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Because so many children are attending preschool these days I get lots of questions like the following:

“My son turns five in October, which means that he misses the deadline for entering the public schools, but could attend kindergarten at any of a number of charter schools in our area. He has been attending preschool (two hours a day for two days a week) for just over a year and thoroughly enjoys it — often saying that he wishes he could go to preschool every day. His preschool teacher says she thinks he would do just fine in kindergarten because he loves learning and is a happy, easy-going kid. (The other eight children in his class are of age to start kindergarten in the fall and he does well socially with them.) Everyone comments on how bright he is — he has known his letters and sounds since before he turned three, can sound out simple words, and loves to write the words he knows and any words we spell out for him.

“We are leaning toward starting him in kindergarten this fall, mainly because I think he would enjoy it and would do really well. Plus, I think he’ll be bored in preschool for another year. However, I keep hearing about how the trend now is for parents to hold their sons, in particular, back for an extra year (even if they meet the deadline) so that they’ll be more mature, socially and physically, and more of a leader in their school careers. I know it can be difficult for a boy to be the smallest in his class, especially as puberty hits, and my son is already on the small side. What are your thoughts on determining school readiness and how a child’s age (relatively older or younger than the others in his class) can affect him throughout his school years?”

Your letter nicely outlines the pros and cons of starting kindergarten early. The biggest ‘pro’ factors are a bright kid and worries about boredom in another year of preschool. The biggest concern is that of social adjustment in a child who will always be younger and probably smaller than his classmates.

I have recently reviewed the literature on early / late starts as well as skipping a grade. Guess what? It depends on the individual child and the family. Some children thrive in a challenging intellectual environment and do suffer from boredom if not challenged. Some children are hesitant in new situations and don’t seem to get bored with repetition of the same material.

It also depends on what the teacher is willing and able to do. Some teachers have the energy, ability, and time to give a bright kid challenging extra work within the classroom just as they give extra help to a child who has fallen behind.

An alternative to a charter school is another year of preschool but 5 days a week in an education-focused school. Parental enrichment can go a long way in preventing boredom and you can also take the child to many story hours at the library, music lessons. sports, computer classes, etc.

Personally I believe in solving today’s problems. If this child will be bored next year in preschool and there are no other alternatives than send him to kindergarten. The social effects that may or may not occur are in the future and your child is bored now. I think it’s downright silly to keep a boy out of school for a year so he may become a leader downstream. C’mon!