Early Entry into Kindergarten

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

It’s the time of the year when parents of children who miss the entry date into Kindergarten by a few days, weeks, or even months consider whether they should have their children tested for early entry into Kindergarten. Since this question is on the mind of many people, I thought it would be worthwhile editing and reprinting an article I wrote several years ago.

Because the cut-off date for entry has changed through the years, the seemingly arbitrary cutoff doesn’t make sense to many parents who believe their children could benefit from the learning environment that Kindergarten provides. However, Kindergarten is an academic setting and readiness to learn and compete in that setting is important, not only for the younger child, but also for the other children in the class.

Almost all parents believe their children are “smart,” but “smart” is a very subjective term. That’s why schools require a psychological evaluation, which is a measurement of a child’s cognitive, behavioral, and adaptive abilities. Psychologists use norm-referenced tests that compare a child to other children within an age range of approximately three months. In other words, if a child is 4 years 10 months old, he will be compared with other children within the age range of 4 years 9 months to 4 years 12 months of age.

Let’s suppose we average all the children who will be entering Kindergarten this August. The average age will be approximately 5 years 6 months. Also, let’s suppose your child misses the State’s cutoff date for entering Kindergarten. You hire the services of a psychologist and the psychological testing reveals that your child’s cognitive abilities are exactly in the middle of the average range (IQ = 100). That score means your child is perfectly “normal,” but six months behind the average child entering Kindergarten. That difference at that age puts your child at a terrible disadvantage. He will have to work extra hard to keep up and may become discouraged with school altogether.

On the other hand, if you wait until next year, your child will be approximately six months older than the average age of the children in his class and he is much more likely to enjoy school and find school a fun and stimulating experience.

Some children benefit from early entry into Kindergarten and the challenge it provides. If a child’s ability level and maturity is significantly above average, Kindergarten may provide exactly the type of environment the child needs.

Some school districts have set criteria for early entry that make it easier to determine who qualifies and who doesn’t. The school districts in our area have not done so. Therefore, the decision is left to the recommendations of the psychologist, the discretion of school administrators, classroom size, and etc.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is one school district that makes the early entry decision easier for everyone by clearly defining admission requirements for early entry into Kindergarten. Though the standards set by that school district are high, they are not unreasonable considering the impact of failure upon a young child, or the constant struggle to keep up with older children. For a child to know that he or she is at the bottom of the class academically can make school very unpleasant and set a negative tone for future learning.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, a child must successfully meet all of the following criteria in order to be eligible for early entry to kindergarten:

1. Obtain a Full Scale Intelligence quotient (IQ) in the Very Superior Range (e.g. IQ of 125 or higher) on the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence – 4th Edition (WPPSI-IV). The top two percent of the population typically scores this high. Only the WPPSI-IV is accepted as a measure of IQ.

2. Visual motor skills must be in the Above Average range as assessed by the Test of Visual Motor Integration-6th Edition-R.

3. Social/emotional skills must be commensurate with those of age-appropriate kindergarten peers as determined on the basis of a trial placement in kindergarten that may last up to, but depending upon the child’s behavior may be shorter than, four weeks. Only children unequivocally meeting criteria on items 1-2 are eligible for a trial placement in kindergarten.

When I test a child for early entry into Kindergarten, I use similar instruments. Like the Matanuska-Susitna School District, to assess IQ, I use the WPPSI-IV. In addition, I administer the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Third Edition (WIAT-III) to assess achievement along with the Bender Gestalt Test to assess visual-motor skills. The results have been mixed. A few children are actually ready to enter Kindergarten. Some parents want their children in school regardless of the findings because it eliminates one year of day care. Other parents have decided against entering their children when the results are presented.

In one case, a mother made the decision to quit her job and become a full-time homemaker in order to enrich her child’s learning environment. And in rare cases, developmental disorders have been detected and children have been referred for Special Education.

Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success is a great book for anyone to read, but one chapter caught my eye. It is what he calls the Matthew Effect—“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29). Mr. Gladwell presents some very interesting information that I believe is applicable to the early-entry-into-Kindergarten decision. Below is the player roster of the 2007 Medicine Hat tigers. Take a close look and see if you can see anything out of the ordinary in the lineup as printed in Mr. Gladwell’s book.

Do you see it? Canadian psychologist, Roger Barnsley, first noted the phenomenon. The majority of birthdates fall between January and June. In fact, Barnsley found that in Canadian hockey, a sport taken very seriously in Canada, 40% of the elite players are always born between January and March, 30% between April and June, 20% between July and September, and 10% between October and December. The answer is quite simple. In Canada, the cutoff for each age-class is January 1. So those born between January and March are the oldest, the most mature, and ultimately the best performers. Since they are the best performers, they get more ice time, and in turn, become even better players.

I believe there is a similar effect in school. Older children are more mature, outperform younger children, are perceived as better students by teachers, rise to the top of the class, enjoy school, and continue to be the more successful students. So, if you are considering spending the money to have your child tested, please consider the Matthew Effect.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].