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Posted on Thu. Jul. 31, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Parents delaying kindergarten

Study says late entry helps kids

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No longer is young Audrey Fraser content to play in her backyard with her 2-year-old sister and her mother. That might have been the case last summer, but not anymore.

“Now I sit in the driveway, and she's running up and down on her scooter,” Angie Fraser says. “She's all about friends now, where before, it was just her sister and me. I know a year ago she wanted to see a friend and to play, and she was a little hesitant to walk over. It's just two doors down, but she was a little shy to go ask his mom, even though she was right outside.”

The difference between the shy, 5-year-old Audrey of last year and the more self-assured 6-year-old of today is concrete evidence that Angie Fraser and her husband made the correct choice in delaying their oldest daughter's entrance into kindergarten at Perry Hill Elementary. “Confidence” is the word she uses most to describe the transformation.

With another school year beginning in a few weeks, parents across the country had to decide whether to send their 5-year-old to kindergarten or hold them back – a decision Angie and Jay Fraser had to make last year.

The practice of delaying a child's entry into kindergarten is known as “redshirting” – a term originally used for college athletes (mostly freshmen) who are awarded an extra year of sports eligibility. The rule not only allows the athlete to practice with the team, it also provides a year to mature physically and adapt socially and academically.

For many of the same reasons, more and more 5-year-olds are waiting to attend kindergarten.

Recent research from the Center for Education Statistics shows that nearly 10 percent of all kindergarten-age children are intentionally held back a year, with the majority being boys who were born late in the year.

In Indiana, a child eligible to attend kindergarten must reach age 5 on or before Aug. 1. 

The debate is if there is a tangible benefit for the children held back. While a 2006 University of California at Santa Barbara study found that grade-schoolers who are among the oldest in their grade scored 4 percent to 12 percent higher on standardized math and science tests, other studies have found no significant long-term benefit.

On the Earlychildhood NEWS website, Sandra Crosser cites sources in which “the child's age upon entering kindergarten does not affect the child's academic achievement.”

She also writes: “To understand the study, think about two airplanes flying west. Both travel at the same speed. However, one airplane takes off from New York City and the other takes off from Chicago. The planes will cover the same number of miles in the same amount of time, but the plane from Chicago will always be farther ahead because it started ahead.”

Yet Dr. Terri Swim, chair of the department of educational studies at IPFW, believes there is an early benefit in redshirting.

“It's working in the short run,” Swim says. “So holding, typically, boys back, they come in and they perform better than kids who go on time. But there were a lot of caveats with it, and eventually by the end of fifth, sixth grade, they were running parallel with their peers.”

Stef and Doug Pickett, who already have three boys in school, have chosen to send their 5-year-old daughter JaeLyn to preschool for another year and wait until 2015 to send her to kindergarten.

JaeLyn turned 5 years old in June.

“She would probably be fine to go (to kindergarten) academically, but not ahead (of her classmates) at all,” Stef Pickett says. “With the way kindergarten curriculum has changed, it's rigorous, so we definitely took that into consideration. We also just want her to be more of a social leader than a follower. I know a lot of that is personality, but I think age helps, for sure. Being older, I think, helps kids be more confident.”

There is Angie Fraser's word again – “confident.”

In addition to being the mother of two daughters, Fraser is also a second-grade teacher at Croninger Elementary where, on occasion, she can recognize the older children in her classroom.

“I can tell that in their confidence. It's something that matters so much,” Fraser says. “Their personalities play a part, but if they have more experiences, they participate more and they do have the guts to raise their hand and disagree with somebody.”

Swim agrees that much more is expected of kindergarten students now than ever before. Where children once learned to color and use scissors and socialize with their peers, now they're encouraged to know letters and numbers.

“When you think about curriculum and how it's changed, they're doing in kindergarten now what used to be in first grade,” Swim says. “That doesn't sound like a big change, but it really is. That's expecting a lot from 5-year-olds. I think that's why parents are so concerned about it.”

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