Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Is five too young for kindergarten?
Some parents now think six is the magic age for starting school, especially for boys.
More than half the boys there with summer birthdays don’t go to kindergarten until they are six years old.
The same holds true for only 20 percent of the girls.
In kindergarten classes at Edina’s Highlands Elementary there is often more than a year difference in students’ ages.
Veteran teacher Katie Oberle says emotional readiness is the most important factor parents should consider when deciding when to send a child to school. She said,
“It’s sharing, it’s being able to follow directions, it’s being able to communicate,” she said.
As for why parents make the call for boys and not girls, Oberle says boys, as a group, often trail in key areas.
“Boys tend to be…a little less mature, but it mostly tends to be in their verbal language skills,” Oberle says.
Studies on the topic differ.
A 2006 University of California study says children who are older in kindergarten do better. They are placed in more advanced classes, and that advantage just builds as they get older.
Other studies, however, say the benefit is real but that younger children eventually catch up.
One common belief is that parents make the call to have boys start kindergarten at age 6 to give them an advantage in sports. But before high school, most youth sports are governed strictly by birth date and not grade cut-offs. Once in high school, there is an advantage, another year of playing time.
We decided to get the perspective of two teenage boys: one the oldest in his class, the other the youngest.
Bobby Shogren, 16, is a sophomore at Minneapolis Southwest High School. He’s a straight-A student who’s on the varsity hockey and lacrosse teams. But two years ago, he and his family decided he wasn’t ready to go to high school.
He was something of a rock star in both athletics and academics. But his maturity level wasn’t there.
“He was doing great all through school, and it was when he hit seventh grade and we saw how he was relating to his peers…and we thought he is mighty young,” said his mother, Beth Shogren.
With May 31 birthday, Bobby was the youngest boys in his class at Lake Country a small private school in Minneapolis that ends in ninth grade.
“I just wasn’t as advanced in thinking about my future, and the next step I was going to take, as kids who were in my grade,” he said.
Bobby repeated eighth grade at Lake Country.
“It was really comforting to me to think…I’ll have another year to sort of figure that all out and to get ready for high school,” he said.
Beth Shogren worried about the decision.
“I remember when we made the decision being worried about what he would feel, what other parents would think,” she said.” There are so many social pressures on kids these days. They really need to have the maturity to be able to balance, you know, social media and friends and alcohol and tobacco and drugs…there’s a lot of things coming in on them.”
Two years later, the Shogrens have no regrets.
“What we had hoped it would do, it has absolutely done,” Beth Shogren said.
Bobby added that being older is a “huge advantage.”
On the other side of the age decision is Jordan Ammons.
With a July 31 birthday, he is one of the youngest boys in his Cretin Derham Hall freshman class.
He’s also a straight-A student, and he plays on the 10th grade basketball team.
Jordan’s mom, Bernadette, said other people asked her if she was going to hold her son back.
“There just wasn’t any question he was ready to go to school,” Bernadette Ammons said.
And Jordan says he has never felt too young.
“There are kids that are a lot older, but I didn’t notice it at my old school or this school. But the age factor socially has never really has been there for me, personally,” he said.
Critics of redshirting point out that it is often an economic decision. Lower income families often can’t afford another year of day care.
“I just think it’s a personal decision,” said Bernadette Ammons.
On the other hand, Beth Shogren, who held her son back, said, “If you are wondering about it, hold your kid, because it is not a race.”
At Highlands Elementary, the advice is simple: Know your child.
So just how many children aren’t starting schools until they are older?
The latest census data show 17 percent of American kids now start kindergarten at the age of 6.