If Kindergarten Wasn't So Much Like First Grade, We Wouldn't Need To Delay It

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

A new study has found that delaying kindergarten until the calendar year when kids turn seven has serious benefits for students. It found that the delay helps students “self-regulate their attention and hyperactivity levels when they do start school.”

The study, titled “The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health” found that “a one-year delay in the start of school dramatically reduces inattention/hyperactivity at age 7” and that “delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11.” The researchers studied data on tens of thousands of students across Denmark, both boys and girls.

There is a debate about whether to hold kids back — commonly referred to as “redshirting.” From The Washington Post:

“Many early childhood experts have expressed concern about forcing very young children to sit and do academic work, arguing that kids learn best through structured play. [One expert] noted:
‘It’s not just a question of when do you start kindergarten, but what do you do in those kindergarten classes? If you make kindergarten the new first grade, then parents may sensibly decide to delay entry. If kindergarten is not the new first grade, then parents may not delay children’s entries as much.'”

There are studies that seem to both support and conflict validity of holding a child back. I didn’t have an opinion either way, until my son started kindergarten this year at age four.

We recently moved from Florida to New York, and as a result of the move my son missed pre-K all together. The cutoff date for admission into kindergarten is three months later than it was in Florida, so now he’s all of a sudden deemed magically ready for it. I feared he was a little young, but followed the state’s recommended date cutoff and enrolled him.

He’s gone from a daycare setting of a few days a week, to sitting in a classroom for six hours straight with one 20 minute recess. He’s having some trouble adjusting, much like I feared he would. I got a call from the school psychologist yesterday, telling me that he’s showing some attention problems in class: “He can read really well, but his comprehension isn’t great. Have you noticed he refers to himself in the third person?” All I can logically think is, “He’s not even five. He’s used to having a nap. Sorry he hasn’t mastered pronouns yet. Is this really a call a school psychologist needs to make?”

My son has been reading since he was three and a half years old. He is social. He’s smart. He has a terrible attention span. And he’s still four. This kindergarten curriculum is one that I just don’t understand. I expected more play. I expected more recess. I did not expect a kindergartner to be coming home with homework. I did not expect to have to worry about the fact that my kindergartner “seems tired” and has trouble focusing throughout the day.

He comes home with a handful of worksheets that have been filled out — quite a difference from the doodles and glitter and construction paper art he came home with just three months ago. Kindergarten feels like what first grade used to be. And now we have a study pointing to starting our kids later — at an age you would usually see them starting first grade. Maybe we just need to go back to a kindergarten curriculum that was more focused on play, and less focused on getting our five-year-old’s to be performing like the mature students they’re not. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting in meetings talking to school administrators who don’t know my son, but feel certain he’s ready to start kindergarten if only he has a litany of interventions to help him along.

To me, he’s a not even five-year-old boy. I just want him to learn how to hold a pencil better, color, play, and continue on with the love of learning that led him to sit for hours, sounding out words and teaching himself to read before he was even four years old. If interventions need to happen — I’d like them to happen when the inability to focus isn’t hinging on the fact that he’s missed his afternoon nap.

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