Arizona parents with pre-K children right now are prepping them for kindergarten. For some, the process is pretty straightforward: “My child turned 5 by September 1; kindergarten roundup here we come!”
For others, particularly those whose children have a late-summer birthday, the decision is not black and white. Rather, it’s more like a 64-count box of Crayolas with many shades to consider.
Kindergarten “redshirting” is the decision to delay kindergarten entry for a year. According to a national study, 4 percent to 5.5 percent of children delay kindergarten. The children most likely to take an extra year before kindergarten are male, white and from higher-income homes.
Sometimes delaying kindergarten is a positive experience, as with Chandler mom Alison Hermsen’s son, Rowan. Rowan’s preschool teacher thought one more year of pre-K would benefit him.
“I hesitated briefly, because he’s quite tall for his age,” Hermsen says. “However, he has a summer birthday, and so my husband and I chose to have him repeat pre-K. I am very happy we delayed.”
Sometimes delaying kindergarten has mixed results. Leah Zilberman, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Desert Jewish Academy in Chandler, could have requested early (age 4) kindergarten entry for her son Max, whose birthday missed the cutoff by just five days. (Arizona parents can appeal the Sept. 1 cutoff with the school district’s governing board.)
“I sent Max to kindergarten according to the cutoff date,” Zilberman says. “I really didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it; I’m a rule-follower that way.”
Max’s kindergarten experience went well. “Halfway through his first-grade year, however, it became obvious that he needed more,” she says. “He was 15 months older than some kids in his class and was becoming bored.”
Zilberman had Max tested, and he was moved from first to second grade. She reports that even though Max, now a high-school senior, has always been among the youngest in his class, he has found solid success academically and socially.
“I honestly can’t imagine him being a year behind in school, and I’ve felt that every step of the way,” she says.
Depending on the parent, you will hear different experiences with various kindergarten-entry choices, pointing to the truly individual nature of this decision. Perhaps no one knows this better than Lisa Cistolo of Chandler, who considered redshirting each of her three boys.
As a former kindergarten teacher, Cistolo can spot markers of kindergarten readiness. Based on her observations of her first son, she decided to delay kindergarten for a year.
“During that extra year, I tested him privately for learning disabilities and ADHD,” Cistolo says. “I now realize he may have qualified for extra services had I sent him to kindergarten.”
Cistolo adds that if it appears a child isn’t ready for kindergarten, there might be underlying reasons. She sent her second son to kindergarten on time, and has no regrets.
“Now, my last son has been my hardest to figure out,” says Cistolo, who chose to start him in kindergarten on time this year.
“So far, so good. He has a poem to memorize and recite to the class on Monday. And, to my pleasant surprise, he has already memorized it without a single tear shed!”
Trisha Lucas, education director at Desert Sun Child Development Center in Chandler and early-childhood educator of 25 years, says, “I believe it is crucial to consider the whole child to determine if they are kindergarten-ready.”
Lucas suggests looking at these developmental markers:
Cognitive. Do they have basic letter and number recognition? Are they able to write a couple of letters in their name? Can they identify some colors?
Social/emotional. Are they able to follow the rules and routines of the classroom? Are they able to play with others in the class and get their own needs met?
Physical. Can they hold a pencil, cut with scissors, paste and be prepared to write?
Language. Can they form a sentence? Can they ask questions? Are they able to listen to stories and books?
Enthusiasm/persistence. Lucas adds that how a child approaches learning is crucial for kindergarten readiness. “Are they enthusiastic about learning?” Lucas asks. “Are they eager to explore and take risks, and are they able to take initiative and persist when a task gets difficult?”
Taking time to evaluate an individual child’s kindergarten readiness can reap rewards in kindergarten and beyond.
“Kindergarten is the foundation to formal education,” Lucas says, “and all children should start out with a positive experience.”
Mary Anne Duggan, Ph.D., is a psychology lecturer at Arizona State University and the mother of two adult children.