What is the best way to get kids ready for kindergarten?

Jenny-Byxbee-greenwich-voicesRecently I was appointed to the position of co-chair of the School Readiness Council for the town of Greenwich and I have to say that this is a real honor for me.

The council works to ensure that all children enter kindergarten with the preparation, experience and supports needed to achieve academic success. The group includes community leaders, early childhood educators, health professionals, and parents, and the goal is to work together on issues related to health, education and the development of local children from birth to age eight.

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie recently lent his support to the initiation of a task force on kindergarten entry. Under the aegis of the School Readiness Council, this task force has been charged with identifying the existing issues, if there are any, relating to the kindergarten age of entry, which is Jan. 1. Connecticut is one of only two states (Vermont is the other) that has a late kindergarten cutoff. Most kindergarten cutoff dates are typically for a child to be five by Sept. 1 or Oct. 1.

As a result, in Connecticut families have quite a bit of discretion in making the decision about when they feel their child is ready to begin kindergarten. This is unlike other states where the entry age for kindergarten is more heavily regulated. One of the things we have to consider is, does this have a bearing on our very own achievement gap for the town of Greenwich?

As both a researcher of this topic and an observer of this trend, I see that as very possible. We know that in many kindergarten classrooms across the district we have four-year-olds entering kindergarten with six-year-olds. In many circumstances, I sympathize with parents who feel the need or desire to hold a child back a year. For example, in cases where a child has a late birthday, he/she could benefit from an extra preschool year.

At the same time, there is a growing trend of parents deciding to “hold back” their child, who otherwise would have been eligible, from kindergarten for an additional year. For some parents there appears to be a strong belief that by giving their child an extra year of preschool their child will be more ready.

However, when this happens we end up with kindergarten classrooms in the district where birth dates can span as much as 18 to 24 chronological months.

What I am not sure of, and am very much working on determining, is if there is any real benefit to holding back a child who otherwise is eligible for kindergarten. Inarguably, public school kindergartners are getting high-quality services and care in the public school system. So are there real disadvantages to the four-year-old starting kindergarten with six-year-olds? Should we reconsider the kindergarten birth date cutoff, potentially moving to a cutoff of Sept. 1?

To answer this, we clearly need to gather more data, and I look forward to the challenge of finding some more concrete answers to these questions. Those who know me know that I personally and professionally care very much about the outcome of this matter as it relates to all young people in Greenwich.

So I am asking for your help and input if you have perspective or expertise to contribute that would help make for a more meaningful discussion. If you do, I would love to hear from you and your thoughts on the impact of the kindergarten start age on the achievement gap, and whether we need to explore alternatives.

 

Jenny Byxbee is the Greenwich youth services coordinator. She may be reached at 203-869-2221 or [email protected]

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