Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kindergarten readiness: The redshirting debate

Today's Ledger-Enquirer includes a Q&A I did with Laura Johnson, pre-K lead teacher for the Muscogee County School District, about
how to decide whether you child is ready for pre-k and kindergarten and about the trend toward “redshirting” children who have late birthdays. It all started, of course, with me mulling the question for Will, who has an August 31 birthday in a school system with a September 1 cut-off.

Much of our interview didn't make it into the print edition, so I'm including the extended interview below. Also, if you’re interested in the subject, this 2007 New York Times Magazine article, entitled “When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten” provides a much more indepth look at what research and a variety of experts and teachers say about the implications of redshirting and how age affects school performance. It also delves into how redshirting can exacerbate socioeconomic gaps in the classroom since it is generally only middle and upper class parents who can afford to hold their child back a year.

Here's the rest of my interview with Laura Johnson. See the Ledger link above for the initial discussion:

Q: I’ve talked with parents who sent their child on to kindergarten and then came to regret the decision much later, when their child wasn’t as physically or emotionally mature as his or her peers in middle or high school, for example. Do you encourage parents to think mostly about Pre-K or kindergarten readiness – or do you think it makes sense to somehow project possible pros and cons far into the future?

A: “It’s such an individual decision. We’re all just so different, and they can be strong in one area and weak in another and just do fine. Particularly for parents deciding whether to start their children in Pre-K, they can try it for 30 days. In the lottery-funded Pre-K program, parents who withdraw their child within the first 30 days of Pre-K can then register them for Pre-K in the following year.”

Q: A primary fear for parents who are considering holding their child back a year is that the child will be bored. Have you seen many children who are bored in school because they were held back unnecessarily?

A: “Not in the past few years because with the Georgia performance standards in kindergarten and the content standards in Pre-K it’s such a learning atmosphere all day long – plus we’re trying to differentiate instruction and meet their needs.”

Q: “What would you say to parents who are concerned about sending a child who’s recently turned 4 to an all-day Pre-K program?”

A: “We were concerned with that at first. But they do have a full hour rest time, so teachers break up the activities so that we’ve really had few complaints from parents saying the day is too long …They also have an outside time – about 30 minutes a day.”

Q: “Kindergarten today seems like a different beast than it was a generation ago. Instead of a part-day program that includes plenty of napping and play time, it’s all day every day – and with homework to boot in many cases. Do you think children often do need to be a bit older to thrive in today’s kindergarten programs?”

A: “No, I really wouldn’t. It depends on the individual child. I taught many children who were born in August and my youngest daughter was born in late August. I have seen both younger and older children succeed and have problems. In my opinion it seems more to do with the individual than the birthday.”

Q: Some parents are weighing another decision now – whether to send their child to an all-day public Pre-K program or a private half-day Pre-K program. One difference I hear parents talk about frequently is that while many private Pre-K programs begin handwriting instruction immediately, the public Pre-K programs delay formal handwriting instruction until the second semester. Can you talk about why state guidelines suggest it is best to delay formal handwriting instruction?

A: “In Pre-K, we put out all the materials to make our writing centers very fun to be in, with markers and different sizes of pencils and paper, name and picture cards, stamps and stencils. We encourage them to write that way, but there is no set handwriting instruction because not everybody is ready. It is developmentally appropriate. Everything in the Georgia Pre-K program is based on research about how 4- and 5 year-olds learn best.”

Q: What other advice would you give to parents?:

A: “Let it be an individual decision – and the sooner the better to have them in school in some kind of program where they’re getting ready to read, learning phonological awareness, rhyming, learning new vocabulary, and socialization. I’d like to see even a 3-year-old program (in the public school system). If possible, have your child do a half-day pre-school before Pre-K.”


cbowman said...

Great article! Thanks for doing this research. I worried about James entering Kindergarten too. His birthday is in May, but he's doing just fine.

shannon said...

Having one go through the public pre-K a couple years ago (with no previous schooling and not used to the structure) and ready to register another tonight (at Mulberry Creek, to make sure you get a first-come, first-served spot, you must go by 3am the night before the registration!), I agree with everything the woman interviewed explained. My pre-Ker actually had more than 30 minutes recess.

The thing I strongly agree with is that every child progresses (or does not) individually. I want to add that it matters most what has been done or is being done at home. The variety of academic and creativity levels in a class of 17 is astounding! There is also good communication with the teacher and work (I guess you can call it homework) which can measure progress well.

As far as being bored if ahead, I think it again really depends on how you supplement at home. There are gifted programs in the public system that start in first grade as well, that can add challenge and spark if needed.

I have been very impressed with the teachers' ability to teach to all different skill levels and remember as much happening when I was in school.

We need to remember how good it is for children to figure it out themselves, fit in the way they can, without too much manipulation from us. (I just thought of this because I was laughing at the thought that my mother never had a clue about my classes and never would have held me back or advanced me or manipulated the deal in anyway, for better or worse but it made me into a pretty savvy kid). There is so much good that comes from a little struggle. Sometimes, maybe the earlier, the better unless it's very hard emotionally.