Are You Considering Unschooling for Kindergarten,
or weighing the benefits of delaying Kindergarten altogether? Either way, you’re on the right track! Kids who start formal education later, as late as seven year old, do better than children who begin at age five. Researchers have shared startling new data about what’s best for our five year olds. So far American educators have ignored this growing body of research, but you don’t have to. You can put this information to work for your child right now.
What’s best for your five year old? Your five year old should be learning through play. Formal education should be delayed until at least age seven. Your five year old should be under no pressure to learn to read or write. When your child does learn to read and write, he should learn to read with a phonetic approach and be taught to form each letter through direct instruction. Perhaps most controversially, your child will be somewhat more successful in school if he is slightly older than his peers.
Needless to say, the statements I made in the previous paragraph are not consistent with what is currently happening in American schools. How do we know these things are true, if they aren’t being tested in the U.S? What practical steps can you take to give your child the best start? I’ll cover all that! If you don’t find the answers to your questions, please ask for more information down in the comment section. I’ll respond right away.
The Benefits of Delaying Kindergarten
In 2015 researchers found an encouraging statistical link. Students who began kindergarten a year later were far, far, far less likely to be diagnosed as hyperactive or inattentive by age seven. Four years later, eleven year old “late starters” still had a tremendous mental health advantage over eleven year old peers who had started kindergarten at age five. The benefit of a late start to kindergarten stayed with the kids through elementary school. In fact, there’s a fairly wide range of research on delayed formal education. Denmark, Finland and some private schools in New Zealand have play-based kindergarten which begins at age six. Children in these schools don’t begin formal academic instruction until age seven.
How many kids in the U.S. have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? Do we even know? I don’t even care to check on that one. I just know that the numbers are crazy. Kids diagnosed with ADD and ADHD don’t do as well academically, yet we know that the risk of these conditions is seventy percent lower if the child begins formal kindergarten at age six. I dunno about you, but I think that’s a huge deal!
Schools which emphasize early academic achievement for five year olds push early reading and writing as a critical achievement. The research to back this policy simply isn’t there. Nonetheless, this is the overarching theme of U.S. Common Core Standards as they apply to Kindergarten. A New Zealand researcher, Dr. Sebastian Suggate, conclusively proved that children who read by age five have no academic advantage over children who read by age seven. Surprisingly, his thorough research demonstrated that by age eleven there was no difference in the literacy levels of the two groups.
What should five year olds be learning?
There’s a huge body of research about what’s best for five year old “students.” They learn best through play. Seriously, the entire Western world has no excuse. Five year olds should be singing and dancing. They need to do a lot of drawing, coloring and painting. Sculpting and building is also good for children at this age. Parents and teachers of five year olds should read books and play games with them.
This is hard stuff. I know it’s hard, because I was the parent of a five year old – exactly twice! I remember competitive parenting – yes I do! That horrible angst when my child wasn’t among the very first to sleep through the night, crawl, walk, talk, toilet train… So yeah, I get it. (The most stinging criticism I ever encountered was that I was a laissez faire parent. Ouch! Smarts to this day. I. Was. Not!)
Anyway, the pressure is definitely on! Nobody whose five year old is doing developmentally appropriate things looks forward to comparing notes with parents whose five year old is being pushed to read and write! “Your kid reads? Well my kid can do a somersault!” sounds pathetic, even to me. What should you do? Be brave! The benefits of delaying kindergarten outweigh the pain of looking like a “slacker parent!”
Five year old kids learn best through ordinary life experiences and play. Share your life with your five year old and talk with your five year old constantly about what you’re doing. Allow him to participate as much as safely possible. Turn off the TV! Seriously, all efforts to make kids’ TV shows educational are just plain pathetic! Encourage your five year old to sing and dance. In Addition, recite nursery rhymes with your five year old and read mountains of books. Color, draw, trace and paint with your five year old. You can’t do too much art together! Take your five year old to museums, grocery stores, parks and plays. Count things together. Cook together. All the while, talk about shapes, colors, sizes and relative amounts. Give your child all the benefits of delaying kindergarten for a year, just by sharing your world and playing together.
Affluent, well-educated parents have been “redshirting” their youngsters for more than a decade. “Redshirting?” It’s just an informal term for holding a child out of Kindergarten until he’s six. Advocates claimed these older kids had a social and academic advantage. They were right, apparently. Researchers are finding more supporting evidence ever year.
Unfortunately, common core standards for kindergarten are almost as inappropriate for six year old kids as the are for five year olds. However, your six year old can generally handle this better. Not all schools adhere to the common core standards for kindergarten. Roughly half the nation’s public elementary schools do not, but their state standards can be just as bad. The best place for your six year old kindergartner, besides at home with you, is a developmentally appropriate kindergarten program.
Most Montessori schools fall into this category. You’re looking for an environment where your six year old will be stimulated with many different activities. Additionally, play should be the order of the day. There should be many play areas with toys to build, pretend, dress up and play roles. A good program includes art, music, dance/movement, sports, story telling, pre-reading, pre-writing, early math and science programs. Social studies should consist mostly of practical life lessons and general exploration of the local community. Students should learn basic safety, who their community helpers are and how to be helpful and courteous.
Eventually, your child will show readiness to read, write and manipulate numbers. Then it’s
Time for Academics!
Whenever possible, wait until your child is developmentally ready for reading, writing and math. It’s tempting to try to push your child, but don’t do it unless you have to. One of the benefits of delaying kindergarten is that you generally don’t have to start a skill until your child is developmentally ready. I cannot emphasize enough that developmental readiness is EVERYTHING!
I tutor children with significant developmental delays how to read, write and perform basic math functions. Boy, is it difficult. It’s also hard on the kid. If you can wait, then do so. You’ll be so glad you did.
