Wisdom Wednesday

When to start school? A loaded question for the ‘ber babies!

When Nate was a toddler, I was at a play group with some friends when the topic of fall babies and kindergarten starting ages came up. I had no idea this was such a loaded topic. My older son has a fall birthday, making him one of the kids affectionately called the ‘ber babies (as in children born in September, October, November and December) by many elementary school teachers. As my husband and I are both ‘ber babies, I have been weighing the pros and cons of starting him in kindergarten the first year he is eligible, when he’s 4 going on 5, and waiting a year until he is 5 going on 6. I mentioned this to my friend, and I was met with an unexpected “It’s parents like you, parents who can’t follow the rules and insist on making your own, that cause problems in schools”. What? She continued to tell me how unfair it is that her son started at the “correct” age, 4 going on 5, and he’s forced to learn with kids who are almost a full year older than he is simply because their parents can’t follow the policy and adhere to the birthday cut-off rule.

Let’s take a step back.

First, what is the “correct” age for starting school? While in grad school, I researched the kindergarten birthday cut-offs nationally, and found that the “correct” age really varies quite a lot depending on where you live. In Indiana, for example, children must turn 5 by July 1st to start school. Here in Connecticut, they must turn 5 by January 1st. Our cut-off is the latest in the country, and many states with November and December cut-offs are slowly moving them to the summer to ensure all students are at least 5 before starting school. Connecticut tried to move the cut-off to October 1st, but it is unclear if or when this will happen. If you ask me, our cut-off is insane. With full-day kindergarten becoming the norm, I think it’s imperative that we move our cut-off to September 1st to give the ‘ber babies enough time to be socially ready for a full day of school.

Secondly, who’s to say that all kids are magically ready for school at the exact same age? I feel there really must be some latitude on when kids start, within reason of course. I was a young kindergartener with a late November birthday. I remember feeling like the day would never end in my (half-day!) kindergarten classroom. I was tired. In high school, I was the last to drive. In college, I couldn’t even go to 18-and-over nights at the bar until the last week of my first semester…I was 17! Academically, I was fine. Does that mean starting at 4 was the correct decision for me? Who knows.

Then there’s the whole issue of “what if  you move”? With our super-duper late cut-off, my ‘ber baby could end up repeating a grade based on his birthday if we were to move to a state with a much earlier cut-off. Just one more reason for me to never leave CT…unless it’s for a really nice beach house in Cali. Or maybe Florida. But I digress.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on CT’s late birthday cut-off? Parents of the ‘ber babies, are you at all concerned about how full-day kindergarten, with all it’s heavy academics, will affect your child? To hold them back…or not to hold them back: That is the question.

20 thoughts on “Wisdom Wednesday

  1. I was started at 4 and just based on my own experiences I will be holding my kids back until they are both 5 when they start (although only one is a ber baby). I just wanted to say that your beach house in Cali or Fl is EXACTLY what I told my husband I would leave CT for. Reading that cracked me up.

    1. ha!! 🙂 We were in FL in February, and I discovered Bonita Springs…gorgeous place with huge Spanish-style homes on a white sand beach on Esterro Island. Now whenever things get tough I say “Bonita Springs?? Bonita Springs!?!” ha 🙂 My husband isn’t on board, unfortunately.

  2. Im with you on this one! Honestly, if we have any fall babies I am pretty sure we will hold them regardless. Particularly boys, for whom the educational system can be a tough adjustment. I believe that people will not regret waiting, but might regret it if they put their four year old in K. Anecdote alert: my Dec bday sister was held and did great – it was the right call. She wasnt ready at the time. My Nov sis was not held – at the time she seemed raring to go. It was later on that the affects were seen. She was just not emotionally ready for HS, college with her peers. She ended up struggling in college and took at year off which made a huge difference. I think that a 17 yr old going off to college is a tough one. And honestly I wouldnt be completely comfortable sending my minor child off like that.

    Honestly I wouldnt even rule out holding my April son back if he seems to need it. He is already a ball of energy and motion. My husband (May) was like this and needed to be held back for 1st grade. Id rather avoid that if at all possible.

