When my son entered preschool at the age of three, my husband and I had already started hearing reasons why we should consider delaying his entry into kindergarten …
“His birthday is in May. You don’t want him to be the youngest in his class.”
“He’s small for his age. Aren’t you afraid he’ll be picked on?”
“Boys benefit from a little extra time before they start school; especially a second born.”
And while I won’t deny that these were well intended remarks, we’re moving forward with starting our spring-birthday, 2nd-percentile, 2nd born, boy, in kindergarten this fall.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not going to throw a big ol’ blanket over this topic and say that what we’re choosing is right for everyone; I have very dear friends who have agonized over the same decision and made different choices (which I completely respect). But if you’re in the same situation and are having trouble swallowing that late birthday/small size/second born/male gender pill- mama, this is for you.
Now this mama’s no fool- intuition only goes so far. Before making a decision that would affect my child’s entire future, I needed some solid data. Here’s what I found:
- In the thirty years since delayed starts and so-called “retention” have been studied, eligible kids who were delayed received little or no academic benefit over kids who weren’t.
- Kids who are not delayed but receive additional support perform better than kids who are delayed and receive the same support.
- A position statement from the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists (which was endorsed by NAEYC: National Association for the Education of Young Children) does not advocate for delayed starts for eligible children. Read all about it here.
So, of course I was stunned to discover all this when it’s NOT what everyone is talking about. All I ever hear about is the “gift of a year” and that I’ll “never regret waiting.” I would regret waiting. And here’s why…
The reason the NAEYC doesn’t endorse retaining eligible children is because the emotional impact is significant. It appears that when an eligible child is held back, they may get the idea that they don’t measure up, and that there’s something wrong with them. In turn, they may begin to lower expectations of themselves and become demotivated. As years go on, they may become more disruptive in the classroom, not less.
As one New York Times article put it, “Parents who want to give their young children an academic advantage have a powerful tool: school itself.” I realize that keeping my son back in pre-k for another year would do little to develop his social-emotional growth and maturity. Given the data (and his personality), we feel it actually would stunt his personal growth to keep him out of kindergarten.
And while kindergarten may rock his little world, I’m kind of hoping for that. It may not be the easier (or most popular) road, but what develops character better than having no choice but to rise to the occasion? My husband and I have decided we’re ready for the work of coaching him through challenges he may face, rather than denying him the opportunity because he might struggle. And to be honest, I think we should be ready to do that anyway- whether we delayed him or not.
As for being picked on, such is life. I’ve been picked on for everything under the sun: brains, skin color, height (or lack thereof). I didn’t make excuses for any of it, and I don’t want my son to either. Academically, he’s hit all the milestones needed to start kindergarten; to delay him just because of traits he can’t change seems unfair to me. I’m not naive. I know kindergarten has changed; we’ve had one go through it already. But the world hasn’t. I’ve got to raise this little boy to become a strong young man, perhaps a husband to the daughter of one of you reading this today. I have to let him succeed AND fail while he’s in my care because his mama won’t be there forever. And the only way I know how to do that is to stand beside him and say, “Son, I know you can do it.”
Please know the information in this post reflects my opinions and understanding of information I researched and read. The articles and information I referenced for this post can be found here: