The last time it happened I was in line at a closeout store. My four-year-old had taken up a conversation with the older woman behind us, which was not an uncommon thing for my social butterfly.
“How old are you?” the woman asked.
Heidi stuck four fingers up.
“I’m going to school tomorrow,” she announced with a huge grin.
I gave an uncomfortable grin. It was her automatic response; we’d been talking about her starting school since she was three and I had been working with her since then. Now at four, three months away from the beginning of what could have been her first school experience, I had to jump in and tell the woman that Heidi would not be able to start this year because of the date of her birth.
Unfortunately, there is no escaping the age issue. In fact, in Ohio, the only criterion for entrance into kindergarten is age eligibility. It doesn’t matter how smart your child is, or how socially ready. Your child must be five before September 30 of the school year that is beginning in order to begin kindergarten. In some districts the cutoff date is even earlier, at August 1. There is one exception to this rule, however it too has an age requirement. And if you’re thinking now that you might just have your child test out of kindergarten, you’re in the wrong state. In Ohio, kindergarten is mandatory, which is to say that in the words of the State Board of Education, no school district can admit a child to first grade who has not successfully completed kindergarten.
So, what makes Kindergarten so important now? For one thing, it is the point of transition between a youngster’s family-oriented life to one that envelopes the wider scope of humanity. Additionally, kindergarten is no longer just a place for kids to become socialized while learning how to color in the lines and use scissors and paste. Due to a ‘push-down’ effect, many of the skills that used to be introduced in first grade are now being taught to the four and five-year-old: The alphabet, number recognition, writing, phonics and reading, where they stand in the world and how to begin interacting with it. This makes a proper early education essential. It also makes parents like me a little jittery. In Ohio, the kindergarten teacher to student ratio is 1:25. This is the same ratio as that for grades 1-12. I worry about my child being pushed to the end of a line of twenty five students and how it will effect her when it comes to learning how to read and write.
Fortunately, with a little bit of resourcefulness and dedication, parents who are willing to put in the time and effort to ensure a solid early education for their kids have options, and these options don’t involve spending a fortune to pay for a private school or Montessori tuition. Applying for early entrance to kindergarten, filing for exempt status and home-schooling are all viable avenues, though each choice carries with it different consequences.
If your child is socially ready (meaning that she doesn’t bury herself in your pants in social situations and at least attempts to play with other children) and her birthday falls between September 30 and January 1 of the school year in question, early entrance to kindergarten is an option. If you file a request for early entrance to kindergarten, the principal of the school your child would be placed into will interview you and your child and arrange for testing. He/she is looking for both the academic readiness (knowing her ABCs, counting, name recognition) and the maturity necessary to succeed in kindergarten. Would she be able to sit still in the classroom, stand in line at the bathroom and in the lunch line, play with other children, follow directions and respect the authority of the teacher? It isn’t easy to enter kindergarten early and if you have a child who is borderline ADHD and can’t sit still long enough to eat dinner, it’s best not to consider this option.
Upon request of a parent, kindergarten attendance may be waived by the district’s pupil personnel services committee in the case of a child who is at least six years of age by the district’s entrance date (August 1/Sept. 30) of the year of admittance and who demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the committee, that she possesses the social, emotional, and cognitive skills necessary for first grade. This path is particularly helpful for the parent who wants to ensure that her child has the opportunity to learn the core knowledge of kindergarten unimpeded by competition, but hasn’t the resources or ability to home school. In this case there is no academic advancement, as a child must be six by September 30 in order to enter first grade and would essentially be taking two years to finish kindergarten instead of one.
Another option is to start teaching your child kindergarten material when she is four and to continue to teach her at home until such a time that she is able to test into an appropriate grade level for her abilities. This requires that you not enroll your child in kindergarten the year she is eligible, but home-school her until she is old enough to bypass the state laws. Then you can allow her to test into whatever grade she is ready for, whether first or third or higher. This gives you the best of both worlds. It is home-schooling without the home-schooling requirements. The compulsory age for school in Ohio is 6, so whatever you teach your child before the age of six is between you and your child. If you wish to teach her Latin or gardening or advanced physics (good luck with that, for those whose eyes just lit up) you can do so without so much as a nod toward the Board of Education.
An even more encouraging bit of information for parents considering home-schooling kindergarten is that if you choose at a later time to return your child to a traditional school, the school district that you live in has to enroll her without discrimination or prejudice. The superintendent determines the appropriate placement for her by considering the results of standardized achievement tests that are regularly scheduled for district pupils of similar age or by interviewing her personally to see at what level she belongs..
Once you start home schooling you may decide to continue to do so right on through high school. The state of Ohio maintains a web-site of academic standards for each grade level, including kindergarten, if you would like to know what the state requires teachers to teach in the public school system. There are also plenty of organizations dedicated to formulating curriculum for parents who desire simplicity along with effectiveness. Add to that the plethora of learning aids out there now geared specifically toward the young child, including the LeapPad learning system and VSmile video game program, Reader Rabbit and Jumpstart computer programs and educational books galore, and you’ve got plenty of methods to teach even the most inattentive child..
I have been home schooling Heidi in kindergarten now for nearly a month. It was what fit our lifestyle and her temperament. Whether you decide to home-school or send your child to a traditional kindergarten, whether you start her at four, five or six, know that you are dealing with her future. Don’t rush into any plan of action before sitting down as a family unit. Consider the temperament of your child as well. We all know how different two children from the same family can be. One child might do better in the structured atmosphere of a school, another with the flexibility of home schooling. No matter which direction you choose, you can give your child a solid foundation and a desire to excel that will last her the rest of her education by simply giving her the opportunity to learn.