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Help a Mom: Early entry into kindergarten

Posted October 18, 2011

A few years ago, the N.C. General Assembly passed the Every Child Ready to Learn Act, which moved the cutoff for kindergarten from Oct. 16 to Aug. 31. Children now must be five years old by Aug. 31 to enter kindergarten in North Carolina.

And while there's always been a cutoff for kindergarten, that decision was a controversial one. It meant that some kids would end up spending an extra year in preschool.

A mom wrote me a couple of weeks ago to share her own story. Her daughter will turn five next year, just ten days after the Aug. 31 deadline.

She is considering an option that could allow her daughter early entry into kindergarten if she passes a battery of tests and interviews. The process requires parents hire a licensed psychologist and put together a portfolio of their child's work. That could cost the family between $400 and $800, she tells me. Once a child is accepted for early entry into kindergarten, there's still a three-month probationary period to pass. Children must turn four on or before April 16 to apply.

"I realize through my research this is a sensitive topic for some and there are strong and varying opinions between parents, teachers, school officials, and doctors/research analysts," the mom wrote me. "The truth of the matter is each child is different. We all can recognize and agree on this. As with any situation where a cutoff date is present, there are many factors in which someone can fall into a 'gray area' for numerous reasons."

"Has anyone been accepted into the early entry program or has anyone found any exception or way around this new cutoff date?" she asks. "By the way, I was a September baby with a later birth date than my child. The cutoff of course was in October and I started school at the ripe age of 4. I had a great school experience, and into middle school actually began relating better to children even a year ahead of me!"

Before I posed her question, I thought I'd find out a little bit more about the early entry into kindergarten. (Full disclosure: My younger daughter also has a September birthday, so I've been curious about this myself).

Deborah S. Connell, supporting school readiness coordinator at Wake County's Project Enlightenment, tells me she gets questions about early entry every year and there's no easy answer.

"Keeping in mind that early entry is designed for children who are so advanced in every area of development that delaying entry to kindergarten until they reach the legal age is a real detriment to their learning, you can imagine that there are very, very few children who would qualify," she tells me. "While it can be difficult to keep a very bright child challenged, every child who is above average in intelligence is not best served by early entry to kindergarten. My suggestion to parents is to read through the information available on the wcpss.net website regarding early entry - often parents are surprised at how stringent the standards are."

Among the standards: Students must be functioning two to three years beyond their peers; socially and developmentally mature enough to be in a structured school setting for a demanding school day; and display a thirst for knowledge consequently pushing the parents for new and challenging learning situations.

Click here for more information from Wake County about all of the requirements, which includes letters of recommendation, assessments, a portfolio and more. And here's information for Durham County, Orange County and Johnston County schools.

In Wake County, a tiny portion of this year's kindergarten class was admitted early. For this school year, there were 56 applicants for early entry into kindergarten, according to Wake County schools. Of those, 34 applications were approved. There are more than 12,000 kindergartners in Wake County for the 2011-12 school year. 

I know the mom who emailed me would love to hear from people who have gone through the early entry into kindergarten process or who have decided to hold off for a year. Please share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below.

Go Ask Mom poses questions from readers every Wednesday in the Help a Mom series. If you have a question, click here to email it.

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  • edith wharton Oct 20, 2:43 p.m.

    My two older children were five when they entered kindergarten and the youngest was 4. They were in year-round school, Track 1, so the school year started just after Independence Day. This meant that my youngest, with a late Sept. birthday, was quite young when she started school.

    For her, starting "early" was the right choice. She was impatient for kindergarten and ready to move on from pre-school. I liked my children's daycare and they did a good job preparing the kids for kindergarten, IMO. There were children with birthdays around hers whose parents chose to keep them in preschool another year and I'm sure that was the right decision for them. My daughter, however, was reading well in advance of other children and had no trouble keeping up in math, science or social studies. As for socialization, she was a bit behind the older kids but those differences tend to disappear after a while. Now a HS senior, she is a great student. No worries about starting college "early", either.

  • sewingmama2 Oct 20, 1:12 p.m.

    In Wake County there is another option. I was looking into early entry for my now kindergardener and everyone was discouraging me. Wake County has one school, Poe Elementary School (it is montessori and in the magnet program), that has a Pre-K program. The Pre-K students are in a classroom with the kindergardeners. This was great for my daughter when she started Pre-K at Poe. They were able to push her forward and give her more advanced work. The Pre-K, K classes have materials up to a 2nd grade level if needed. Something to definately think about. I now have a Pre-K and a kindergardener at Poe.

  • howdiditgettothis Oct 20, 8:38 a.m.

