[Guest post on NYT Motherlode blog, Sep. 26, 2011]
When I read “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril” by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, I felt vindicated — almost the way I felt when I read the recent article that chocolate has some impressive health benefits. (Phew.)
Having digested Malcolm Gladwell’s strident arguments in his book “Outliers” that being the youngest in the class was a huge disadvantage, and the 2007 article in the New York Times Magazine that touted the benefits of delaying kindergarten, I was very hesitant to put my twins, born in November 2004, 10 weeks premature, into kindergarten when they were still 4. Granted, this week’s Sunday Review article is not the first to argue that putting young kids in kindergarten may actually benefit them. Around the time my twins were entering kindergarten (though too late to change their start date), I read articles arguing just that, but the weight of authority seemed to be that younger children would be educationally damaged for years.
My own children were still in the NICU the January after they were born, unable to breathe on their own. It seemed as if their actual birth date should not even count, but they were set to go to New York City public schools, and the cutoff for the New York City Department of Education is Dec. 31. I was told that if I put them in nursery school another year, I may risk their being placed in first grade anyway because, thankfully, they were not showing any delays. And there was the escalating cost of the nursery school tuition to consider.
So I counted my fortunes that my kids were healthy, and into kindergarten they went, at 4 years 9 months old, with kids born in January 2004 and even a few born the December before who had received a waiver. I was not even pregnant with the twins until May 2004. My kids were a cluster of cells; these kids were four months old.
My father told me I was crazy to worry. He said that the twins were fine, and echoing the arguments Wang and Aamodt made this week, he said they would do better being the youngest. He skipped a grade in his Canadian elementary school, so was always the youngest, yet he was valedictorian of his high school class, and earned merit scholarships to college and law school. I told him that anecdotes were just that, and that studies trumped his singular experience, impressive as it may be.
For us, it turns out (at least so far) that my father was right. It may not be right for everyone, but my children are indeed fine and I am confident that for them, going to kindergarten at 4 years old was the right decision for a lot of the reasons that the Sunday Review article points out. They benefited from being around older kids. I caught myself last year, when my twins were in first grade, worrying that they were not being challenged enough. Type A as I may be, even I realized the irony of that.
My youngest daughter was born this February, so she will among the oldest in her class. Do I have to worry about her being disadvantaged by being the oldest? Maybe I can listen to Mr. Gladwell for her case.
Copyright New York Times 2011