Parents like to think their child is the brightest, the smartest, the best child.
I’ve even been known to start sentences with, “I don’t want to be that parent, but ...” as I then tell a story about something my son, Thom, 3, recently did that I just think is incredible.
So what’s a parent to do when their child really is that smart?
For years, Michigan has allowed some 4-year-olds to begin kindergarten. However, a bill that unanimously cleared the Michigan Senate last week could change that by pushing the age requirements back, and it’s causing some debate between educators and the parents of those smarty-pants 4-year-olds.
State Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, who sponsored the bill, said there was a lot of discussion in committee about parents who want to send their child to school as early as possible because they struggled to find day care.
But this isn’t about a lack of day care — it’s about children not being ready for the high demands of the classroom.
As it stands now, Michigan law allows 4-year-olds to start kindergarten in the fall if they turn 5 by Dec. 1. The bill would gradually push that date to Sept. 1 over the next three years.
Many educators say the move is long overdue because while 4-year-olds may be ready for kindergarten academically, socially they can lag behind. That’s not just a problem for the student, but a burden on their teachers and also on their fellow classmates. Many 4-year-olds end up repeating kindergarten anyway.
“Kindergarten is much more demanding now then back when I was in school, and in general, educators feel it would be a good move,” said Joel Donaldson, principal at Petoskey’s Sheridan Elementary. “The kindergarten curriculum has changed and the expectations for what kindergartners are expected to know and learn is just much more.”
“The time of kindergarten being a place for children to learn their numbers and letters is no longer a reality,” added Jodi Rogier, a kindergarten teacher at Petoskey’s Ottawa Elementary.
“The children who are 5 by Sept. 1 have a much easier time sitting for long periods of time, 15-20 minutes versus 10 minutes,” she said. “The younger children really just want the time to play and develop their social skills.”
Rogier added that the younger students are less likely to participate in class discussions or projects and will just sit back and let the older students do the talking.
And even if they do well in kindergarten at the age of 4, that doesn’t mean they won’t face other challenges as they get older.
Jeff Liedel, superintendent of Alanson Public Schools, was 4 when he started kindergarten.
“I was always the smaller kid,” he said.
And while Liedel did well in the classroom, he always wondered the effect starting school a year early had on his athletic career.
“I was a swimmer and my parents always said, ‘I wish we would have waited another year to see what a difference a year would have made,’” Liedel recalled.
According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, the move could save the state about $50 million the first year. Districts would also have to adjust to slightly smaller kindergarten class sizes for the next three years.
While many educators around the state feel this change is necessary, the timing may not be right just yet.
“We’ve already gone through our kindergarten enrollment process for next year, and if this law were to pass today, I’d have to call close to 30 parents and tell them their child can’t come to kindergarten this next year,” Donaldson said.
“I’d like to see it passed, but we need at least a year to prepare.”
This year, 47 children in the Petoskey school district underwent the Gesell School Readiness Test, which is a placement screening used for children 4 through 9. Donaldson said most of those students were 4-year-olds with fall birthdays. As a result, the district offered two developmental kindergarten classes this year.
Rogier’s 4-year-old son has a November birthday, and she chose to send him to the developmental kindergarten this year. That has allowed him to learn the same skills at a slower pace while also continuing to develop his social skills.
“When he enters kindergarten as a 5 going to be 6-year-old, he will have more skills and be prepared to take on the challenges of kindergarten,” Rogier said. “He will be less likely to cry and shut down because the work is too hard.”
As a teacher, Rogier noted she sees how confident the 5-year-olds are compared to the 4-year-olds. She said they are natural leaders and are ready to take on the increasing challenges of kindergarten. Meanwhile, the 4-year-olds still need time to develop their social skills.
A local teacher recently told me that when students start kindergarten, they should already have basic reading skills. Skills I learned in first grade are now taught at the kindergarten level. Expectations are only going to get higher.
Parents often talk about how their children grow up too fast, so what’s the point of speeding it up?
While we all want them to have the best education possible, the best education may just mean waiting that extra year.
Just when Rachel Brougham thinks her 3-year-old son is really smart, he does something to prove her wrong, like shove spaghetti noddles into his pocket or throws a fit because he can’t detach his finger from his hand. Her column appears each Thursday. If you have topic you’d like Rachel to write about, email her at email@example.com.