Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Parents question kindergarten readiness

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Melanie Millspaugh had a tough time deciding whether to hold her 5-year-old son back from kindergarten in 1999. Ian, who has a July birthday, is tall, and his preschool teacher said he was ready.

        “I agonized over it,” the Westwood woman said. “I did not feel he was academically and emotionally ready.”

        She decided to keep him in an accelerated preschool for another year. Today, her 6-year-old son is in all-day kindergarten.

        “As it turns out, I am very happy with my decision,” Mrs. Millspaugh said. “It wasn't even until last year he had an interest in numbers and letters.”

        With the push for kindergarten registration just weeks away, some parents are experiencing the same angst of whether to hold their 5-year-olds back. Nationally, about 9 percent of 4 million eligible children are held back each year from kindergarten.

        If Jennifer Maginnis, a kindergarten teacher at St. Francis De Sales School in Walnut Hills, had a boy born in July or after, she said she would hold him back. Boys with summer birthdays often are not developmentally ready for kindergarten, she said.

        “I think it makes a big difference in reading. The kids with those late birthdays aren't getting it.”

        Ms. Maginnis recommends parents use their discretion, even if their son or daughter makes the deadline.

        “If they are behind in kindergarten, they are behind in first grade,” she said. “It's just a cycle that's hard to get ahead.”

        An informal sample of Tristate parents revealed that those who held their children back were satisfied with their decision.

        Kevin Boys, assistant superintendent at Sycamore Community Schools, said there's a philosophy that those children would benefit from being in school to work on their developmental skills.

        “It's such an individual matter,” he said. “I've always held the belief that it's more about an individual child and their readiness, instead of a magical date you pluck out of the air.”

        Among the skills needed for kindergarten, according to national experts Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts:

        • Pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks.

        • Cut with scissors.

        • Begin to share.

        • Start to follow rules.

        • Manage bathroom needs.

        • Separate from parents without being upset.

        • Identify some alphabet letters.

        • Count to 10.

        The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) supports enrollment in kindergarten at the correct chronological age.

        “It's more important to look at whether the program is meeting the needs of children as they enter,” said Dr. Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the NAEYC.
       head TWO CUTOFF DATES

        A new Ohio law allows school boards to adopt Aug. 1 or Sept. 30 as the cutoff date for kindergarten. Previously, a child had to be 5 years old by Sept. 30.

        A sampling of Greater Cincinnati schools, however, shows most have kept the Sept. 30 deadline, at least for this year.

        “We do not wish our present pre-K children to be shut out next year,” said Mary Lou Bay-Smith, principal of Cure of Ars School in Madison Place. “If you're not ready to start kindergarten, I'm not sure two months is that big of an issue.“

        The law was passed late last year. Cincinnati Public Schools did not change the deadline.

        Sycamore Community Schools also kept the Sept. 30 deadline. “Given the timing of the law and being able to notify families, we didn't feel it was a fair place to put our families in,” said Kevin Boys, assistant superintendent.


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