If you’ve looked at our class offerings, you’ll see that each class has a birthday cutoff: to go into our 3’s class, a child must be 3 by September 30 of that year, and for 4’s, a child must be 4 by September 30. Sometimes parents wonder why we use that cutoff and whether there’s any flexibility in it. Read on to learn the answer and the reasons behind it.

The question: My child misses the birthday cutoff by a couple of months, but is advanced in some areas. Can she go into the next age group up?

The answer: Usually no, but it’s always okay to ask! Here’s what we think about when we’re making that decision.

1. September 30 is not a magic day on the calendar – but we follow the same cutoff as FCPS, so that a child who comes through our program will be Kindergarten eligible at the end of 4’s. Moving a child into a class that she doesn’t qualify for by age means that you’ll be out of sequence to register for Kindergarten when that time comes.

2. While there is always an age range in any classroom, to advance a child ahead of his age will place him in a classroom with children over a year older than him, a difference that is magnified in these preschool years. Younger preschoolers are moving away from parallel play and into more cooperative play, a process that takes a lot of time and practice.

3. Physical size and motor skills are a consideration – preschool is a very physical place, and being with same age peers helps children feel successful participating in play and in our daily routines at school.

4. We also want to help children thrive socially and emotionally in their school environment. This is part of looking at the whole child – looking at a child’s social and emotional development as well as academic development. Giving a child time to grow socially with peers in a preschool environment is a gift that they will carry with them into their elementary school days.

5. TPK is committed to helping kids learn and grow right where they are. Kids come to us with different interests and at different stages, even within an age group. This is what developmental learning is all about! We are able to provide additional support and enrichment to children who need it in many areas of development. It is normal that a child would have areas of development in which she is accelerated and others in which she is still growing, and our goal is to promote learning in all areas based on that child’s needs.

For my part, my daughter came into TPK in a 3’s class, with a December birthday, and we had family members who wondered if she should be accelerated to a 4’s class. It was easy at that time – especially with my tall child who wanted to read at 3 – to think that was a good idea. I was ready to forge ahead and thought for sure she was too; after all, most of her playmates were older than her and she kept up with them just fine.

In hindsight, there was little to be gained for us by accelerating her to the next age group before the right time. She went to 4’s and Kindergarten right in sequence and is in the middle of her peer group by age. She is already experiencing the changing of interests as her peers mature alongside her, and I am grateful that we are not rushing out of her interests in youthful things like dolls and horses and into full-on tween interests. Keeping up as a teen and tween is hard enough as it is! I am grateful, looking ahead, that we will have one more year before she graduates from high school and goes to college. Emotional maturity is a longer road than academic learning; academic learning can be accelerated in some ways, but emotional maturity just takes time and experience. This is true at 3 and 13 and 23 (don’t forget that the brain is still developing into young adulthood!).

So when we encourage families not to forge ahead too fast, these are the reasons why. Logically, someone always has to be the youngest in the class – but when a child’s birthday is well beyond the cutoff, we usually have a bias toward giving that child the gift of time. It’s not only because we want a child to be successful now – but because we are also thinking about setting up our young friends for success in the future too.

We’re always happy to talk with you and answer your questions about your child’s development, and consider what will make your child’s time at TPK happy and productive. These are not hard and fast rules, just a little of our thought process – and a bit of experience too.