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School age cutoffs

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Our town is known for being exceedingly strict about age-cutoffs for school entry.

After noticing a trend toward parents keeping their kids out of kindergarten for an extra year so that the kids would "do better" when they did start, the district implemented some absolutes. If your child turns 5 between September 1 and August 31, your child goes to kindergarten. If you try to keep your August 22nd child out for an extra year, they will place that child in 1st grade when you do show up. If your September 6 child already completed kindergarten in another town where the cutoff was different, they will welcome them to kindergarten for a second year. Variations to this rule are almost non-existent. While I generally agree with this approach, in my opinion, it's too rigid. I hear through the town talk circles that it was really a response to parents keeping their sons out an extra year so they would be bigger and stronger and faster when it came time for sports. While I don't know if this rumor is true, it would not surprise me at all if it is. This is a big sports town. Big.Every child is different; what works for some or even most does not always work for all. Just as some August children aren't quite ready, some September children most definitely are ready, and holding them back another year can be torture to everyone. And, gosh, how would I know this? Woody is a fall birthday. He's October, not September, and he was ready — really ready — for kindergarten a full year before he was allowed to enter.I know everyone thinks their children are perfect Einsteins. I'm no exception, really. But when a woman I barely knew asked who Woody had been assigned to for kindergarten a full year before he started and said, "Oh my goodness, what are you going to do? How are you going to keep him challenged?" when I told her Woody had missed the cutoff — well, I knew I wasn't imagining his readiness. He's not the class genius, but he's pretty sharp, and with the social influence of his older brother, he was already ahead of some peers.Keeping Woody challenged in school takes extra effort on his teacher's part and on our part. It's an extra workbook, extra expectations, extra everything. It's daily. It's exhausting sometimes, too! Then again, it's a pretty good problem to have. But the reason I have it is the rigidity of the school department and that darn cutoff date, and that's the part that really annoys me.My husband and I both have fall birthdays and entered school on the younger ends of our peers when cut-offs were not so rigid. We did fine. Sure, there were some times when I was a little less mature socially, but overall, it was right for me to be with that peer group. My mother was going to keep me back another year, but realized I was ready. I'm glad my parents had that flexibility to do what was right for their child. She knew me best and was trusted with that knowledge. I wish the local school department would have trusted me.

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