In more than a decade of teaching kindergarten, Cristina Swinnerton has noticed mysterious changes when students celebrate their fifth birthday. The teacher has witnessed wiggly four-year-olds become model students with their hands folded in their laps. She’s also seen students who struggled with letters at age four rattle off 10 new words after they turn five.
“You know they must have known them the day before. The birthday fairy didn’t come and bring the letters to them,” Swinnerton said with a smile. “But somehow they have that little bit of extra confidence and they want to show it to you.”
Swinnerton sees a range in her students’ abilities due to their age difference. Some began her kindergarten program at age four, while others started at five.
“There can be a huge gap just thinking of how much change can happen over a couple of months for children,” Swinnerton said.
“The way it is right now you can have up to about (a) 17-month gap in any given classroom – so height difference, motor skill difference is a huge one, language skill difference.”
Many Alberta school boards – including Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools – follow an entry guideline stating your child must turn five by March 1 of the school year in order to begin kindergarten. But in a proposed change under the Education Act, the government of Alberta is considering shifting the cut off to December 31. The change would align Alberta with most other Canadian provinces and support data that shows older kindergarteners do better in school.
Jennifer Plamondon agrees with the proposed change. She waited until her daughter Grace was almost five years and eight-months-old to send her to kindergarten, making her one of the oldest students in the class.
“I think she was ready last year to be put in kindergarten mature-wise and she’s flourishing now so I think she would have been fine,” Plamondon said. “But I was more worried about when she was nine or 10 being a whole year or possibly two behind some of the kids in her class.”
Carleen Greaves is an early learning consultant with the Edmonton Catholic School District.
“I think it’s always good to give children that little bit of extra time to be a child.
“Children are rushed through so many things these days,” Greaves said.
If passed under the Education Act, the change would come into effect for the 2018-2019 school year. Right now, school divisions already using the December 31 cut off include Elk Island Public, Red Deer Public, Red Deer Catholic, Chinook’s Edge School Division and Wild Rose School Division.