For the last couple of years, people have been asking me if Bean would be starting Kindergarten this fall or if I'd be keeping him back a year. In New York, this would be kind of an odd question, and it would imply that the asker thought that Bean had some deficiencies in social skills or that he wasn't intellectually ready for Kindergarten. One wouldn't ask such a question, generally, without cause.
But in South Dakota, this question is asked frequently, and I know many people who have opted to keep their kids home for an extra year. The reasons range from the parent feeling the child isn't ready for school, which, in my personal experience, seems to be more likely when the child hasn't been in daycare or preschool prior to Kindergarten, to the *parent* not being ready (and, again, in my personal experience, this seems to come along with fears of the child eventually graduating high school and heading off to college at the age of 17 rather than 18 (which is exactly what I did, so I confess to not really understanding this particular fear)). There is also the impact of sports on this decision: as I understand it, the age cutoff for sports is different from the age cutoff for school, so kids can begin Kindergarten but not be allowed to play rookie baseball (or whatever). So some parents keep the kids back so that they can play sports with their grade level (or even so that they can be physically larger and more skilled as compared to others in their grade level).
This has always seemed weird to me, as a product of a very different culture with re. to schooling. So, when I was in my soon-to-be-new-city in Minnesota last month getting Bean registered for Kindergarten, I was shocked (happily so) to see that many (all?) of the public elementary schools in the city had an option for Pre-Kindergarten for qualifying four-year-olds that was part of the public school curriculum. Four-year-olds who were deemed ready (and how this readiness was ascertained, I'm not exactly sure, but I think it meant that they knew their alphabet and were basically reading to learn to read and could recognize numbers) could begin to go to Pre-K programs in the schools.
I was so struck by the enormous difference between these two states that lie right next to each other that I couldn't help but to expound upon it to anyone who would listen - and the MN public school employees were fairly shocked to hear of my experiences in SD.
It seems to me that if we are really going to be serious about education, then we need to make sure that children are better prepared to start school than they appear to be in SD. This means that sports should not be preventing kids from starting Kindergarten on time (or early). Sports programs need to get in sync with the school district age cutoffs. Pre-K should be available at every public school. And, while there are certainly some children who benefit from starting school later, parents should be better educated - and the school district should be involved in this process - so that parents have more information upon which to base these decisions.
(I've also posted this entry on Dakota Women - see link at right.)