Ready to Read
Children are ready to read when they are interested, can tell simple stories, are aware of print, can play verbal word games, and know the primary sounds associated with most (not all) letters. The right handwriting program is extremely helpful for teaching primary letter sounds. I’ll be getting to that in the next section.
When you read with your child, watch for and encourage print awareness. If you hold the book upside down and pretend to read, does your child correct you? There’s your sign! If not, you can encourage print awareness by pointing to the words as you read. Later you can ask your child to point to each word as you read.
Talking with your child is a very important part of preparing for reading and assessing reading readiness. Your child needs to be able to tell a simple story. This can be as easy as recounting the events of the day. Your child also needs to be aware enough of sounds that he can think of words that begin with a “sssss” or “buh” sound, for instance. Last but not least, if your kid can come up with rhyming words, teaching reading will be much, much easier. One of the benefits of delaying kindergarten is that there’s absolutely no rush. Watch for the signs your child is ready to read, cultivate his readiness, and relax. You’ve got this!
As a child’s print awareness improves, I often begin refusing to read words the child has not pointed to. After that I begin making the child responsible for reading every “I,” “a,” “is” or some other very easy word. When the child does this effortlessly, I know it’s time to begin a good reading program.
What is a good reading program?
There are many. One of them will be right for you and your child. If you read but one book on the topic of teaching literacy, please make it Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide. She makes the case for phonics more eloquently than I, and her footnotes are exhaustive. (I have spent untold hours undoing the damage of whole language instruction. It is an abomination.) Start with phonics. You will be so glad you did.
Ready to Write
In general, a good reading program works hand-in-glove with a good writing program. This is because to fully explore literacy, children need to decode and encode. What I mean by this is that to write is to encode the word, and to read it is to decode the word. Children who learn these two skills simultaneously learn both skills faster.
Children are ready to form letters when they show interest, can hold a pencil correctly, color with both short back and forth strokes and small concentric circles, stay within the lines and trace simple figures. All these behaviors can be encouraged. Simply draw, trace and color with your child. Model the behaviors you would like to see and heap praise upon your child when displays the desired behaviors. You may want to purchase some tracing paper, colored pencils and coloring books to support this project. I recommend pencils because they are more precise and give consistent resistance. It is very helpful for your child to get lots of practice making precise marks with a pencil and sharpening pencils. You may choose to bypass crayons altogether. If you’re unschooling or enjoying the benefits of delaying kindergarten, these options are entirely within your purview.
There are many good handwriting programs out there.
I recommend Handwriting Without Tears. Handwriting Without Tears is multi-sensory and works extremely well for the vast majority of students, including most children with processing and perceptual disorders. Handwriting Without Tears uses a system that teaches neat, simple letters and prevents reversals. Best of all, Handwriting Without Tears teaches the primary letter sounds with the letters, which is a big advantage when you are simultaneously teaching your child to read. Yes, there are other good handwriting programs out there. Handwriting Without Tears is simply the best, and kids absolutely love it.
A good handwriting program like Handwriting Without Tears covers writing numerals as well. You can begin to teach some math skills before your child learns to form numerals, but there’s no denying that it helps.
Math – From Day One!
Whether you’re leveraging the benefits of delaying kindergarten or choosing unschooling through kindergarten, math is something you should be doing on the sly – all day – every day! Count everything, quantify everything and discuss the shapes, colors and relative sizes of everything, as you talk, talk, talk to your child. You can’t start to early. Further, games are your friend. Children can play dominoes very early. I think every family should have a set of color dot dominoes. They are the bomb-diggetty!
A few months back I wrote about teaching your child to count. Yes, that’s pretty much the on ramp to formal math. In general, take math “slow but steady.” Don’t expect your child to count beyond ten before he’s able to play Dominoes with a double nine set. When your child understands that counting is about order (first, second, third…), quantity (how many), and numerals (0,1,2…9), then move to counting beyond ten. Have fun with math, and make sure your kindergartner has fun too. Remember that kindergartners learn best through play.
Do not rush anything. Wait for your child to be developmentally ready, and your child will reward you with joy. Your child will become a confident, self-directed, enthusiastic student – as long as you leverage the benefits of delaying kindergarten.
Fast is Slow and Slow is Fast
When I was a white belt in karate my sensei was fond of saying that “Fast is slow and slow is fast.” He was laying the foundation of our martial arts education. He knew our future mastery would never be any better than the foundation upon which it was laid. The benefits of delaying kindergarten are analogous.
Each stage of your child’s development is vital. Mastery of each level is necessary in order for the next stage to be successful.
Your child is ready for kindergarten on his own timetable, and ready for reading, writing and math on the same unwritten schedule. You can help things along a bit, but to ignore your child’s developmental stages invites trouble into your lives. The important tasks of early childhood are exploration and play. Five and six year old children learn best through games and hands on experiences. Only at seven, on average, are children ready for formal academics.
If we honor this essential nature of childhood our children will get the best possible academic start. We have a problem in the U.S. The quality of our children’s education does not match our investment. We keep trying harder. We keep blaming parents, teachers and children. How about going back to the way we taught our children in the past – when we got it right? How about using what we know about child development to teach our children the right subjects, in right way and at the right time! We know the benefits of delaying kindergarten, and we know that most children are better prepared for academics at age seven. Why not use this knowledge for the benefit of all?
It is my sincere hope that you enjoy these early years with your child. They pass so very fast. Have fun! Enjoy the world through your child’s eyes. You won’t regret a minute of this season – I promise.
Please drop me a line and let me know your thoughts on benefits of delaying kindergarten. I always want to hear from you, and I’m eager to know what you’d like to read about next.
All the Best,