We love all children at Charlotte Latin School. As a TK-12 Independent Day school, we cherish the opportunity to work with children ages five to eighteen. And as our Head of School, Arch McIntosh always says, we love all of our students but we often love five year olds and fifteen year olds in different ways!
As parents of young children begin to think about schools today, they have many good choices. Between neighborhood elementary schools, faith-based kindergarten programs, or a wide variety of independent and private schools, there are many options to explore. And while I would love for every parent of a soon to be five-year-old pick Charlotte Latin School as their family’s home school, I know that match, fit and timing are the most important factors to a great start for a lifelong learner. At Latin, we believe the ideal time to begin school is that wonderful year somewhere between five and six.
So why wait to start school at five? Especially when some schools offer programs for four-and-half year olds?
For us, we believe that the year of growth between a four year old and a five year old moves at lightening speed. The child’s core needs to be strong enough to swing, pump, run and hang from the monkey bars so that the child can sit, hold a pencil, and not slip out of the chair. And while that image seems funny, we often forget how none of us do our best work when we are fatigued or generally not strong enough to tackle a job. And we are adults, not children experiencing growth at a staggering rate. Five year olds move with more ease and navigate ambitious gross motor play and movement. A younger child will hang back and not only be unready to develop those core muscles, but also sense he or she cannot keep up.
And while core strength is every bit as important as social and emotional readiness, we often confuse the more academic skills such as letters and numbers as well as the urgency to expose children to technology at younger and younger ages as pre-requisites for admission to an independent school. Rather, an older child, and more importantly, a ready child, brings great freedom to a classroom; when a child’s attention span, courtesy for others and ability to be flexible are in place, our top notch teachers can manage the academic piece in an unfettered focused way. Pre-schools have always been known for their “4s” classrooms; they keep the chronological and development age in a narrow frame and tailor every single skill to prepare five and six year olds for school. Then, our veteran teachers can navigate the classroom with precision as no child lags behind.
Science backs that the biological readiness to read comes after all the other readiness skills are in place, and not until the child reaches a “mental age of six and a half” as psychologist Arthur Gesell proclaims. And yet, we as a culture are adding more letter and number apps to our tablets, substituting our voices with recorded voices, further distancing the child from true language acquisition. Our grandmothers were right: children need to be read to because children need to hear changes in tone and respond to expressive language. When you add the human connection of snuggling with a good book, you incorporate comfort, safety and good feelings about reading.
With the advent of Transitional Kindergarten, parents have never had more choices about when to start school. Commonly called TK, Transitional Kindergarten is designed to do just that: transition children from pre-school to Kindergarten. I have heard some parents call it a red-shirt year and while that is a clever comparison, we are not exactly prepping 5 year olds to perform better without wasting eligibility. Rather at Latin, like other schools offering TK, we have designed a year for the young kindergarten student that is ready for a longer day, layered curriculum, and is prepared to be successful in an independent working community. As TK students do matriculate to Kindergarten, they also age a year. Hence, a once five-year old TK student will turn 6 when they begin Kindergarten.
So, to further connect the dots, many kindergarten students are both 5 and 6 when they begin school. With so many wonderful options in town, rest assured that educators believe in the age old wisdom that a ready child will only grow stronger and more capable ensuring a joyful and confidence building opportunity to become happy children and happy students.