Holding Back To Succeed: Considering When To Start Kindergarten

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala (WHNT) - What's a parent to do?  Their kids will begin their school career in kindergarten. The question is, how old will they be when they do so?

Melanie Alston has twin girls who are 3 years old.  She's already thinking about what she should do.

"I think I'll let them go on the younger end, because I think they'll be ready in terms of socially, and for school. Because I don't think you need to know everything when you go to kindergarten," Alston said.

Her daughters will be just a few days short of 5 and a half when their schooling begins.  That's fine under state law, which specifies any child who is five at the beginning of the school year is eligible. That same law would allow Melanie to wait another year, as long as her daughters are no older than six.  Melanie has the important choice to start her daughters at five or hold them back till they are older, and presumably more mature.

"Some children are ready, and some children are not. Age does not define that, though. It depends on the child," says kindergarten teacher Susan Lewis.  She and fellow Blossomwood School teacher Phyllis Tufts have been working with the school's youngest students for 17 years. They know exactly who decides when a child is ready.

"Parents are their children's best advocate. So they know their children better than anybody," Tufts says.

When to start your child in school is an important decision for several reasons.

"We want our kids to have the best opportunity and give them the best, make the best decision for them so they're set up to succeed," says mom Melanie Alston.

The question of course, what's best? Do you start them younger or wait another year? Child Psychologist Dr. Anna Byrne believes 5 years old is age appropriate.

"I think that sometimes parents hold kids back believing that there's going to be some academic, social or athletic advantage, and what the research has shown is that for the most part, that doesn't hold up," says Dr. Byrne.

Brittany Rowe is a student at Madison County's Sparkman 9th Grade School.  She makes "A's" and says she loves her life. She also says she likes the fact her mom held her out of kindergarten until she was 6 years old.

"I felt like I really knew everything that was going on. I made a lot of friends and I felt more of a leader," said Rowe.

Rowe's experience is enough to make some parents feel they should wait a year. Experts say it's not that easy -- it really does depend on the child.

"They need to look at them in other social situations. Watch how they interact with other children. Do they share? Do they get along with others?" says Phyllis Tufts.

Academics is obviously a consideration, but all the experts seem to agree: what you know at the beginning of kindergarten isn't the most important consideration.

"Teachers, when I ask them this question, said they're much more interested in the social development, and their behavior, and their ability to function in the classroom than how much they're counting or reading, because that's what they're going to learn," says Dr. Byrne.

All our experts agree, a parent needs to watch their child and know their child. Parents can call on Sunday School teachers and pre-school teachers for a reading on their child's maturity. Each child is different, and a parent has to decide if their child is ready for school.

One final note -- all our experts say kids are resilient.  If a parent makes a wrong decision on starting their child in kindergarten, it isn't the end of the world. The child won't be ruined. In fact, Dr. Byrne believes we try to make school too easy. Children need to fail sometimes.  Learning to overcome failure is part of the educational process.

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