Starting kindergarten is a larger question than most people think. As I said to one of my favorite parents this year, “It’s a little like the candy Now and Later. You can’t just get the Nows in the box, you have to take the laters too. So what does this mean?
A child at four is different from the same child at five and different again at six and sixteen, and all these ages have to be taken into account to satisfy a too elastic question.
Most bright children are ready for the academics of kindergarten at four, provided they got something at three. Many four year olds are interested in the mechanics of academics; they want to know how. They want to experience saying the things and doing the things that seem like big people’s stuff, but they are too young to sit seven hours doing it.
Real learning begins at three. At three, a child should learn the names of his letters, some of the sounds – the fun ones like ssssss and pppp – count to twenty or more with fourteen and fifteen in their proper places, and listen. That’s the important thing. A three year old should learn to not only pay attention, but he should learn how to listen.
Too much for a three? Not when you consider that this can be accomplished in about twenty minutes a day.
At four, if the third year accomplished something, a child will naturally have the tools and say, “OK, what’s next. What can I do with this?” So we take our letters and our numbers on to what amounts to Kindergarten and we learn to draw. Draw? Yes, draw.
My partner, Edith St. Louis, our kindergarten teacher is a brilliant artist by nature and trade and education, and I see every year that her children do the loveliest work, and how that work is the foundation of understanding space, placement, composition, whole and part, side and front, color and black and white – all math and reading skills.
Drawing by instruction allows a child the same hand eye coordination that writing a name does. We use a paper I designed called Mr. Line. His head and hat are at the top, his belt buckle on the dotted line, and his toes on the lower line. Filling in the letters on Mr. Line is a writing and math game. What four year old can’t do that?
At five, a child is taking a break. He’s worked very hard at three and four, so he’s tired of lines and spaces and he wants to know about the world. It’s a marvelous place, and not confined to an 8X11 white surface of questionable fun.
At five, a child is ready for stories, places, people, and the understanding of where he is and why he’s here. You can’t amuse a five year old enough. It’s the vocabulary and foreign language year as well. A well educated five year old will always surprise you with his ability to take in the world around him and understand it.
So the question of do I send my child to kindergarten at five really depends on who my child has managed to become in the two previous years.
And now for the laters –
After a parent has decided to start a child or hold him back, it’s time to pull the crystal ball out and study it.
Who will my child be at twelve, at fourteen, at sixteen and again at eighteen?
At fourteen, a child is starting high school. Genetically, will he be a boy or an almost man, a little girl, or a woman? It’s not so bad with girls as with boys who are humiliated in the locker room when Mr. Next Guy is changing next to Sonny Boy. Would an extra year help?
At fifteen, most kids are at their nicest. Fifteen is a reprieve year for parents.
At sixteen, a child begins to drive. Do you want your child driven or driving the others? I find this the BIG question. I always wanted mine to drive. Death is such a convincing argument.
At eighteen, will a very bright child be bored to death in high school, and never make graduation? Senioritis is a terrible waste of a mind. Would another year do this to him, and would one less year let him go off to college where he could escape that terrible last year of high school?
Now let’s talk about mom and empty nest. Questions, questions, where do we begin?