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Are American Children Starting Kindergarten Too Early?

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We doubt ourselves. It's the hallmark of my generation of parents. How can we be sure of anything, after all, when there is always a new expert, a new study, a new mom at play group who has all the answers.

So it's no surprise that I wondered whether my spirited little boy was ready for the structure of real school. At the end of a first quarter full of notes sent home from the teacher, I felt tears brim in my eyes as I talked with the superintendent. I had called the meeting to ask, straight out, whether he was ready for this. Whether I'd made the wrong decision. Whether I was pushing him too fast or too hard.

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With much kindness and understanding, the superintendent assured me that my son is the perfect age to be starting kindergarten, and that some children just take longer than others to acclimate to the structure of a school setting. He's a bright boy and is excelling academically—his maturity level just needs to catch up.

I left that day feeling a little better, but part of me wished that I had chosen to homeschool him this first year. It's difficult, you know, being a parenting writer while also parenting my own children. I am constantly immersed in the latest research and studies and I'm tuned into what is happening with children around the world. I have very strong opinions on parenting and teaching and what childhood should look like. Of course later I ran across this recent study that found improved self-control and attention in kindergartners who enrolled a year later than their peers. Of course it did.

It feels to me like American children are pushed to grow up too quickly. We are too focused on the rigors of the academic process, and we are neglecting the child's needs to learn through play. Yes, even older children. (Even adults!)

What's the rush, really? I'm always amused when I hear parents concerned about waiting too long to potty train their child. How many adults do you know can't use the toilet because their mom waited too long to potty train them? Do you know anyone who can't hold a job because their parents started them in school too late? I think there is more at stake by pushing our kids to start things too early than there is by letting them stay kids as long as possible.

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Maybe there is an education in digging holes in the mud and building sand castles. Maybe there is a wisdom to be found only once you explore deep enough in the woods behind your house. Maybe there is a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned by spending time with relatives and mowing the yard every Saturday.

I feel like I might be coming across as anti-education, and I am definitely not. I am for preserving the innocence of children as long as we can, and I am for our education system growing and adapting as we learn more about the mind and its development.

As for my son, he is adjusting—albeit slowly. I am getting fewer and fewer notes sent home in his backpack. He's growing up. He's six years old, and he's growing up.

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