The Two-Years-of-Kindergarten Approach for Fall Babies

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Grade levels are a funny things for homeschoolers. They still matter on state forms and for church and community activities, but they don’t really mean much otherwise. Yet grade-level decisions were still a source of stress for us as we began our homeschool journey, so I thought I’d share our approach for anyone struggling with the same questions.

Four of our kids’ birthdays actually fall within a tiny six-week window in the fall. While the proximity of their birthdays presents its own challenges, one of the biggest was trying to decide whether we wanted them to start kindergarten when they turned 5 or wait an extra year until they turned 6. Did we want them to be the youngest kids in their grades or the oldest?

For years I struggled with this decision, and it wasn’t until I read the words of a wise blogger with older kids that the solution for our family became clear. She said they made the decision to hold their kids back in the early years, knowing it would be easy to move them up later. They then chose a path of dual enrollment at a community college in the late high school years to give their kids a head start on college without actually turning them loose a year early.

Oh, the relief. The concern about college was one of my main reasons for not wanting to push them forward, and her solution felt perfect.

However, our oldest is very precocious, and she was clearly ready for kindergarten the year she turned 5. Because her birthday is October 3rd, and the Virginia cut-off is September 30th, she was automatically grouped with the younger kids in church and community activities. At the time, we strongly felt she needed to be with older kids, as she was getting a little too good at bossing around younger kids thanks to her experience as the oldest of four. So that year we bumped her up a grade.

However, as the end of the year rolled around, my concerns about keeping her with the older class returned: she wasn’t reading yet, she was struggling with math, I was afraid she’d have to be held back at some point later in her school career, and I didn’t necessarily want her graduating high school at 17 years old.

We decided to go ahead and hold her back for a second year in kindergarten, knowing it would be easy enough to bump her up later if we felt it was warranted.

We found that a second year of kindergarten really helped her stretch her wings and strengthen her skills. Creativity, vocabulary and critical thinking come easily for her, but “school” does not, so the extra year allowed those academic skills to catch up with her natural abilities.

Two Years of Kindergarten

When our third daughter approached kindergarten with her slightly earlier September birthday, we went ahead and let her move up (at church and in activities) with the other 5 year olds…but then we held her back for a second year of kindergarten as well.

Unlike our oldest, she had actually completed most of her kindergarten-level work in both reading and math, but we don’t use grade levels as the be-all and end-all for what they should be doing in each subject, so we continued moving forward in those areas even though “officially” she was still in kindergarten.

This coming year she’s moving into 1st grade with strong math skills (she’ll be starting Teaching Textbooks 3rd grade math in the fall) and reading skills that have really blossomed in the last month.

Because “two years of kindergarten” is the norm for our family, they’ve both handled the transition very well, forming friendships with kids in both the older group and younger group without feeling bad or like they were actually being held back.

But the biggest benefit for us is it allows us to approach kindergarten in such a relaxed way, without the pressure to master certain skills by a certain date.

I debated simply waiting an extra year before starting kindergarten work with our youngest daughter (who has the earliest birthday, in mid-September), but I like that she’ll have an extra year to practice her school skills, moving slowly through them and without pressure. Maybe she’ll take both years to get through her kindergarten work or maybe she’ll surprise us (like her big sister has) and fly right through it. Either way, we’ll have plenty of time to discover her learning style, form habits and master skills!

How do you handle the fall birthday dilemma?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Sara Kilpatrick

    I’m not a homeschooler, but my daughter is also a fall baby (November 1st) and we live in Virginia as well (in Salem, just down I-81 from you :) ). I was relieved actually that her birthday was a month beyond the state cutoff because it made my decision much easier to let her wait until she was nearly 6 to start Kindergarten.

    In the three years she’s been in school, there have been moments when I think maybe she was bored or advanced beyond many of her classmates. However, socially and down-the-road academically I think it will benefit her. There’s no rush to have our babies grow up.

    On the other side of the coin, I am also a November baby born in the state of VA. I think the age cut off was different when I was young because I was able to slip through and start Kindergarten a year earlier. I did well in school, but there were some times when I could feel the difference in age between me and my classmates.

    Each child has different needs, but a parent should never feel bad for letting a borderline child wait an extra year before starting Kindergarten if they feel it is the right move for their child!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Absolutely, Sara! I think if we were sending them to school I may even have held back our September babies just to give them time to mature before the pressure of school. Our one March baby was definitely ready for kindergarten at 5-1/2, and while some of that is her personality, I also think that 6 months makes a big difference!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Also, annoyingly, the cut off in WV, where we actually live, is Sept 1, so technically they’re all in the correct grade according to WV standards. On one hand I hate that there are arbitrary deadlines, and on the other I wish states would at least be consistent with their dates, LOL!

