Special Report: Kindergarten Age Shift - Northern Michigan's News Leader

Special Report: Kindergarten Age Shift

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It used to be a child had to be five years old on or before December 1st to be eligible for kindergarten in Michigan.

Not anymore.

With higher expected academic standards, children now have to a be bit older when they start elementary school.

In a 9&10 News Special Report, Adam Bartelmay checked in to see if educators are noticing a difference and found why they think it could benefit kids throughout their entire school career.

"I think we're going to see stronger, solid kindergartners coming in." 

The age mix of these kids in Sarah Marek's kindergarten class at Traverse City's Eastern Elementary School is just a bit more advanced this year.

"Kids that are a little bit older seem to have a lot easier time with the adjustment to kindergarten," said Marek.

A state law passed in 2012 moved the starting age higher by three months. The idea was to bring Michigan more in line with the majority of other states.

"If our children are younger, then they may be compared to a cohort in another state, that presents a difference." 

Principal Angela Sides-McKay says most school districts across the nation have gone to an all day, every day format and kindergartners need to know more going into 1st grade than in the past.

Sides-McKay explains, "With the adoption of the Common Core state curriculum that's happening across the country, there are a lot of increased expectations for students academically."

The new requirement is being phased in over three school years.

This year a child had to be five on or before November 1st. Next year it will be October 1st. And finally by 2015-2016 year it will be September 1st.

"Giving a narrower scope of the ages in any one year of kindergarten can really provide a more successful opportunity for kids and for teachers," says Sides-McKay.

Mrs. Marek is not only a teacher, but also the mother of a 5-year-old on the younger side who she says wasn't ready for kindergarten this year. She's glad he's getting more time.

"And watching him this year, all of a sudden, he's just ready for learning. He's more interested in letters and sounds. I didn't feel like I had to force it. He came into this readiness." 

Educators say the new kindergarten entry rules will not only help kids who are starting elementary school, but is could also benefit them throughout their entire academic years.

"If they start out kindergarten feeling really good about what they're doing, they're going to have that initial feeling of confidence and hopefully that confidence will carry on throughout their education." 

Deb Feaster heads-up the preschool program at Eastern Elementary.

She says even if somewhat younger kids seem like they're ready from a learning standpoint, there's another factor for starting kindergarten that's just as important.

"Very rarely are they socially ready. They should really be with the children that are the same age that they are," Feaster explains.

A few months may not seem like a lot of time to parents. But when you're five years old, it can make a big difference.

"The developmental ranges that are present in children between the ages an birth and five are so distinct and varied." 

Right now, parents can get a waiver if their child's birthday falls after the new starting age requirements.

That is expected to fall away in the 2015-2016 school year when the permanent date is September 1st.