Yep, I have to admit it: I flunked kindergarten. It’s embarrassing, but true. After all, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person. I hold two college degrees and write a column for a wonderful magazine, I keep up on current events, and I love to learn. But I flunked kindergarten.

This wasn’t some type of experimental, accelerated kindergarten, either. It was an average, public school kindergarten. And this was way back in (dare I say it?) 1967, when kindergarten was kindergarten. Back then, all that was expected of kindergarteners was that they learn how to be away from their mothers for a few hours; name their colors, shapes, numbers, and letters; cut and paste; stand in line; and sit quietly for story time. But I still flunked.

Why? Why did my school career get off to such a lousy start?

I’ll tell you why: Because I was just a normal little girl who wanted to play. I had no interest in school. I wasn’t developmentally ready for kindergarten. I was a young kindergartener, having barely passed my fifth birthday. I was young and immature. The teacher said I was very social, talking and playing instead of listening to my lessons.

I remember what followed: My mom, with the best of intentions, spent her entire summer drilling me on the “facts.” Every morning she would call me into the kitchen, stand me by our chalkboard, and make me recite my numbers, letters, basic math facts, and letter sounds till I was in tears. I felt like a failure—and I’m sure my mom did, too.

The following year I was put into an experimental program called “Pre-First.” It was not an exact repeat of kindergarten, but close to it. I don’t remember much else about the situation, except to say that I never flunked a grade or a class again. Now I was an older and more mature student—older than most of my peers. This never bothered me. School came easily for me from then on; I loved to learn, and I always got good grades. My experience taught me that not all 5-year-olds are ready for kindergarten. It would have been better for me if my parents had kept me at home one more year. Some children are 5 years old chronologically, but not developmentally. Developmentally, they are not ready for kindergarten . . . and that fact does not make them dumb. Even mature 5-year-olds are usually not ready for the new, “modern” idea of kindergarten, which includes intensive formal academics. Instead, give your child a more traditional, play-based kindergarten experience that is appropriate for your child’s abilities.

Things You Should Know About Kindergarten

     •   In many states, kindergarten is not mandatory, but optional. If this is the law in your state, you don’t have to worry about reporting to anyone or enrolling in any programs. Different states have different requirements and different compulsory attendance laws. Make sure you find out about the law in your state, and do some research about your options. A good place to start is www.hslda.org. You can find out about your state’s laws and support networks there.

     •   Even if kindergarten is optional in your state, you should give your child that “kindergarten experience.” Give yourself a year with a light schedule of reading, art, music, and learning games in preparation for first grade—and start when your child is 5 or even 6.

     •   Even though the traditional age to start kindergarten is 5, many children, especially boys, benefit from an extra year of “preschool”—even if you are planning to implement a traditional, developmentally appropriate kindergarten program. As a general rule, later is always better. Children who are given an extra year or two of play will benefit from the extra maturity, knowledge, and attention span they develop during those years.