The Rush Toward School
Until recent times, most children didn't start going to school until the age of seven or eight. And this was in an age when literacy rates were much higher than they are now and, generally speaking, children received a more stellar education. Kindergarten was not really about academics, but an invention to keep poor children out of trouble while their parents worked. Only in very recent times have some states made kindergarten mandatory - and that because kindergarten now teaches children what they used to learn in first grade. (A very odd thing, considering the first two years of college now teach kids what used to be taught in high school.)
Preschool is a very modern invention. In times past, when education was actually of a higher level in the U.S., no one would have dreamed of putting small children in school - although in the 19th century, some cities had "nursery schools" for the children of the working poor - basically, what we'd call day care.
this post for statistics about early education and resulting poor social skills. This article by the Brookings Institution is one of many that explain how early education isn't helping kids academically, either.)
School Readiness: Two Rules
So when should you start your child in preschool or kindergarten? There really are only two rules regarding this:
#1: Don't send your child to preschool or kindergarten based upon her age.
#2: Wait until your child is mature enough to begin preschool or kindergarten.
#1 is pretty self explanatory. Every child matures at a different rate and maturity matters much more than age. Unless a child has a learning disability, we should never worry our child will "fall behind." Pushing a child to learn before he is ready only leads to frustration, fear, and hatred toward learning.
#2 is more difficult. How can you know your child is ready for preschool or kindergarten?
Examples from Our Story
When my daughter was five, I put her into a charter school's kindergarten class. She couldn't wait to start "real school" (as she put it). She couldn't wait to be in a classroom and have a "real teacher" (again, her term). She "knew" she was ready. And academically, she was. She knew her phonics before she could really talk. (She was a late talker, but more than makes up for that now!) She'd been doing preschool work - worksheets, writing, crafts, counting, etc. - since she was two and was quite proficient at it.
The problem was, she wasn't mature enough for kindergarten. She had a horrible time sitting still. She had a worse time concentrating for more than a few minutes. She resisted homework mightily. While she understood phonics very well, she couldn't seem to put the sounds together to read words. In short, she greatly struggled in kindergarten. So much, she was beginning to loose her love of learning.
So I pulled her out of the charter school and we repeated kindergarten another year, at home. (And no, she was not scarred by this. In fact, she didn't even know it wasn't normal. Sure, some of her old school friends went on to first grade, but she never thought it strange that she didn't.)
And my daughter wasn't the only one. Every single five year old in her class was asked to repeat kindergarten. None of them were mature enough. None of them were ready for first grade. Most were just barely ready for kindergarten the following year.
My son was a completely different story. We started homeschool preschool with him at age 3, but only in tiny doses. He liked doing manipulatives, such as sorting. He hated anything to do with writing. Or learning his letters. Or numbers. Or colors and shapes. I didn't push him, though. Pushing your child when he isn't ready is the sure fire way to make him hate school and learning.
This year, my now almost-five year old son is doing preschool again. This year, he is actually interested in learning phonics so he can eventually learn to read. This year, he's excited to learn cutting skills. This year, he wants to learn to count. This year, we believe he is truly ready to start preschool in earnest.
As parents, we need to watch our children for signs of maturity. We can't let outside pressures lead us to put children in school before they are ready, since this only results in kids who hate school, who are at the bottom of their class, and who find learning stressful. All of that is totally unnecessary If. We. Just. Slow. Down.
There is no rush. Children do not have fully mature, adult brains. Some of their brains are ready to learn to read, and some are not. And that's okay!
Also, when would you rather your child graduate high school? At a younger (and likely less mature) age? Or would you rather she has another year or two to mature before she heads off into the world?
As my husband's very wise great-grandma (who taught in a one room school house for many years) used to say, "Let them be children. They will learn. Don't panic. And especially boys...they usually take a little longer."
Words to live by!
More Articles in the Homeschool Preschool Series:
Why Homeschool Preschool?
How Much Time?
Colors & Shapes
The Balance Beam Game