The Guilt of Sending a Four Year Old to Kindergarten

When I tell people that I have a seven year old, many ask, “Is she in second grade?” My answer, that she’s in third grade, is almost always met with surprise and frequently leads to one of my least favorite subjects: yes, we sent a four year old to kindergarten.

SB 1381, the legislation sitting on the governor’s desk that would move up California’s kindergarten age cut off, is one that I support and had wished was in place before I had to make the decision myself. If the kindergarten cut off had been Sept. 1 instead of Dec. 2, I wouldn’t have had a choice: my daughter would have had to wait an extra year to start school. Instead we had to think about my daughter’s abilities and her needs to make the decision ourselves, and while it wasn’t easy and is one that I will probably question at times throughout her academic career, we were able to tailor our decision to best fit our child. In many ways, I’m thankful we had that option.

We sent our daughter to kindergarten because she was ready. She taught herself to read at age three, she’s always been independent, can sit still for long periods of time, follows directions, and socially, she’s where she should be. It’s the long term that I’m worried about. I never wanted to send a 17 year old away to college, and unless she gets into Stanford and agrees to live at home, it’s what we will end up doing. We made the decision that we thought was best for her and we’ve had zero reason to regret it. So then why do people always need to let us know they think we’ve made a mistake?
Anytime kindergarten readiness comes up between parents, I always feel a little uncomfortable because I know it will inevitably lead to an age discussion. The other day a mom I know said her parents held her back – which isn’t true because she has a late December birthday, basically they didn’t lie about her age to get her into school earlier – and it was the best thing they ever did for her. Her experience is why she thinks all parents should hold back. When I told her that my daughter started school as a four year old, she immediately backed off her position and said, “Oh well, she’s a girl.” This mom was a girl too when her parents “held her back,” but I didn’t bring that up. It seems that the people who have the strongest opinions are the ones who’ve been in the same position. That makes sense, but I always wonder if their opinion is based on supporting their decision (or what was decided for them) as the correct answer. What may have worked for you or your child, may not work for mine. We made the best decision for our child and that should be enough to silence the critics, but as with most hot button parenting issues, some people need to proselytize. I don’t need the guilt trip.

Overall, I think the earlier age cutoff is great. Not many younger children are ready for kindergarten and I appreciate that the proposed law would shrink the age gap between classmates. Reducing the number of kids held out a year would make it less likely that kids one full year apart will be in the same grade. (It would probably still happen, just not as frequently. A friend’s son and his classmate are a year apart, even though both are born before the SB 1381 cut off date.) This may also mean the gifted kids are more likely to skip a grade – a practice that seems to have slowed down in recent years. Clover loves school and she’s appropriately challenged by her teachers and coursework. If she had been forced to wait, she would have been deeply bored.

Every child is different. I see that first hand with my own two kids. I hope that my daughter doesn’t look back and say we made the wrong choice because hers is the only opinion about which we care. I’m thrilled my second child has a June birthday, which means new law or not, we’ll never face the kindergarten dilemma with him. And thankfully so, because academically, he’s nowhere near where his sister was at his age. While no one will ever look at us askance when we say how old he was when he started kindergarten, he will be the less ready of my two children.

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