New bill may help solve age differences in Kindergarten

October 4, 2010 — by Paul Jung

The California Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 has passed both houses of the legislature and is currently awaiting the sign off from Gov. Schwarzenegger. This measure, written by State Sen. Joe Simitian, will increase the minimum age for entering kindergarten from 5 by Dec. 2 to 5 by Sept. 1 of the school year.

Previously, there were a variety of different ages in the same grade, ranging from four year olds to 6-year-olds in kindergarten. This act will ensure that a single grade will not have students too young to keep up with the rest of the class.

The problem before was that a grade would contain too many different ages of children to fully accommodate the needs of them all. While the youngest children would require teachers to “dumb-down” the content of the class, the oldest students in class would intimidate the younger ones and have an unfair advantage over them.

In collegiate sports, many coaches “red-shirt” their younger players, delaying their participation with the team in order for them to gain more experience and practice before joining. Similarly, parents have been known to “red-shirt” their kindergartners, holding them back a year in order to better prepare them for kindergarten, making them the oldest in the class.

There has always been a wide range of ages in this primary level: the youngest are 5 in December, and the oldest are already 6 by that time, having celebrated their birthdays in January, almost a year before their younger peers. The new act will shorten the age range for kindergartners, making sure that the only children in kindergarten are the ones who should be.

Having these older and younger students in class means that the teachers have to accommodate to the different levels of maturity by making the class more challenging. These accommodations can make school a frustrating experience for the students, who will be confused by the conflicting levels of maturity.

In addition, many older students have an academic advantage because they have had more time to hone their mental faculties and are thus better able to grasp more complicated concepts and ideas. Putting these students in the same class as the younger ones force these youngsters to try to keep up with a standard ill-tailored to their own age group.

The social lives of students who are not the oldest in the class may also be affected. Kindergarten is a time of growth and development; all students should be going through the same awkwardness of the first year of school. However, if there is an outspoken, older child in class, he may intimidate his younger classmates, hindering their social development.

As students get older and enter higher levels of education, these age differences can make all the difference in a student’s life. In sports, students undergoing early growth spurts due to their age gain an advantage due to their size. They have a higher chance of qualifying for the teams they try out for, leaving the younger, smaller students with little chance to show the potential skill they may have.

On the other hand, there are also younger students who are surpassing their peers and taking higher level classes than students a grade above them. These students benefit from the accelerated curriculum and find the right class for them even if it is not with their age group. However, unlike these exceptions, many younger students struggle more and more as they go on to high school and college.

With the new Kindergarten Readiness Act, the next generation of kindergartners will be better prepared for kindergarten. There will no longer be 4-year-old kindergartners who are not yet ready to take on the emotional and mental demands of school. California is one step closer toward having an equal classroom, where no one has an advantage or disadvantage due to age. Applying restrictions on the age that a kindergartner can enroll in school will help ensure that students will be of relatively the same level of academic performance.

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