Thursday, March 26, 2009 ;
8:57 AM
When should we send our kids to school?

In the middle ages, kids were given an apple or a coin and told to choose. Only after they are mature enough for the delayed gratification and abstract reasoning involved in choosing money over fruit would they start school.

In 15th and 16th century Germany, kids were sent to school only after they were acting "rational".

In USA now, kids are sent to school based on cut-off dates for their age, which many think are too arbitrary. (For kindy, the child must be 5 by July 1 in Indiana, to Jan 1 in Connecticut.)

In Singapore, parents are sending 18mth old kids to school, and I am not talking an hour a day playgroup, but whole day school cum child care, yes, even if they are SAHMs.

I just read that schools such as Little Neuro Tree (in Singapore) starts the brain training and language classes for babies starting from 3 mth old. They use something like the Shichida method combined with Glen Doman method of flashing cards and other activities to teach kids English, Chinese and Japanese. Growing Up Gifted, Shichida schools etc in Singapore have thriving business and long waiting lists.

These kids are performing very well, far above their peers and way beyond the average developmental milestones for their age. Testimonials from the schools, and parental proof from forums like Spore's Motherhood and KiasuParent websites also shows that kids before the age of 16mth old are reading. Some parents even wrote to Forum page in Straits Times before, saying their 5 year olds can write high school level essays and read unabridged books like Charlotte's Web. ("What?!?!" I think.)

In case you think I frequent these sites, no, I am not a member of these forums, but I do read the Straits Times and in google some keywords, I chanced upon the forums by chance. What I read scared me so much I stopped going back. Why? If that is the trend, it means my kids are at least 3 years behind their peers in school.

Ok, let's put these aside and focus on kindergarten age.

Recently in school, there is a discussion among the moms of letting their kids repeat a year. In ds2's class, a number are considering letting their kids repeat Nursery or Pre-K just so they are more confident in school and are able to absorb and learn everything better. Some do that based on teacher's recommendations, some do that based on their own observations.

In both sons classes, there are already a few kids who are doing that. ds1 has 2 classmates I know of who are 1 year older than him and the rest (judging by the Sep 1st date). Their moms had held back their kids deliberately.

This was relatively new to me since my kids just started school, and since it is not a common phenomenon in Singapore. I think, is it because Singapore schools are very strict on the age and dates for entry or what? Not sure.

In ds2's class, there are also kids in both Nursery and Pre-K level who have repeated a year or entered the level a year older.

Recently, several moms whose kids did not perform exceptionally well in kindy were discussing if they should let them repeat the year instead of moving onto Grade 1 this Aug. It was an engaging discussion and I was made to reflect and think a lot about their points too.

For me, I feel there is no need to do so for my kids, mainly because they weren't born near the cut off dates, so I feel they are performing (both socially and academically) well within their age group.

For these moms, their kids have birthdays ranging from April to Sep, so they wonder if their kids will fare better being older than the cohort rather than being the youngest. Some of them cannot keep up with the academics and oral presentations/ projects. Some of them are not ready, for example, one mom said her son still keeps wetting his pants in school, a sign of anxiety? She'd rather he have another relaxing year in kindy than move up to a more demanding Grade 1.

I did some reading up after the discussion with them and found a lot of interesting reads. Apparently it has been done in the US since eons ago, and they are still debating it.

Because the term redshirting is used for delaying or suspending college sportsmen a year so that they can spread their playing season over 5 years rather than 4 in the US, redshirting is also used when kindergarteners delay entering by a year.

See the boy with the redshirt?

The moms pointed to those in the best-performing groups in school. For reading and math, the kids are grouped according to their abilities so they can do different activities for these periods. ds1 and a couple of others are found in the highest-achieving groups, and the moms pointed out that the same few are in the best groups consistently, and they said the similarity was that they were older. Quite true, none of the kids had a birthday after Feb.

I needed more facts and data, so I surfed a bit, and came up with these sites.

Against Redshirting:
She lists reasons parents redshirt their kids for, and none are for academic reasons! Most are social, like being able to drive and date earlier in future in high school, and being able to play sports well and get scholarships in college because they are bigger and stronger (result of being odler).

For redshirting:

Quote: "One can easily see how the skill-begets-skill, motivation-begets-motivation dynamic plays out in a kindergarten setting: a child who comes in with a good vocabulary listens to a story, learns more words, feels great about himself and has an even better vocabulary at the end of the day. Another child arrives with a poor vocabulary, listens to the story, has a hard time following, picks up fewer words, retreats into insecurity and leaves the classroom even further behind."

(see comments from teachers at the end of post)
(My sons are in trouble, they are short!!)

Neutral studies:
(initial advantage, later on effect fades. however, it was interesting to read a lot of teacher comments, they all seem to be for redshirting.,9171,959029,00.html
(Interesting, not just the article itself, but comments from parents, kids who had been redshirted themselves, spouses of redshirted people, teachers and the whole range.)

Some kids who are all grown up now say they thank their parents for giving them the edge, they have high SAT scores, and did very well in sports. Some wished their parents hadn't redshirted them because they did very well and yet their classmates all teased them and said they did well only because they are older.

In one study published in the June 2005 Journal of Sport Sciences, researchers from Leuven, Belgium, and Liverpool, England, found that a disproportionate number of World Cup soccer players are born in January, February and March, meaning they were old relative to peers on youth soccer teams.

A teacher used to encourage parents to send their children to kindergarten as soon as they were eligible, but she is now a strong proponent of older kindergartners, after teaching one child with a birthday just a few days before the cutoff. “She was always a step behind. It wasn’t effort and it wasn’t ability. She worked hard, her mom worked with her and she still was behind.” Andersen followed the girl’s progress through second grade (after that, she moved to a different school) and noticed that she didn’t catch up. Other teachers at that school and elsewhere have noticed a similar phenomenon: not always, but too often, the little ones stay behind. (from the NY Times website)

What about other countries' models?
Finnish children start school later, at age 7, and even then the first few years are largely devoted to social development and play. Denmark, too, produces little difference between relatively older and younger kids; the Danish education system prohibits differentiating by ability until students are 16. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, Bedard notes that she found age effects everywhere, from “the Japanese system of automatic promotion, to the accomplishment-oriented French system, to the supposedly more flexible skill-based program models used in Canada and the United States.”

Perhaps why parents are redshirting is partly because kindergarten is no longer as before. Way in the past, kindergartens were just where kids learn to play with each other and develop some sense of organisation and social skills.

Boston transcendentalists like Elizabeth Peabody cautioned that a “genuine” kindergarten is “a company of children under 7 years old, who do not learn to read, write and cipher” and a “false” kindergarten is one that accommodates parents who want their children studying academics instead of just playing.

Now it is no longer the case. It has become so competitive that parents are worried for their kids' self esteem.

However, articles do add that redshirting will work only if the family background is not under the poverty line, because disadvantaged children will fare worse if they are held back from school yet another year.

What do you think?
Any personal stories to share?

For me, I think the state can give a guideline, but let parents choose. Parents know their kids best and they can decide when to start the child in kindy, for the best interests of their children.

Other sites with some debate on this matter:

Is your kid ready for kindy?

My conclusion: When I have another baby, I hope his/ her birthday will be in a month when I don't have to consider and think of all these issues, saves me a lot of trouble! :-)

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

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