One of the most common questions we hear from parents is, “Should I send my child to kindergarten or young 5s?” The early childhood team here at West Side Christian School – Judy Goote (kindergarten), Tiffany Kamper (kindergarten), Delia Roberts (4s preschool), and Katelyn VerWoert (Nature Preschool & Young 5s) – fields this question a lot.
We're glad you asked.
It’s a very important question! Kindergarten is the start of your child’s educational journey, and it’s a journey where it’s not easy to just hit “pause” or “restart”, so deciding when to start that journey is an important decision. As the state of Michigan’s public schools began transitioning several years ago to mostly full-day kindergarten programs, Young 5s programs that eased students into the school routine through various flexible scheduling or part-time classes have become increasingly popular for families. These are great options!
We also realize that leaves parents wondering how they should go about evaluating their options and selecting the best one for their child – because there’s not a checklist that parents can just mark items off of that at the end says definitively whether a child should go to kindergarten or not!
We'd like to help you with this!
This is the advice we all give any parent wrestling with this question.
- Does your child’s birthday meet the kindergarten cutoff of September 1? If their birthday is after September 1, Young 5s is a much better fit for them.
- What does your child’s preschool teacher recommend? Mrs. Roberts and Ms. VerWoert know your child in the classroom setting. They have seen your child interact with other students, hold a pencil and crayon, run on the playground, ask questions, and sing & dance. The preschool teachers are best positioned to offer their professional advice as to whether another year of kindergarten readiness is recommended, or whether your child is ready for kindergarten itself, and you can trust their experience and expertise. We kindergarten teachers aren’t well positioned to answer this question, because we don’t yet know your child. We haven’t observed them over the course of many months in a classroom setting and haven’t had opportunity to evaluate, holistically, whether they’re ready for a kindergarten classroom or not – we rely on our preschool teachers to speak into this.
- Sign up for kindergarten testing. Kindergarten testing involves a 1-1 evaluation with a kindergarten teacher. We are evaluating their developmental readiness for kindergarten. This can be confusing for parents, and we recognize that! It’s not just a “do they know enough numbers and letters and words?” type of assessment; rather, it’s a comprehensive assessment that provides us with information about their readiness in areas such as fine motor skills, gross motor skills, verbal language, following directions, auditory memory, and visual memory. Parents, you receive the results of this testing.
- Pray. The Lord has gifted your child uniquely and has a plan and purpose for your child’s life. You can trust Him to guide you as you consider your options.
- You know your child and can use your knowledge, combined with the preschool teacher’s recommendation and results from testing, to make an informed decision. Ideally, kindergarten testing and the preschool teacher’s assessment and your prayers and your knowledge of your child would provide a fairly clear decision for you.
But what if it doesn't?
What if the preschool teacher says they truly could go either way? What if kindergarten testing suggests they’d probably be ready, but not with confidence? What if you’re feeling conflicted and unsettled about what to do, even if you’ve followed all this advice?
We don’t have the answer for that. There’s no “easy button” so to speak for that … but we do have some advice born out of experience and informed by words of wisdom from other parents who’ve grappled with this decision and taken both paths. Please allow us to share this with you.
Give your child an extra year to get ready for kindergarten. All of us early childhood teachers can attest that we’ve almost never heard a parent say that they wished they had sent them to kindergarten when faced with the decision. Rather, we’ve often heard from parents that they wished they’d given them just one more year.
Interestingly, it’s not usually until middle elementary grades that we hear this comment from parents, and it often has little to do with their child’s intelligence or academic progress. Instead, it has more to do with their child’s maturity (developmental readiness) as compared with their peers, and as children move into these middle elementary grades that age gap can reveal itself more than it does even in kindergarten and the early elementary years.
You see, we (parents & teachers) love it when kids learn their numbers and letters and other important academic stuff. Kids just want to fit in. As their teachers, we want them to feel confident and comfortable. It’s that element that the age gap can affect more than their academic abilities.
Does this mean it’s never appropriate to send a child to kindergarten who’s in that borderline group? Absolutely not. Your child is created by their heavenly Father and gifted with unique talents and abilities. Your child-on-the-border might very well thrive if sent to kindergarten, and each of us devotes ourselves wholeheartedly to your child’s academic success and emotional, social, and spiritual development regardless of what year they enroll in kindergarten.
Rather, this guidance and gentle advice is just that: gentle advice born out of experience and meant as an encouragement to you as you consider your options, and intended to help you understand the factors that we consider when parents ask us this question.
So, thanks for asking! We’re glad you did.
We’re here to help you as you consider your options. What other questions do you have?