Guest Post By: Dr. Brooke Weingarden, DO, MPH of the Birmingham Maple Clinic
What age is my child ready to go to kindergarten?
Will they succeed? Do they need extra time?
Will they keep up with the class?
Can I push them ahead?
These are common questions at this time in a child’s educational life. Some children are placed in kindergarten ahead of their peers, some along with their preschool class and some prefer to wait a year. Why might parents want their child to have an extra year, and what are the benefits?
Children meet their milestones within a certain ‘range of normal.’ Some achieve certain milestones earlier in that range, and others towards the later range of normal; but all are normal. The range can be quite large. Some may be ready to learn academically but still need time to develop socially and emotionally, and vice versa. These variations are all OK and part of life!
The social and emotional developmental stage during the preschool age focuses on play, which is an important part of their growth and learning process. It is quite literally our children’s jobs and expectation to play during this time of their life. Healthy development during this stage includes:
- Learning to imagine while broadening skills through active and imaginative play
- Learning to cooperate with others
- Learning how to lead and follow others
These are crucial milestones for each child to properly develop. This helps children to prepare for their next developmental stage – school age. This is where kids are learning to master the more formal skills of life, such as:
- Relating to peers and classmates
- Following rules
- Progress away from free play towards play that is structured by rules and involves teamwork
- Learning and mastering core academic subjects
It’s important to note that children must experience and progress in one developmental stage, in order to be ready to master the next stage.
Today, schools have been teaching subjects that are more advanced and more academic at younger ages than they have in the past. Children are learning letters, writing, spelling and some math in preschool; and as early as kindergarten and first grade, they are reading books, learning math and coding skills. There are many more academic demands on our children at younger ages than ever before. The academic demands may be things that some children are not ready for, developmentally.
There are also more social and emotional demands that they may not be ready for, such as formal learning, teamwork, among other skills. Often times, children may struggle with being able to sit still, stay on task, participate in group activities, and learn tough academic subjects. This kind of behavior may appear to look like symptoms of ADHD, but may not in fact be the case. These children may not be developmentally ready to move onto different types of learning; therefore, if these children have an extra year to continue to develop, they may not struggle with these behaviors and symptoms.
In the US, children used to start kindergarten at age 5. Today, about 20% are starting at age 6, according to a study done at Stanford University. Some of this change is due to the new birthday cut-offs for beginning kindergarten. Some are also because many parents are choosing to hold their children back to give them an extra year of preschool or junior kindergarten. The study showed that Danish children who postponed kindergarten for up to one year, showed higher levels of self-control. It was seen that this delay, by one year, reduced inattentive symptoms as well as hyperactivity symptoms by 73% for an average child without underlying processing concerns. Waiting one year seemed to almost eliminate the chance that an average child, at school age, would have higher than normal scores on hyperactivity and inattention measures. This significantly decreases false positive diagnoses of ADHD. It also helps for true cases of ADHD to be identified and addressed. Those who truly do have ADHD will be easier to recognize because children with ADHD who have these behaviors may continue to show those behaviors and symptoms regardless of when they begin kindergarten.
If you have any concerns about your child’s readiness for kindergarten, talk to their teachers. If you have any hesitations about their readiness, feel confident and comfortable in the choice to allow them the extra year to grow and develop. It can only benefit them in their academic, social and emotional future.
Dr. Weingarden is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has a medical degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Vallejo, California. She completed residency at Henry Ford Hospital and fellowship at Wayne State University, and earned a Masters in Public Health through Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida. Areas of specialization include: psychiatric evaluations, management of children and adolescents as well as early childhood evaluations, disruptive behavior disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, thought disorders and ADHD.
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