Kindergarten or first grade for a non english speaker?

Dear parents,

I will be in Berkley (central zone I think but not sure yet) next year for a sabbatical and I have a son born in 2012, on September 22, so he will be just 6 when the school year begin. If I understood correctly next year he should be in first grande. BUT he doesn't speak english at all, he is not very mature (he still likes to play, not much to do school work...) and will be one of the youngest in the class if he is in first grade. Knowing this: should I ask (and can I ask?) to enroll him in Kindergarten instead? He already attend 3 years of optional kindergarten in Italy, so he is used to go to school and he is very sociable, but he can't read or write (which is normal here for K pupils). I want him to feel at ease and if he has to learn english plus to write ad read... He already is bilingual french-italian and that should help with the english learning process, but I fear that it will be too much...

Thank you so much for your help! I already learned a lot reading on BPN, it's a very important tool for parents like me arriving from foreign countries. 

I hope to hear soon from you


[Moderator note: a similar question was asked recently - see "French child whose English is not proficient - 1st or 2nd grade?"]

Parent Replies

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This decision is luckily made for you--a child born on September 22, 2012 must be in kindergarten in 2018-19, and will not be eligible for first grade in California. (The cutoff if September 1st; you might be able to fight it given that he has done a kindergarten program already, but typically they only approve exceptions for second grade on.) So he will appropriately be in kindergarten, among his same-age peers. Have a great year in Berkeley!

If you'll be in Berkeley you might consider Ecole Bilingue the French-American school in Berkeley. At that age they teach in French about 80% of the time and in English the remaining 20%. That might really help your son learn English if he doesn't speak at all as opposed to a *crash course* which might affect his self-esteem. Since he is a native French speaker there should be no problem getting him in. You can talk with the admissions director about what grade would be a best fit for your son. They will likely want to meet your son to decide. the downside is that it's a private school so it is pricey. Another option would be the Francophone Charter School in Oakland which is public (free).

I am an intervention teacher who works with a lot of newcomers. I think your child would probably have more fun in kindergarten. He will not be prepared for learning to read in first grade. The teacher and school will spend a lot of time trying to get him "caught up". In Kindergarten he will be learning his letters and the sounds with a little less rigor (in terms of reading instruction). I also think, according to his birthdate, that he is considered kindergarten age anyway.

Ciao Martina!

Both of my children were born in Italy and we just moved back to the Bay Area (Alameda). I am from California and my husband is Italian. My son was born Sept. 27, 2012, so he is in the exact same position as your child. Technically in California this year, your son should be enrolled in TK (Transitional Kindergarten). All children born before Dec. 2, 2012 must be enrolled in TK this year and cannot directly attend kindergarten until next school year. So this means that your son should absolutely enroll in kindergarten next year and not first grade. This will also make the language barrier issue much easier to deal with. And he'll pick up the English so fast. When we moved here in March my 3 year old daughter spoke only Italian, and now I can't get her to say a single word in Italian (besides ciuccio!), it's all English all the time.

Ti potrei scrivere un libro e darti tanti altri consigli (sono andata a UC Berkeley, conosco molto bene la zona). Se vuoi puoi scrivermi direttamente a [*moderator edit:  Please instead contact the original poster directly. You can send them a message by clicking their username at the end of their post.] e sarei felice di aiutarti. So quant'e' diversa la scuola qua in paragona con la scuola materna, mio marito non ne capisce niente. Scrivimi pure per qualsiasi cosa.


Thank you ! All your answers are so helpful! It's so difficult to understand how the system works...

So he will be in Kindergarten, which is a good thing. 

I looked into french-english bilingual possibilities, but I prefer an immersion situation, even more if he is in Kindergarten, which should make things easier.

Thanks again to you all