Transitional Options

Of course, the leader in early education remains preschool programs. Preschools nationwide are changing their programs in reaction to beefed-up kindergarten curriculums. Some schools are scaling down play time to teach reading and writing skills that years earlier would have been considered more appropriate for kindergarten.

Another sign of the times is the growth of transitional kindergarten classes offered by pricey preschools. According to National Center for Education Statistics, some 9 percent of children who are at kindergarten age are waiting out the year. Boys are being held back by parents at twice the rate as girls.

A transitional kindergarten class bridges the gap between old-style play-based preschool and kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten classes typically offer a repeat of the last half-year of pre-K curriculum and exposure to the first half-year of kindergarten. These classes also promise individualized instruction at a more leisurely pace. This extra year, before the formal start of school, buys parents time to allow late bloomers to develop intellectually, physically and socially. But know that these are not entry-level-price programs. A parent might pay $10,000 per year for a transitional kindergarten class (compared with as little as $1,200 for toddler tutoring).

Jill Mayo, director of St. Andrew’s Nursery School and Kindergarten in Cherry Hill, N.J., believes public kindergarten nowadays puts unrealistic demands on children. Consequently, she says, there is a need for a transitional program such as hers, which she notes is modeled on kindergarten curriculums from two decades ago.

Michelle Quinn of Voorhees, N.J., enrolled her son Dylan in such a program when he turned 5 in September 2005, even though there were no obvious signs the boy would struggle in public school.

“I did not want him to be the youngest kid in his class and struggle,” Quinn explains. “If I held him back, I knew I couldn’t go wrong. But if I pushed him ahead, there would always be a question mark. Problems may not have shown up in kindergarten, but what about down the road when the work got harder?”

Now 3 years down the road, Dylan is a happy, confident and successful student about to enter third grade. Quinn, who would spend $9,000 today to enroll her son in the same program, is convinced that holding Dylan back was a good decision, regardless of the cost.