How Far Should You Go to Get Your Kid Into Kindergarten?

Once upon a time, little Johnny or Janey turned five and off to kindergarten they went. Little was done between Big Bird and the classroom to 'prep' them for such an event; all parents had to do was go to the nearest school and sign them up. Now, parents are literally camping in front of schools to secure a spot in kindergarten! Is going to such an extreme necessary?

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Kindergarten Today, College Tomorrow

Is worrying about what college your child can get into a viable concern when that child is only heading off to kindergarten? Maybe not, but the decisions you make about their academic careers now could have an impact further down the road.

The best programs now might provide them with a stronger foundation. There could be less of a chance that they'll fall behind in first or second grade as the work gets harder and harder. A strong kindergarten environment could lead to better preparation as your child moves through elementary, middle and high school. What's more, getting them into a gifted program early might secure spots for them in later grades.

Such thinking could be behind the numbers: for instance, there were well over 3,000 applications for 500 seats in a gifted kindergarten program in Chicago for fall 2011. With many programs allocating spots to the younger siblings of current students, in some cases hundreds of applicants are vying for only 50 or fewer spots.

Tutors for Tots

Camping out to ensure a coveted spot in a gifted or advanced kindergarten program might not sound so crazy to parents who hire tutors to help their pre-schoolers prepare for kindergarten admissions tests (and the application process for kindergarten can in some cases be as complex as getting into college!).

In New York, parents have been known to spend $1,000 or more for 'kindercramming' boot camps. And Junior Kumon, an educational enrichment program, is becoming more and more popular across the country. The program is designed to teach math and reading to children as young as three.

A bit extreme? It could appear so for those who might think that kindergarten was once nothing more than sandbox and finger painting and yet generations of youngsters turned out just fine. But clinging to such thinking now could wind up leaving your child in the dust as scores of his or her peers enter kindergarten programs already possessing simple math and reading skills.

'A-Camping We Will Go'

So, is getting your child into the 'best' kindergarten necessary? It would appear so, if for no other reason than to adequately prepare them for first grade. In many districts, first grade schoolwork is becoming increasingly tougher. Math work sheets and reading groups have replaced crafts and snacks.

As a result, kindergarten is shifting focus from play time to more structured academics. As elementary school principal William White of Granville, Ohio told Newsweek in 2006: 'Kindergarten...has become the new first grade.'

Good kindergarten programs are designed to prepare your child for the more intense work that awaits them. While no guarantee, the better the kindergarten program, the better chance you might have that your child won't fall behind as he or she advances through the grades.

But is it worth sleeping out under the stars for? That, of course, is a decision each individual parent would have to make for themselves. But if you're like many parents, the thought of another kid getting the edge over your own is enough motivation for pulling out the camping gear. Besides, sleeping in a $50 tent is a lot cheaper than boot camp!

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