The Kindergarten Entrance Age Dilemma

Dev had turned four in July. Though he loved preschool, he was anxiously awaiting kindergarten next year. Dev knew his friends would be moving on to the inviting classroom in the big school where his brother and sister spent their days.

Full of enthusiasm, he confidently underwent kindergarten screening where he spent half an hour naming pictures, drawing a ‘man’, bouncing a ball and copying designs. The school psychologist reported that Dev demonstrated average and above average skills. But, he did have a summer birthday, she frowned.

It would be better, she said, for Dev to postpone kindergarten entrance for a year so that he would not be one of the youngest children in the class. He would do better academically. The gym teacher agreed, citing the advantages of an extra year to develop physical skills so necessary for sports.

Dev’s parents were confused. The preschool teacher insisted that Dev was ready. His grandmother reminded everyone that he was already tall for his age. And Dev was saddened at the thought of going to a big school a full year later. Relying on the school’s expert advice, Dev’s parents registered him for a third year of preschool and enrolled him in kindergarten the following year.

The Kindergarten Entrance Age Dilemma

The Kindergarten Entrance Age Dilemma [Illustration by Shiju George]

Although different schools have different cut-off dates that they adhere to, Dev’s experience is repeated over and over again by many children across the country. Educators are commonly recommending that children born during the summer months be given an extra year to mature so that they will not suffer from the academic disadvantages of being among the youngest in their class.

There are many teachers who agree with this idea and among them is Rowena Gideon Mech, a senior teacher at St Thomas’s School, Delhi. While the children may not suffer in the initial years of kindergarten, it is in the senior classes that they find themselves unable to cope with the curriculum, she observes.

Either the children are unable to clear their exams that particular year or they have to go through the trauma of coping and falling short of giving their best. This is not only unhealthy for children, it also has an adverse effect on the children’s families which feel that the school should have advised them regarding the age dilemma right in the beginning.

Rowena cites some advantages of starting kindergarten late:

  • The child is able to cope with the class course better.
  • He or she is able to deal with teachers and peers in a more comfortable manner.
  • The fact that the child would be relearning all that s/he had absorbed in an earlier class – perhaps in preschool – would be a big plus point. It would enable her/him to be more informed and aware, in school.
  • The child would be emotionally more mature and less prone to stress.In a kindergarten classroom, the younger children may appear to be immature and not ready to tackle the tasks their significantly older classmates find challenging and intriguing. As academic expectations rise to meet the needs of the five-year-old, there is a real danger that the kindergarten programme may not be able to help the young child develop fully, thereby defeating the purpose it is meant to serve.

    Did Dev’s Parents Make the Right Decision?

    Dev is 15 years old now. When he was 13 years old, he towered above his classmates. Many of his teachers assume that he must have been retained since he was older than the other students. When asked what class he is in, Dev always makes it a point to explain that he started kindergarten late.

    But Dev is well liked by students and teachers. Academically, Dev gets average and above average grades.

    Clearly, this question does not have a clear answer. It is further complicated by the fact that each child is an individual in her/his own right with a set of unique characteristics and recommendations of educators can be life-changing events in a young child’s life.

    So, every time educators make a decision either way they have to keep in mind the particular child in question. At the same time, they need to devise a set of guidelines that can work as an effective yardstick for children and their parents.

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