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"Too Young for Kindergarten!" What Does the Research Say?

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When their child turns 5, many parents think the child is ready for kindergarten. However, when they contact the local school district, they often learn that their child's birthday occurs just after the cut-off date for entrance to kindergarten, which mak es them "too young" to enroll. Generally, children whose birthdays occur in the autumn months do not meet age-eligibility criteria to be enrolled in kindergarten.
The entrance age for kindergarten varies from district to district and state to state. It is believed that the younger 5-year-olds will experience difficulties socially and academically if they start school with older 5-year-olds. In some states, schools administer a readiness test to determine if a child is "ready" for kindergarten. In some schools, the decision on whether or not to enroll the young child is left to the discretion of the superintendent (Eads, Miller, Ellwein, & Walsh, 1990). Yet many mid dle-class parents opt to hold their child out of kindergarten until the child turns 6, believing that another year will give their child maturity that will help the child succeed in school.

Research indicates boys are held out of (not enrolled in) kindergarten more frequently than girls (Bellisimo, Sacks, & Mergendoller, 1995). This trend may be explained by studies that suggest that girls (more frequently than boys) demonstrate literacy ski lls (e.g., able to recognizing letters of the alphabet) and small motor skills (e.g., able to button own coat) earlier than boys (Zill, Collins, West, & Hausek, 1995).

However, some research on the issue of entrance age for kindergarten does not support the idea that younger children are not ready for kindergarten. One study concluded that denying young children entrance to kindergarten is a misguided attempt to ensure positive social adjustment in school. In the study, researchers found that whatever social difficulties the youngest children have early in the school year dissipate as the year progresses. Further, a comparison of report cards of the youngest and oldest children in the class did not show any differences in academic, social, or physical skills (Spitzer, Cupp, & Parke, 1995).

This research suggests that parents' worries about their children not being ready for kindergarten may be unfounded and that parents should enroll 5-year-old children who meet age-entrance requirements in kindergarten, rather than holding them out until t hey are 6 years of age.

Bellisimo, Y., Sacks, C. H., & Mergendoller, J. R. (1995). Changes over time in kindergarten holding out: Parent and school contexts. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 10(2), 205-222.

Eads, G. M., Miller, A. K., Ellwein, M. C., & Walsh, D. (1990). Testing for kindergarten readiness: State action and district response. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Boston.

Spitzer, S., Cupp, R., & Parke, R. D. (1995). School entrance age, social acceptance, and self-perceptions in kindergarten and 1st grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 10(4), 433-450.

Zill, N., Collins, M. West, J., & Hausek, E. V. (1995). Approaching kindergarten: A look at preschoolers in the United States. National Household Education Survey. Statistical Analysis Report. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistic s.
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