It's taken as common wisdom that "holding back," as we call it, benefits kids because they'll be more physically, emotionally and cognitively developed, and thus better positioned to succeed in school.
Whether or not that's actually true is a matter of debate, and research can be found supporting both sides.
In a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, Julie Flapan, a researcher and director of civic engagement for UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, offered an insightful examination of "holding back," and her own decision to send her son with a summer birthday to kindergarten this fall ("How to succeed in kindergarten," April 15).
I called Flapan to discuss her thoughts, including her musings that the inclination to hold children back might be motivated less by legitimate concerns than by attempts to "social engineer" kids to the top of the pecking order.
Those plans don't always pan out, she said. There's ample evidence to suggest that children benefit from challenges and high expectations; research indicates that any academic advantage older children might have levels off at about third grade. The younger kids tend to "rise to the occasion," Flapan said.
She also worries that the trend toward delaying kindergarten puts added pressure on parents to foot the bill for expensive preschools. The new law might simply "move the goal posts," encouraging parents with means to start their kids in school even later, an option likely to prove difficult for families that are struggling financially.
But concerns about social justice and the greater good tend to go out the window when parents are faced with deciding what's best for their own kids.
"No one wants their child to be the youngest," she said.
Flapan's comments resonated greatly with me. My older son has a fall birthday, and was always one of the youngest students in his grade.
For years, I agonized over our decision to send him to school so young. He excelled academically, and was tall for his age, but I worried constantly over his social and emotional well-being. Even now, as he is about to graduate from UCLA, I wonder if I'd make the same choice again.
I don't envy parents of young children today. Kindergarten wasn't always so complex. But it's about to get trickier still.
PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.