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Starting Kindergarten Late

The pros and cons of waiting an extra year.

The Cons of Delayed Kindergarten
Not every study seems to indicate that delaying a child's entry into kindergarten is beneficial. A study published in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, might support educators who oppose delaying children's entry into kindergarten. Students who are older because they started school late tend to have more behavioral difficulties in adolescence than students who are the average age for the grade, according to research done at the University of Rochester.

"Parents want to keep kids out to give them a leg up on tests," said Dr. Robert S. Byrd, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester [N.Y.] School of Medicine. "But holding children out of school may not give them any advantage, and may cause problems."

The trend toward delayed entry into kindergarten, along with an increase in the number of special education students who take more time to complete high school and of immigrant students who may need more time to catch up on work, has created an aging school population in the United States. According to an October 1997 article in Education Week, the percentage of 12th graders in U.S. public schools who are 19, 20, or 21 has nearly doubled, from 4 percent in 1984 to 7 percent in 1994.

For the study published in Pediatrics, staff at Rochester General Hospital studied interviews with parents of more than 9,000 children from 7 to 17 years old, gathered in 1988 for the federal National Health Interview Survey.

In that survey, 26 percent of children were older than their peers were. About half had been retained a year, and the other half had been delayed in starting school by their parents or by a school's cutoff date for entry. Students who started school later had more behavioral problems than students of average age, especially when they hit adolescence, the study showed. According to this research, at 17, 16 percent of students who started kindergarten later demonstrated extremely inappropriate conduct, while 7 percent of the average-age students exhibited similar inappropriate behavior.

A Few Caveats
Some education groups have said the possibility that older students may have more behavioral problems does not make it advisable to promote children who are not academically ready for the next grade. Other experts have criticized the Rochester hospital study for using data that was years old and possibly not applicable at this time.

Complicating the issue of kindergarten readiness is the fact that parents and teachers or school administrators may view readiness very differently. An article titled "How Should Children Be Prepared For Kindergarten?" from the Educational Resource Network on the Web recognizes that much of the diversity among 5-year-olds is due to "developmental differences, the varying rates at which individuals mature." Yet some of the diversity, the article asserts, may be based on different ways parents prepare, or don't prepare, their children for kindergarten.

The article is based on information from a survey by Kimberly Harris and Shelly Knudsen Lindauer. Harris and Lindauer sought to learn what parents and teachers believe about kindergarten readiness. They surveyed two-parent families from diverse economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds in urban and rural areas.

"When asked what parents could do to better prepare their children," the article states, "teachers most frequently mentioned the areas of receptive language, cognitive-attention/problem-solving, and small muscle coordination." Parents, however, tended to emphasize helping children with pre-reading, math, and social skills. According to Harris and Lindauer, "clarifying goals for parents is essential," and communication between home and school about expectations for children entering kindergarten will help those children succeed in school.

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