. It’s hard to predict the outcome.

    As others have said, I think it is important he not be bored. He is clearly very bright and the excitement of learning may be a big draw for him in school, to make the tough spots worthwhile.

    Socially, I agree that all boys are immature. But I think you might be surprised how many instances of smaller group dynamics are part of kindergarten. This could really be a boon for Zach. It could build his friendships and his self-confidence. True, recess might be tough, but I suspect it may still be tough for him next year too.

    I think like one person said — you really need to explore the cultures of the schools you are looking at. This really may help solidify your decision.

    Enough rambling. More over coffee.

  36. My kid is like two weeks before the cut-off. I have made my decision (not that it’s coming up–she’s two) based on breasts. If she’s like me, she’ll get breasts early, so it’s probably better she be younger. The older kids get in more trouble, too. I know, I was an older kid.

    I don’t think this makes or breaks your kid, though. Best wishes.

  37. I have nothing to offer, sorry. But I’ll watch what you decide and file it away for a few years…

  38. I grew up in Florida and the cut-off was August, but I was a September baby. Somehow, my parents snuck me in anyways, and I was always the youngest in my class. All of my friends were a grade ahead of me. I say, if his friends are going to Kindergarden, and he is mentally ready, go for it.

  39. Em,

    My kids—by birthday and cutoff—will *always* be smack in the middle. It is a charmed position, and I thought I ought to caveat everything I say with that admission. 😉

    Is it all day or half day kindie?

    I ask because the summer birthday kids had a tough time with kindie here, which is all day and more like 1st grade used to be (expected to know letters, numbers, shapes, colors, etc.) The ones who were still sort of nappy in the afternoon and hadn’t been to preschool had a distinct disadvantage. I heard about a lot of meltdowns b/c it was emotionally and physically and sense-ally overwhelming.

    By 1st grade it had leveled out. And Sleepy and Pee Pee Kid lost their nicknames (as far as I know).

    Here’s what I know—he can’t possibly be alone.

    Go up and meet with the school and teachers, schedule a second meeting with them and bring your son. They’ll be honest.

    They’ll probably most likely reassure you.

    If not, look for a private kindergarten. A lot of people with “at the deadline birthday” kids do that here and then switch over to 1st grade at public school. The smaller, more flexible private classes can work much better for some kids.

    Me? I was still always a year younger than my classmates, by far the youngest usually, and that was rough sometimes but I worked it out. And it had its pros for sure.

    My mom did private kindie and 1st grade and by the time I entered public school in 2nd, it was easy. No worries.

    So. Go talk. To the school, not just your great hubby. Save the adult cuddle time for other things too. 😉

    And then report back but don’t forget to POKE me that you do. 🙂

  40. PS I trust that whatever you decide—and I say this sincerely, confidently, and not lightly—will work out FINE because you are a conscientious parent who is tuned in to her kids and there to help them work it out. KWIM? There will *always* be challenges no matter what, and that’s our job, eh, to help them work it out, even if it means interceding or standing aside.

  41. secretly, this is one of the reasons i’m fleeing. i just can’t handle it.

  42. I turned five in September too (well, not this past year…) and my parents kept me back…and not because I wasn’t “smart” enough! I’ve always been the very oldest, but that’s never bothered me. For some reason, for whatever reason, I’ve always been glad that they had me wait. I really can’t pinpoint why, but I’ve always been glad. And I seem to have turned out ok. 🙂

  43. Okay… so I am DYING to know… Did we overwhelm you? Was any of this helpful to your specific situation? Are you getting whiplash from the wait/don’t wait responses?

  44. Good Witch and I have three sons, all older than you. We brought them up and remember the experience very well.

    The two older ones wer Jan and March. No problem with cut-off’s. The last one was October 28, just old enough to start kindergarten at 4. So, we started him. He was super-socially-adjusted because his brothers were 12 and 10 years older than he. Not a good idea.

    Socially, he excelled throughout his school years. Athletically, too. But, he broke his neck playing football in his junior year. Too small for heavy, repeated contact with bigger kids, even though he was a star. I wish we had waited.

    You seem to have the opposite. Physically ahead, socially challenged. It’s better to wait. Maybe being laughed at is worse than being smaller than most. Zach would benefit from growing up a little more before starting school. Then he may be both big and confident. Just my humble opinion.

  45. Pingback: Readiness « Wheels on the bus

  46. I was always the youngest in my class – my birthday was right on the cut off date – so if I was born one day later I’d have been a grade lower. BUT – my parents felt that since I seemed “advanced” for my age — to put me in kindergarten.

    With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight it was a horrible mistake. I was small – physically – but more importantly I was never where the other kids were: socially & emotionally. I spent most of my school years feeling left out of some sort of joke that everybody else got… Boys, parties, etc, etc – I was always a step behind….
    Just throwing that out there. It’s a difficult decision, though — and there’s really no right or wrong…

  47. I feel he can always repeat a year if he isn’t quite ready for first grade the year after, but if you hold him back, he may be bored in school forever. You won’t want that…

    Just my two cents, and really, like others have said, there’s really no right answer, just as there’s no wrong one.