  • Katherine

    We are starting homeschooling with our oldest this year. He turns 5 at the end of September. We are doing a mixture of pre-K and Kindergarten materials. I can already see some of the areas where he will probably catch on quickly, and others that we might need more time on. I’m glad that homeschooling will allow us to figure out what level he needs for each subject instead of lumping him into one level for everything. And I have no idea where he’ll end up at the end of the school year, but we’ll figure it out!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      You sound very wise; I wish I had been as relaxed when we first started homeschooling rather than feeling like I needed to have all the answers and all the plans perfectly made!!

  • Melanie

    My youngest is a July baby, well within the cutoff for kindergarten. I didn’t to send him the first year because I really felt like he wasn’t ready. His preschool teacher agreed but he had been going to a free preschool and without something concrete, we couldn’t keep him there another year without paying. I had gone back to work for financial reasons and couldn’t justify the cost of preschool when public school kindergarten was free. He loved kindergarten and learned quickly but emotionally he was absolutely not ready for 1st grade at the end of the year. I struggled with the decision and even his teacher questioned the decision to hold him back but we did anyway. He repeated kindergarten and is now going into 4th grade. He is super smart, even in the gifted program. His 3rd grade teacher even asked if we had thought about advancing him to 5th next year. We declined. I do think we made the right decision to hold him back that first year.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Don’t you wish these kids came with a manual?! I think kids are resilient and we just make the best decisions we can, but it sounds like it’s worked out great anyway!

  • Ann

    I think for each child it is very different. Our son attended day care, VPK and was on the cusp of the cutoff with his birthday 8/27 and the school cut off 9/1. We were hesitant but decided to go forward knowing that he if needed to stay back and repeat, it would be ok as he was still young. Despite several kids in the class who were turning 6 and he was barely 5 he was a very determined young boy and often exceeded the expectations of the teachers. He is currently entering 5th grade and we have no regrets that he started young. He is a straight A student who often surpasses other students in the class with his reading and math. Although I did not have the opportunity to home school, we have remained very active in his daily activities with school and his teachers which I truly believe makes a difference.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I absolutely agree — there’s no one-size-fits-all answer; this is just our approach. I’m so glad you followed your instincts!

  • Jennifer

    I have a lot of experience with this as well. Our cut-off is Sep. 1 in Wisconsin. I have two Sep. babies and two Aug. babies. Early on in our homeschooling we mainly unschooled the early years. Since their grade was not important we just went about learning in a relaxed way. Once the child was ready for 3rd or 4th grade work they transitioned into a more scheduled homeschool day. That worked so well, however I didn’t know just how well until I accidentally started “real” homeschool with my son far too early. He is now a 4th grader and is struggling unnecessarily because I tried to rush things in the early years instead of letting the learning happen naturally. It took me a while to catch on to my mistake. I have 3 more littles and believe me I have found what works best for our family. I will let them learn in a relaxed way until they have progressed to the 3/4 level. Funny thing is the oldest three all progressed right on schedule. The sophomore is now doing work far ahead and plans on graduating soon. The junior is working right at her level and the 7th grader transitions to the next grade about 2/3 of the way through our school year. Homeschooling is so AWESOME!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      We move to a more scheduled homeschool day in 2nd/3rd grade, but otherwise our approaches sound very familiar! I’m glad to hear it’s worked so well since you’re a few years ahead of me! :)

  • Jessica

    I started kindergarten at 5, my birthday was the cutoff back then :)
    My daughter (now almost 8) started kindergarten at age 4. She turned 5 about 3 weeks in to the year.
    She was already reading before she started so we just couldn’t justify holding her back another year.
    I know there are some social issues to worry about because I lived them. But honestly, it’s just for a few awkward years in middle school and those aren’t great for *anybody*!

    I graduated at 17 and went off to college before I turned 18. Once I got past about 9th grade all that social stuff leveled off.

    I’m not encouraging anyone to start their child younger if they don’t think it’s right for them, just wanted to provide some encouragement for those who opted to start younger- it can be great and I don’t feel it was detrimental to me at all.

    • Jessica

      And to clarify- I was both homeschooled, private schooled and public schooled. As of right now, my daughter is in public school.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Hi Jessica! Thanks for sharing your experience! I wasn’t intending to treat the opposite decision as negative; I was just sharing what worked for us.

      I also graduated high school and started college at 17 after skipping a year, and I didn’t have any bad experiences, so I can’t even say why that was a concern for me. Maybe I subconsciously just want an extra year with them before they fly the nest!

      • Jessica

        I didn’t think your post was negative at all! I just know those are the typical concerns and I wanted to be another positive voice for those considering starting early

        • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

          Oh good! I may be extra sensitive to coming across the wrong way after the controversy in the comments of my #boymom post — ha!

