05 September 2010

When Should a Child Start School?

Reading this story might help with the understanding of this post a bit, as I'm drawing from the article for my content here. Normally, I'm not this outspoken about issues that are highly debatable, because I don't really relish confrontation, and hate the pressure I feel when I am forced to defend my opinion. Today I felt particularly brave. Most of my posts won't be like this. Please, forgive me if you do not like the topic of this blog in particular- come back later and view the next. This was inspired by an article I read just before posting, and the article made me realize I wanted to explore the topic more in-depth by writing about it.

Apparently, some parents are deciding that if their children are "gifted," they could be "red-shirted", or held back a year from kindergarten, so that they become the smartest in their class. I can see where for some kids, this would be beneficial, but I think that overall, it would end up putting them behind their age-related peers, and only slightly above their grade-related peers.

Here, I'd like to segue into a personal story that is related to the topic, a personal experience of my own. When I started the Kindergarten, I lived in Mililani, Hawaii. The law stated that in order to begin kindergarten, you had to be 5 by December 31 of that year. I started kindergarten in September of 1992, at the age of 4- my birthday is November 29. In my class there, I may have been one of the youngest, but it didn't hold me back from doing well.

In fact, when my family moved to Texas in 1994, we found that the Hawaii curriculum for first grade was far ahead of the curriculum in Texas. We also found out that, because Texas had a different law, where the age cutoff was September 1, rather than December, they wanted to put me BACK in kindergarten, and repeat the first grade, SIMPLY because of my age. This occurrence in my life seems to parallel with that of red-shirting kindergartners because they think that age is key.

In the end, my parents fought with the school district, where I was, after the battle, allowed to finish the first grade as I would have, and continue from where I was, rather than stay back and repeat the first grade. This, of course, was followed with the warning that if I ever fell behind, I'd be held back a grade- no worries, I was ahead of my grade-level peers, and this was consistent through elementary, middle, and high school, even in more than one district. I am happy the school made the decision to let me continue instead of holding me back.

Being the youngest in my class didn't lower my test scores or my IQ. I did have some problems socializing, but that had nothing to do with what the schools were doing, and I probably would have been more stigmatized and devastated had they made me repeat that year. I ended up graduating salutatorian (ranked second), out of the 232 students in my senior class. I was the youngest, younger than some by more than a year. I was quite proud of my accomplishments, and also proud of the fact that I got to finish my first semester of college at 17.

It baffles me that parents would want to hold their children back, having them learn things a year later than their age-peers, graduating high school at late 18-19, starting college later, and being older than their classmates. I would feel quite dumb if I had to stay a year behind just to be on par with my grade-level peers.

The early years of learning are very important, and if parents are holding their children back to help with their intelligence, are they teaching them anything in that gap year? If not, I highly doubt there will be any increase in intelligence. Besides, who cares if they are ahead of their classmates, if they are a year older? That just means older kids are smarter, but when compared with the children who were not red-shirted, they are now an academic year behind them, and this makes them more intelligent HOW?

There are always going to be younger and older children in a class, just as there are always going to be smart or dumb children, tall and short children, large and small children, socially awkward children, popular children, and bullies. An ADHD child will still have ADHD  if you hold them back a year. I would have still read on a high school level in elementary school, I would have still been just as socially awkward, and probably more self-conscious. I only foresee this practice causing delays.

This practice could be approached from many different POVs, with different solutions. They could incorporate testing into their registration criteria, so that if a child tests ahead or behind, they can be placed with a peer group of similar intelligence level. There, age won't matter, and the learning can be more tailored to suit the students in the class, regardless of age.

They could also make it solely the parents' choice, but there would be problems with that. Some may want their little boy to be the biggest in the class, not the smallest, for fear that he may feel inferior or stigmatized. Their intelligence will be less considered in this situation, and the child may wind up in a classroom of students with whom he or she does not belong. There are also the parents who would send their child to kindergarten regardless of their intelligence, because they can't afford to keep them at home another year. This could also be detrimental, because it's harder to catch up, when you start out behind. Some may base it on social competence, but had that been the case with me, I may have never gone to school. I'm one of the most socially awkward people I know, and whether I started kindergarten at 4 or 5, I would still be just as socially awkward. Moving in the middle of school doesn't help, either. Some kids are just naturally more socially inept than others. This is why they have cliques in school, and shouldn't have any bearing on what age they begin.

They could just stick to the strict government age-mandated standards, which will put all children of the same age in the same class regardless of ability, again leaving room for problems, such as those ahead of the learning curve, and those that fall short.

I'm thinking about studying this as my social problem for my social work class, as it came at a very interesting time, right when I'm searching for a topic. I also have to write a letter to a politician- maybe this was a good story to mark. I'm also glad that I can relate to it on a personal level, giving me an understanding of what some of these kids face.

Peace, Love, and Music ☮♥♫♪

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a tricky one. I like to think parents do the best for their kids. I started school at 4 (nearly 5), and my son will start at 5, nearly 6. I'm quite glad he's starting later because he's really, really ready to go. He has already developed a natural curiousity for writing and reading and drawing, and I know when his feet hit the school ground he will take off. I don't know that he would have been as ready starting at 4.
Interesting post. Visiting from rewind. :)

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