    Would I jump through hoops to send my child "early" to school?

    No. I wouldn't. Spend that time and energy using it to help your child learn to read (if they aren't already), learn math skills, learn to count money, tell time, etc. Don't forget playtime with your child, too! Work on kicking and throwing (big stuff in lower elementary school). You both will enjoy that last year "with you" and you will both benefit by this bonding time.

    At 4 - my children went to preschool 3 mornings a week, rather than transitional. I spent our time together as noted above. By kindergarten, both my children were MUCH further along -- (reading chapter books, knew addition/subtraction skills up to twenty, basic money, etc).

    The flip side of that - even the private school they attend does not have staff to accommodate their "advanced" levels, and they are unable to promote grade-wise due to age laws.

    Seems like one can't win for losing!

  • Killian Oct 19, 8:13 p.m.

    Every kid is different. My 19yr old daughter is a senior in college, and is looking forward to entering grad school next year shortly after her 20th bday. My 18 yr old daughter is a junior in college with a 4.0 average. My 16yr old son is a freshman in college and loves it.

    There are definite arguments against starting kids early on a regular basis, but the blanket reverse is just as detrimental. Holding a kid back when the child is clearly ready can have negative effects as well. Homeschooling can help this, but if public school is your chosen option, it's worth considering each child as an individual.

  • carydoggymom Oct 19, 7:01 p.m.

    What's the rush? Our children will spend a minimum of 12 years in school, and most of us parents hope for more than that.

    Moms who don't yet have children in Wake Co. schools need to understand that Kindergarten is very academic! It's not like pre-school, as was the case when many of us moms were kids.

    My son made the cutoff for Kindergarten in 2008, but I opted to send him to a transition program for a year. No doubt, that was the best decision. He needed an extra year to grow up a little.

    You will not regret giving your child more time. But you may regret rushing him/her.

  • familytime Oct 19, 5:41 p.m.

    I haven't seen anyone mention homeschooling yet. If you homeschool your child, you can let them advance as quickly as they are able to academically, then slow down when they plateau (as most precocious youngsters do at some time or another) without any social consequences. There are so many different curricula you can use that homeschool children seldom compare where they are academically. It's great for this kind of situation!

  • coopster Oct 19, 12:19 p.m.

    There is always the option in private school. My daughter is currently in the 2nd grade and she is a November baby. She started kindergarten at 4 because she was that one kid that didn't stay challenged in preschool. Although she is one of the smallest in her class because she is one of the youngest, it pushes her to achieve more. She reads on 4th grade level and catches on quite quickly and went from private daycare right into kindergarten. Now she is in a charter school. I personally believe it depends on the child socially, emotionally and academically. I would never put my child through a bunch of test to prove she is smart, however I'm glad that she was placed in a private setting and is ahead of her age.

  • yesimagirl Oct 19, 12:07 p.m.

    The dates aren't "arbitrary". They exist not only for academic and learning reasons, but social reasons as well. Oh, the difference between a 4yo and a 6yo!!! Night and day. We did not start my daughter early. She's in 7th grade now, averages 100+ in every class, plays sports, and has many friends. Contrast that with someone I know who DID start their daughter early (7th grade now)...she's struggling, extremely immature, and very small, and high strung and stressed all the time. She has a tough time socially. She would also love to play sports and I think would otherwise be very good if she were in her correct grade. However, she is so small and forced to go up against kids older and bigger and she simply can't hang with them.

    You will never go wrong waiting, but you COULD seriously wind up regretting early entry. Is that possibility worth it? You want your kid challenged? YOU challenge them!!

  • bikely Oct 19, 10:26 a.m.

    I have a current first grader that fell into this same scenario.
    Figured the chances of being accepted for early entry the first year of the new birthdate were slim to none.
    Wonder if kids "skip" grades these days? When I was in school 30+ years ago, it was fairly common for kids to skip second grade...

  • righthere1234 Oct 19, 10:05 a.m.

    I think we all think our children are the smartest kids ever. We want the best for them so bad we tend to overlook that maybe there's a reason these regulations are in place. The person who submitted the question is trying to get her child into K next year. Her 4 year old will be in kindergarten with my almost 6 year old. That's a little hard to fathom. Will this child be mature enough to be in Kindergarten with someone almost an entire year older?

    My son's birthday is in late October so even if they hadn't changed the cut off, he would still be the oldest in his class. As an October baby myself who started Kindergarten at age 4 and was always the youngest, I can really appreciate the new cut off. I was academically advanced, but my social skills were lacking. To this day my parents still wish they had waited a year. My son is very bright, in my opinion, but from my own experience I chose not to even consider early entry.

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