We have a decision to make soon. Our son has a fall birthday, but he still makes the cutoff date. He is a bright child who already knows his letters and numbers, and definitely could handle kindergarten, according to his preschool teacher.

I'm torn about whether I should send him to kindergarten in the fall or enroll him in our district's transitional kindergarten program. What are the benefits of transitional programs? -- Undecided


It has been pointed out that today's kindergartens are quite often yesterday's first grades. On the other hand, transitional kindergartens are more like kindergartens used to be. In them, academics take a back seat to socialization. Children learn how wait their turn, share and play with other children. Most of their learning is done through hands-on activities. These programs are fun, and children tend to fall in love with school, which is not always the story when kindergarten academics may keep them at their desks doing worksheets. This can turn young children off to learning.

As far as research goes on the benefits of transitional programs, most of it is positive. The only big negative seems to be that it can add a year of schooling. Positives include less retention, less need for special education programs and higher achievement scores beyond grade three. Plus, children attending transitional programs will be older and more mature in high school and college.

Not all children can attend a public transitional kindergarten program. In some areas there is no funding available, or enrollment may be limited to disadvantaged children. The advantage of attending a public program rather than non-school-based programs is that the teachers are certified in public programs and the curriculum is aligned with the school district's kindergarten program. At the present time, far more children attend non-school-based programs.

We must point out that if you place a child who meets a school district's cutoff date for kindergarten in a non-school-based program, the district could require your child to enter first grade instead of kindergarten when kindergarten is not mandated in the state.