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March 26, 2008 10:00 PM

Age To Start School

It's a decision every parent has to make and many dread. At what age should a child start school? Some say six, some five and most everyone says it depends on the child and several factors to consider.

There comes a point in parenting when the joy of having kids meets the stress of making decisions on their behalf. As Kristen Arunasalam knows, one of those comes when kids turn five. 

"It's tough because you want to do what's right and there's just no clear line," Arunasalam said. 

The Arunasalams have a son who turned five in July. They signed him up to start school this past fall for a variety of reasons. 

"Not have to pay daycare, save the money, give him challenges and get him going in his education," Arunasalam said. 

But as fall drew closer and the reality of their son starting school sank in, they started seeing the other side of it.
"We see that he's very fidgety, can't sit still, wants a lot of personal attention," Arunasalam said. 

Then came the tough part, deciding which would be best for their child. He could spend another year at home, in preschool and daycare, or he could be in a classroom. 

Kindergarten teachers like Jan Noer see parents going through the decision-making process year after year. 

"Kind of compare and see where your child is at as far as: How are they behaving? What are your expectations for them?" Noer said. 

In her years of teaching, Noer has seen her share of students in the classroom, both those who are ready to be there and those who are not. 

"Some of those kids that it's really hard to focus, they end up kind of getting into a little more mischief and so you have to find ways to re-direct their behavior," Noer said. 

Some of those kids might seem ready in other ways. The Arunasalams sent their son to daycares with preschool activities where he was exposed to a variety of academic lessons early. 

"So we kind of felt like we were on track to send him to kindergarten right away," Arunasalam said. 

Academically he may have been ready, but that wasn't the only thing they looked at. And Noer says it's not the only thing parents should look at. 

"How is your child able to get along with other children, are they able to have a little give and take, is your child able to sit and have an attention span of maybe five minutes," Noer said. 

When thinking about all that, she asks parents to consider the years beyond kindergarten and understand students receive a little added pressure each year. She knows some are ready to start the process at five, but also that some need to wait. 

The Arunasalams decided to hold back their son and don’t regret it. 

"I'm excited to get him to kindergarten this fall. I think he's going to do great," Arunasalam said. 

As for the parents, they have a one-year-old so it’s only a few years until they have to go through this process again. 

Noer encourages parents to ask preschool teachers, Sunday school teachers, or anyone spending a lot of time with their child for their input. Also there's the option to hold them back in kindergarten if you realize they aren't ready for first grade.

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