    1. I meant to say, especially because the town we live in and the town I want to move to both have full day Kindergarten now… which I personally don’t love… DH and I both want to be very careful with when we start our kids.

    2. I never even thought about being a minor in college (though I was one!). Yikes. I would really like to avoid my son being held back in grade school.`An extra year of preschool is a much better option, in my opinion, if extra time is necessary. I suppose we’ll have to see how much he grows in this next year of preschool and decide based on that. I had a friend once say “Think about all the issues kids in high school face..drinking…dating…driving. Wouldn’t you rather he has an extra year of wisdom before facing those things?”. This is a big thought in the back of my mind…

  3. I grew up in CT and I thought it was a 9/1 cutoff growing up. I guess I could be wrong though. I’m an August baby so the issue never came up. My brother is a November baby and he had to stay back a year because he wasn’t quite ready yet! How embarrassing that must have been for him. Both my kids are April babies so they too will be starting closer to 6 than 5.

    1. Spring babies are the way to go!! 🙂 My other son is a spring baby and it’s nice to not have to worry about start dates haha 🙂 I should have planned this better as a teacher and not had a ‘ber baby at all, haha 🙂

  4. I have mentioned this to a few people before, but this is my story. I was born in the former Soviet Union. When I was living in Russia, you had to be 7 years old by October 1st to be able to start First Grade, but we also only had 10 grades total, not 12 like in the United States. Because I was born in December, I started what was called grade Zero which was half day kindergarten half day of more traditional school (1987 – 1988 school year). I attended First Grade (1988 -1989 school year). I never started Second Grade in Russia and we left on October 1, 1989 on our journey to the United States. We arrived on December 18, 1989 and I already turned 9 years old. When I was signed up for school in Connecticut they decided to put me into second grade. So there I was 9 years old in second grade. I was almost two years behind in school to my peers. I was a 16 year old freshman with a driver’s license and did not graduate until I was almost 19 and a half. I hated being the oldest, the boys were too young and my friends could not go out and “party” because they were not of age yet.

    Both my kids are September birthdays. Caleb will be 3 on September 18th and Lana 7 on September 20th. Lana started kindergarten at 4yrs old and I plan to send Caleb at 4, unless new law goes into effect or someone says he is not ready. I would rather Caleb repeat kindergarten (which my husband a December Birthday had to do) rather then hold him back an entire year.

    At the end, it’s the parents’ personal preference. But either way it can be a double edge sword. Either your child is the oldest waiting for their friends to be old enough for certain activities, or they are the youngest always trying to catch up to their friends.

    1. Wow! That had to be hard. We are considering having Nate repeat his 4 year old preschool year instead of kindergarten. Its a hard decision. We are also considering a totally un-graded Montessori school though, so if we go that route, it won’t be an issue at all. There are really pros and cons to both!

      1. My parents had me repeat preschool so that I could start when I was 5 instead of 4. I know they spoke with the teachers to make the decisous, and might help you guys as well.
        One note on Montessori schools. My nephew went to one and even though they loved it, they found he is strugling a bit now that he is in 1st grade in public school. He is a very structured kid and having the freedom he got with everything in Montessori school made it hard for him to keep up and now that he is in public, which is a lot more structured, he is having more trouble because of those years of freedom at Montessori. They have a second one boy who is going to be 3 in Aug and they don’t think they will be sending him to Montessori because they are afraid of him falling behind as well. I think it really depends on the child.

      2. Yes, his teachers are on the fence as of now as far as what they think he should do. They said just know it’s an option to repeat preschool and it might be beneficial, but we will know more as he gets older. I’m really thinking it would be beneficial for him to repeat. As for Montessori, he would be in it until age 12, then go into junior high, so it’s more of a long term commitment on our end. It’s not just a preschool and K program. I have friends who are using this school, and their kids are 7 and 4, and so far they like it…but I am watching to make sure they still do and don’t have any complaints 🙂

      3. A Montessori that goes till age 12 might be much better. My nephews only went till K and that was the big problem for him. As soon as he started getting use it he had to change again.
        From what I have seen, it all really depends on the child. Some work great in a school and others don’t. Close monitoring the child and school can help. And keeping an open mind that if things aren’t working there are always other options.
        With your background I am sure you know all the options, but at the same time I am sure its hard to figure out what is the right choose for your child.

