“Mrs. Schapiro. Hi, this is Mrs. Rosenfeld from XYZ Yeshiva. I am calling you because I noticed that your son’s birthday is September 28. We have recently pushed the cutoff date at our school from January 1 to September 1. Because of that, I am afraid Yaacov won’t be able to apply to kindergarten until next year.”
“Mrs. Rosenfeld, thank you for calling me. I’m confused. The cutoff date has always been January 1. I have an older son who was born on December 1 and he started kindergarten before he turned five.”
“Yes, I understand. And I am sorry we weren’t clearer before, but we won’t be accepting applications from children who were born after September 1.”
“But, Yaacov is ready for kindergarten. He knows his letters and his numbers. He loves school. And it’s only a few weeks. Can’t you just make an exception?”
“Hmm. Mrs. Schapiro. Maybe we should set up a meeting to talk.”
The above conversation is a very real possibility for many people in our community today. While some schools have already switched their cutoff dates, others are considering making the switch. Some of the reasons for the decision include:
More time to learn the basics. Today, kindergarten is increasingly about learning how to read. Children who are older and exposed to more print enter with greater phonological and print awareness. With this foundation, children are better able to learn to read.
Greater ability to sit. Generally, the older the child, the greater his or her capacity to sit. Kindergarteners spend a lot of time sitting and listening to a teacher’s instruction. The earlier cutoff date ensures that the children will have longer attention spans.
Leveling the playing field. The earlier cutoff ensures a more homogenous class in terms of dates. Rather than an eighteen-month span of age differences, the children who enter the class are all within twelve months of each other.
Those who oppose moving the cutoff date provide the following reasons for their position:
Children aren’t defined by their birthdays. Many educators and parents argue that simply looking at a child’s birthday should not indicate whether he or she is ready for kindergarten. There are some four-year-olds who already know how to read while there are some six-year-olds that do not know how to hold a pencil.
Homogenous classrooms aren’t not always the most conducive for learning. While it is true that teachers have the easiest time managing a classroom of children with similar skills, research has shown that non-heterogeneous classrooms provide different opportunities for learning.
Later starts involve more childcare costs. For those who are not going to send their child to school until they enter kindergarten, starting a year later means greater costs for childcare for that extra year at home. These extra costs are offset by yeshiva tuition for most people in the Jewish community.
Playing With The Cutoff
Parents who have children with birthdays that fall between September 1 and December 1 are often faced with a dilemma. Should they push the school to make an exception and have their child be the youngest in his class? Alternatively, should they keep him out of kindergarten until the next year, making him the oldest in his class?
Many parents in NYC have chosen the second option, opting to keep their children back in order to ensure that they will be the oldest in their class. This process is colloquially called “red-shirting,” a term used in sports when coaches keep the freshmen on the team on the bench for the first year in order to ensure that they will be healthy for their stronger, peak athletic years. Parents who “red-shirt” their children believe that it will give them a leg up on their classmates because they will be older and wiser than their peers.
In a recent article in The New York Times, Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University and Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, explained why they believe red-shirting can have negative impacts on some children.
It matters very much who a child’s peers are. Redshirted children begin school with others who are a little further behind them. Because learning is social, the real winners in that situation are their classmates.