Some parents opt to hold kids back before kindergarten
By Briana Kerensky
When I was about seven, my mom was always on the phone. Sometimes during dinner she would just get up from the table without a word, grab the kitchen phone and walk to a quiet corner of the house while my brother, father and I were still eating.
The calls all had the same theme: my little brother who was getting ready to start kindergarten. The topic of conversation was whether or not to hold him back a year. The final decision was to place him in transitional kindergarten.
Transitional Kindergarten (TK) focuses on fine motor skills, socialization, self-help and enhancing the child’s overall readiness for a full-day education program. That way, when they start actual kindergarten a year after they were supposed to, they’re more prepared for the new curriculum.
“This experience is a gift of time,” said Ellen Berju, the preschool director of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, NJ, where my brother attended a TK program. “It enables children gain a positive concept of him or herself as a learner. It gives them extra time to develop physical potential, and to develop listening and problem skills. Transitional kindergarten promotes responsibility and independence, while increasing their own self image and esteem.”
In an article titled, “The Rise of Transitional Kindergarten: ‘young fives’ may be old enough for kindergarten, but are they developmentally ready?” by Jen Scott Curwood, about 10 percent of U.S. parents delay their child’s kindergarten start by a year, and boys nearly twice as much.
A child’s chronological age can be different from their developmental stage. Research from the Gesell Institute of Human Development shows that one reason boys may be held back more often is because their developmental stage could be up to six months behind that of girls’.
“In a lot of ways, transitional kindergarten has a more developmental approach that emphasizes the social and emotional needs of children,” says Beth Graue, the author of “Ready for What?” and a professor of early childhood education at the University of Wisconsin.
Children born near cutoff dates can actually start kindergarten before they turn five, making them almost two years younger than the oldest students. Children in this situation are not only smaller physically, but may not be ready for kindergarten-level math, reading and socialization. In addition, less-developed motor skills can put them behind more mature children when it comes to physical activity.
A lot of parents have reservations about putting their children through transitional kindergarten, even if they think it will help them.
“I can speak as a parent that you are afraid for your child, who is in pre-school starting at age 2 and going through levels with a handful with the same kids,” Berju said. “All of a sudden they’re going forward and you’re holding your child back. You begin to think, would this lower self esteem? You don’t want them to have a feeling of failure.”
Some parents don’t think TK programs are worth the stress they can cause, as its advantages apparently do not seem to last long. “Many parents and teachers believe that holding kids back will result in higher achievement scores, but any advantage typically disappears by third grade,” says Deborah Stipek, dean and professor of education at Stanford University. “Moreover, there’s variability in children’s skills no matter what the age.”
We are not sure if TK was the right solution. My parents chose to put him in the program because he was small and young for his grade.
As Stipek predicted, for years after being in TK he was ahead of everyone in his class academically. Good grades came almost too easily and he wasn’t being challenged to learn. But now that he’s in high school, any advantages he gained seem to have disappeared.
But not everyone has had the same experience with transitional kindergarten that my family has had. Ellen Berju made the choice to enroll her son in TK, and she doesn’t regret it.
“When I explained it to my son, I told him it was a gift of time,” Berju said. “And about 17 years later, I can see he did excellent in school and socially. The path I chose for him definitely did not provide any negatives. He was ready for first grade, he was moreand than ready for kindergarten, and he was always a good student. He went into school very well adjusted socially and emotionally.”
Briana Kerensky is a junior journalism major. E-mail her at [email protected].