  • Denise

    My boy will turn 5 on this Dec 26th, in our district this would mean him starting Kindergarten THIS September. We are homeschooling, and this article is really helpful, I hadn’t thought of the option before, but it’s a great idea to have in mind at the start. If he’s ready to move on next year great, if not, great! I do know that if we had been considering public school we would have waited until the next year, even though that would technically be considered “holding him back”.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Oh, wow, Denise — that is a little bit on the crazy side! December babies in kindergarten, really?

  • http://stephfishr.com/ Steph

    Our daughter’s birthday is September 27th. She’ll be five this year. We are keeping her in the preschool class at church and aren’t officially starting kindergarten until next year. That said, we will probably ease into some more formal stuff starting in January so we get some practice and can troubleshoot before school officially starts. I figure the same as you, it’s always easier to move them up than hold them back.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I was SO tempted to keep our youngest daughter in the preschool class this year because she’s so timid and definitely feels younger to me (even though her birthday is the earliest in September of our fall babies!). BUT, the K and 1st grade classes start out in the same room at our church, so this is her one shot to be able to go with her big sister rather than having to go by herself, and I’m hoping that will make the transition easier!

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    As a homeschooler and former Pre-K teacher, I think you have made a very wise decision. There is a lot to be said for not pressuring kids when they are young. We want them to find joy in learning. When we pressure them at too young of an age, it kills their desire to learn for the sake of learning. They begin to connect school with negative feelings. Again, very wise decision you have made!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thanks, Heather!

  • Erin Boyd Odom

    Love this, Mandi! We actually waited with our June baby…she is our first, and although she is and always has been very, very verbal, I think she would have been very frustrated with kindergarten if we had sent her on this year. (We are doing a university school model, so she will be at school 3 days and at home 2 days each week.) Instead, we waited and sent her to a transitional kindergarten 3 mornings/week. To our surprise, the learned how to read a bit (3-letter words and sight words), how to count to 100, how to write and a lot of other things this past year in transitional kindergarten, but I think it will make her all-the-more prepared for the “real deal” this year!

    I have a November birthday, so I missed the cut-off and was always one of the oldest ones in my class (which I loved), and my husband repeated kindergarten with a June bday…so that influenced us, too.

    We will do the same with our youngest–a late August baby, and our middle misses the cut-off with a late October bday. She will turn 4 this fall, so my plan right now is to include her in our kindergarten homeschool days for my oldest…just to get her ready.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      You’re the second person to mention a transitional kindergarten, and I didn’t even know they existed! I guess that’s pretty much what we do at home that first year — ha! I think that is such a great option for kids who aren’t quite ready.

      And I love hearing that you and your husband both enjoyed the oldest-in-the-class status. Sometimes I worry about our kids having that label, but somebody’s gotta be the oldest, right?

  • Cmvarga

    I just finished homeschooling our 5 yr this past year and I had many of the same thoughts but he did so well I feel good about having done K with him and we will be doing 1st grade this fall. However our daughter who is a January bday is 4 and is so wanting to do school and I really think she’ll do well but I just have been feeling it’s to young for K. So just last week I discussed with a friend doing a 2 year K program with her! Just basically doing 1 curriculum over 2 years. So I’m very grateful to read your post and know there are others out there who feel the same!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I’m glad the post came at the right time to encourage you as you make decisions!

  • diane

    My girls go to a very small christian school. My eldest is a November birthday and we sent her as a not yet 5 year old. The class was three days a week and only had eight children. It was exactly what she needed. She started first grade last year excelling at math and had caught reading. Our second is a July birthday and will be doing the same kindergarten program this coming year. I am not so confident, she is not so school inclined. She will probably do two years in kindergarten. But she could surprise us and just take off.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      That sounds perfect! Funny enough, the child who worried me the most the year she was turning 5 (because she was just not interested in school) is the one who has excelled the most in school. Kids are so hard to predict!

  • Cbbartho

    Our daughters have October birthdays and the deadline is December 1. We put both of our girls in the young 5′s program at our elementary school. Best choice for them as they were both very shy/introverted. Our oldest is now 17 and starting her senior year and she thanked me for making this decision, she is glad she isn’t going off to college this fall. Having that extra year has made our daughters more mature and they are both honor students and involved in sports. Our oldest has already decided that she going to get a dual major – BSN and Dietetics and minor in Spanish. I did a lot of research about this and listened to a child psychologist who recommended that children should be 5 before starting kindergarten. We have never second guessed our choice.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I’ve never heard of a young 5s program before, but that sounds like a great transition for the kids on the younger end of the spectrum!