Kindergarten students these days have a lot in common with middler schoolers. Visit any middle school and you are likely to be struck instantly by the vast differences in the size of students. There are plenty of small, still childish looking 13 and 14-year-olds who look as if they’d be more comfortable in an elementary school. Their 12-year-old classmates, meanwhile, might tower over them and appear more like high schoolers.
Children have always developed differently, but in kindergarten the differences are less physical and more about school readiness. That’s why it was interesting to read Emily Alpert’s exellent piece on the first day of kindergarten at Ocean Beach Elementary School in San Diego, for the website Voice of San Diego.
At first, it looked like it was going to be another in a long line of stories proclaiming kindergarten to be “the new first grade.” And while there was some attention paid to the concept that kindergarten does come with new and higher expectations, the story did a good job at looking at the many differences between students who have attended pre-school before kindergarten and those who have not.
The differences can be vast.
“Some children had been prepped in preschool and some hadn’t,” Alpert noted, writing about the first day of school. “Some were six months older or more, giving them an edge in maturity and motor skills, while others, often younger, had trouble focusing on a task or froze up when given directions. When they sat down to draw self portraits, one boy took a single crayon and scribbled wildly — a sign that teachers monitor for motor skills — while a girl with pigtails neatly sketched a face and added pupils and eyelashes.”
In California, there’s much context to the debate, as lawmakers want to set new age limits for children entering kindergarten. They can now enter if they turn 5 by early December, but there’s movement to change the date to September and provide all the students whose birthdays fall inbetween to get an extra year of “transitional kindergarten.”
Cut-off dates for kindergarten entry in the U.S. now vary from state to state, and even from district to district. With all the talk about setting common standards, EarlyStories would love to hear some thoughts on what works best, and what the right age is for entering kindergarten. Would changing the dates help the U.S. in its goals to get more students to graduate from high school? If students entered kindergarten a bit later, with more preparation, would it ultimately help their academic performance? What kind of success have transitional programs had, and are there some good role models to exam?