Best Age to Start Kindergarten

What if the best age to start kindergarten depended upon the individual? Why should kindergarten be viewed as an en masse educational rite of passage that somehow begins a new life journey? Parents – take a deep breath and repeat after me ‘kindergarten is overrated’. “New research finds that kids who enter at age 6 instead of age 5 – especially kids from disadvantaged families – do significantly better on standardized tests and learn more from schooling” (Datar, 2005). Confused? Parents are scratching their heads and trying to understand why schools keep insisting on a one size fits all approach to the learner and their development in the classroom.

First, every parent should be aware that educational research has always had it’s detractors. The problem is simply that teachers in the classroom do not have the time and money to conduct extensive research projects. ” Ideally, researchers would study the development by observing their over many years as changes occur. These are called longitudinal studies. They are informative, but time consuming, expensive and not always practical… So much research is cross sectional, focusing on groups of children at different ages” (Woolfolk, 2005, p. 13). So the first question that a parent needs to ask is whether or not there are definitive longitudinal studies that help to determine when a child should start kindergarten?

The answer is Yes and No. For example, “In 1979, 3-month-old infants and their families from the central New Jersey area enrolled in a longitudinal study of children’s development. One hundred and twenty-five of those children are the subjects in one of the longest running, comprehensive, contemporary studies of development in American children”(Past and Current Research, 2007). What were some of the findings of the study? “For young children, it is the mother who shapes the social network. By the time children enter grade school, social networks reflect both children’s and parents’ social choices” (Past and Current Research, 2007). So the mother and the father have a direct impact on the social development of the child. This is a matter of common sense rather than research.

However, other research projects have produced more startling results. “While it seems clear that poor children who delay entrance experience faster gains in test scores over time compared to poor children who enter kindergarten at a younger age, the families of these children are also more likely to bear huge additional childcare costs if minimum entrance age requirements are raised” (Datar, 2005). Yep. Kids can start kindergarten a bit later without problems but the pocketbook cost to the parent is prohibitive because childcare is expensive. So parents take another deep breath and contemplate the fact that kindergarten is more about economic realities than social development.

Parents need to realize that they are the crucial link in their child’s education. Structured formal education builds upon material learned in the home environment. This statement applies even if the home environment is a negative factor in the student’s life. Teachers can either pick up where parents leave off or where parents continue to help teaching their child. Also, parents should be aware that teacher centered paradigms of learning may not be the best for their child. “It is also important to determine whether different effects are produced by different models for early childhood programs-to determine, for example, whether didactic, teacher-directed programs or less-structured, “discovery” models produce superior cognitive and behavioral outcomes” (Cotton and Conklin, 1989).

In fact, there are “some educators, such as Elkind (1988), Katz (1987), Zigler (1986), and representatives of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1986)who warn against too much formal, highly structured education for very young children” (Cotton and Conklin, 1989). Also, schools tend to focus on classroom development whereas parents focus on play. “Movement experiences-in addition to stories, songs, games, puzzles, blocks, dramatic play, finger-painting, and all manner of other stimulating activities and materials-are a critical part of early childhood education ” (Paglin, 2001). So – if parents are so critical – why do schools tend to ignore the role of the parent?

“Education and support services to parents of young children coupled with early education programs for the children should be recognized as an essential part of high quality elementary school curriculum” (Cotton and Conklin, 2001). The operative word is should be recognized. Setting an artificial age to start kindergarten does not empower the parent. Rather, most parents feel compelled to start their children in grade school when they are told to do so whether or not that decision is valid for the development of that child.

In conclusion, the best age to start kindergarten depends upon the individual student and the parent of that student. The parent needs to work with their child and decide when – and if – their child will go a regular public school program or whether or not the parent wants to decide homeschooling or other non-traditional paths. And the parent needs to stay involved with their child’s learning throughout that child’s life. “Perhaps, if we are sufficiently insistent, our society will one day be willing to make long-range investments in our children and in the quest for ways to improve their ability to succeed in life” (Cotton and Conkiln, 2001).

References:

Cotton, K and Conklin, N. (2001). Research on Early Childhood Education retrieved June 1, 2007 from http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/3/topsyn3.html

Datar, A. (2005). Delaying Kindergarten retrieved June 11, 2007 from http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9082/index1.html

Paglin, C. (2001). Dance Like a Caterpillar. NWREL retrieved June 11, 2007 from http://www.nwrel.org/nwedu/fall_00/caterpillar.html

Past and Current Research (2007). The Longitudinal Study of Child Development retrieved June 11, 2007 from http://www2.umdnj.edu/iscdweb/Past_current_research.html

Woolfolk, A. (2005). Educational Psychology Ninth Edition. Allyn and Bacon Publishers, New York