The decision of whether to start your child in kindergarten when they are 4 or 5 is a difficult one for many parents in Connecticut, mainly because the January 1 cutoff date (for turning 5) is months behind that of almost all other states in the U.S. (other than New York).
I reflected upon this decision for my son, whose birthday is December 24. First, if sent to kindergarten at 4, he will be the youngest student in his college class; students from other states will be between four and sixteen months older than he. Second, who decided that we in Connecticut should be different? Assuming our curriculum is comparable, and our children are similar, why would our students start younger?
By age 1.5, my son was speaking in complete sentences and having conversations. He was a social kid who loved to play with others and did not struggle behaviorally. At 4, he was starting to read and write and was very interested in learning. There is no doubt in my mind that he could have gone to kindergarten and that he would have been fine. But the more I thought about it, the more I was unsure. Because I didn’t just want him to be fine. I wanted him to be outstanding.
I spoke with four different Kindergarten teachers in other cities/states/towns, as well as several teachers of older grades. I was expecting differing opinions, but everyone told me unequivocally: older is better. Let your child play an extra year. Let them come in and know how to interact with peers and adults more confidently, how to open their lunches more adeptly, how to process their emotions a little more maturely, and how to express themselves a little more clearly. They told me that some (not all or even most) parents would regret sending their children to kindergarten too early. But that they had never met a parent who regretted waiting an extra year.
I feel so lucky that we were able to find a wonderful full-day pre-kindergarten program for my son. Pre-k is a predominantly CT/NY concept of an extra year of pre-school for kids who have already attended the 4’s class but won’t go to kindergarten yet. Pre-k challenged my son academically and guided him socially and emotionally. He gained independence and learned many of the lessons of kindergarten while still being in a play-based environment and still being able to start kindergarten after he’d turned five years old.
I am also lucky that he now has a kindergarten teacher who can successfully differentiate so that he is never bored, despite being academically ahead of the other students. If not for her and our incredible pre-k teachers, delaying kindergarten may not have been the success it was for us.
While every child is different and every family’s circumstances are different, sending my son to pre-k was the best decision for him. In the long-term, I am glad he will not be the last one to get his driver’s license or go through puberty, or mature socially. I am glad he will be one year older (and hopefully wiser?) when I eventually have to send him off into the world on his own.