  5. I am definitely going to hold back my December-birthday firstborn but haven’t decided yet about his October-birthday little brother. The little one seems to be doing everything much sooner (probably due to the influence of his big brother) so he’ll most likely go “on time.” December is just too late to go the first year, especially when he doesn’t do daycare or preschool (though we are teaching him the basics at home, of course). I was born 3 days after my school’s 9/1 cutoff and I loved it because I was always the oldest one (though I did have to chaffeur all my friends starting in the 10th grade because no one else had a license).

    1. Yes- December is really late! That’s funny about chauffeuring your friends…I relied on friends BIG time being so young! So we younger high school kids definitely appreciated the rides from you older ones! 🙂 haha

  6. I agree both with Arlene and Rebecca. I’ve started to feel a bit guilty about sending my 5 yr old (as of 7/30) to school and not waiting until he is 6. There was a really interesting piece on 60 Minutes about red-shirting recently that brought up pros and cons. Since both my boys have been in full day child care since they were babies I’m not sure full day will make much of a difference to them. It’s a tough call but like everything else if you trust your gut and do what’s right for your kids, they’ll be fine.

    1. If I had a summer baby, I would definitely send them. I agree on trusting your gut- if there’s one thing I’ve learned in parenting so far, it’s this!!

  7. My daughter being in a full time daycare already I don’t think it will be a problem for her what age she starts since she is already use to the full day routine of school. Thag being said, I do think the cut off does effect many children and really think it should be a national thing, not a state thing (as in all states have an equal cut off). I know a family who just moved from CT to Maryland this year. Her son was in kindergarten in CT and doing great. But when they got to Maryland he was to young to start kindergarten and so she had to put him back into pre-school. She found one that was full day and went along with the kindergarten curriculum her son will have next year. But if he was ready in CT, why is he not ready in Maryland and now is going to bascially be a year behind.

    1. Yes- a 9/1 national cut-off would really make a lot more sense. Crazy to think of kids being held back based on a birthday cut-off and an interstate move. AH! That’s so hard for the poor kid! I just hope the full day kindergarten program will include plenty of gross motor activity time and social interaction time (like I’m sure your daughter gets in her childcare program!). It would be a shame for 4 year olds to be in a full academic day so early in their little lives. I am interested to see what the “norm” will be for the structure as more districts move to full day. I think it is great, however, for continuity of care. The less shuffling around during the day the better!

  8. I have to say that this debate is one reason I was glad my son was born into January and not at the end of December. I am a firm believer in a 9/1 cut off for starting school BUT knew I would feel the financial pressure of not having to pay for daycare for another year in deciding to send him to school when he was 4 vs. 5. I too didn’t drive until my senior year of high school and had “late” milestone birthdays in college which socially was a bit tough. I was surprised to hear that someone was mad you weren’t starting your child at 4, I seem to have heard the opposite from most (the please don’t send a young child to school before they are physically, emotionally and socially ready). It will be interesting as my son is in the 99th percentile for height so when he starts school he will likely be quite a bit larger than his peers…but again I don’t have a choice he will start closer to 6 than 5!

    1. Rebecca: My fall baby is also a big guy. I worry about him seeming like he’s out of place physically if I start him late, since he’s a tall kid. I was also really shocked to have had that reaction about starting late. However, I have some friends with Jan. babies who are pushing to “have them tested” so they can start even YOUNGER than they’re supposed to. I understand the whole “school is free, daycare is not” dilemma (big time…as I’m in that boat myself!) but I really do worry about kids who are really 4.5 years old starting with full day K on the horizon. I think full day K is a great solution childcare-wise, but I wonder what the structure of that full day will be. I really hope it includes more free play time and age-appropriate social activities! And I am so with you on the 9/1 cut-off nationally. It’s nuts!

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