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Jennifer Rainey Marquez

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12 great things to do in Atlanta for families in May

5/2-10/3
Bruce Munro: Light in the Garden
Where: Atlanta Botanical Garden
When: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Wednesdays through Sundays)
Cost: Free with admission ($18.95 for adults, $12.95 for kids 3 to 12, free for kids two and under)
What: Keep the kids up past their bedtime to see the Garden set aglow with hundreds of miles of fiber optic lights. The immersive art installation coincides with the opening of the Storza Woods expansion, with an oval garden, cascading water feature, and limestone bridge.

5/3
Fiesta Atlanta
Where: Centennial Olympic Park
When: 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Cost: Free
What: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at this multicultural celebration, complete with mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, arts and crafts, and international food vendors.

5/3
May Day Celebration
Where: Serenbe
When: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: $5 per person or $20 per family (suggested donation)
What: You’ll find live music, food trucks and farmstands, pony rides, bouncy slides, a dunk tank, face painting, and more at this 10th annual event.

5/8-9
Pick’n in Grant Park
Where: Grant Park, near the Boulevard entrance
When: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Friday); 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Saturday)
Cost: $5 or $7 per day (the latter includes a complimentary beer from Starr Hill Brewery)
What: Herd the little ones over to the “Kids Zone,” with crafts, live music, and storytelling, while you load your plate with barbecue, toss back a cold one, and groove to musicians on two stages.

5/8-10
Gem, Jewelry, Mineral and Fossil Show
Where: North Atlanta Trade Center
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Friday and Saturday), 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Sunday)
Cost: Free
What: Pint-sized rock collectors can ogle museum-quality stones, meteorites, and sparklers, and watch the action during Saturday’s afternoon auction. Plus: Enter to win door prizes for your child’s school.

5/10
Mother’s Day at Zoo Atlanta
Where: Zoo Atlanta
When: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Cost: Free with admission ($23 for adults; $18 for kids ages 3 to 11; free for kids two and under)
What: Bring the family and human moms will get in free with the purchase of an adult or child’s ticket. Watch as the zoo’s resident mothers receive special treats for the big day, and coo over their adorable offspring.

5/10
Nitro Circus Live
Where: Georgia Dome
When: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $39 to $99
What: Skater boys (and girls) will get a kick out of the high-flying tricks from this daredevil action sports crew. Watch performers execute stunts on FMX and BMX bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, and even wheelchairs and other contraptions.

5/15 and 5/17
The Little Mermaid
Where: The Arena at Gwinnett Center
When: 7:30 p.m. (Friday), 3 p.m. (Sunday)
Cost: $13.50 to $16.50
What: Your kids likely know the underwater tale from the 1989 Disney animated film. Introduce them to another interpretation with this production from the Northeast Atlanta Ballet. 

5/29-31
Toddler Takeover: An Arts Festival For the Very Young
Where: Woodruff Arts Center
When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost (per day): $30 for adults; $5 for kids 6 to 17; free for kids 5 and under
What: The three-day event includes a stroller gallery tour of the High Museum, drama and arts workshops for toddlers, a hands-on instrument “petting zoo,” and kid-friendly music and theater performances, including Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, a one-act play based on Mo Willems’ popular children’s book.

5/29-8/2
The Secret Garden
Where: Serenbe Playhouse
When: 11 a.m. (Friday and Saturday) 2 p.m. (Sunday)
Cost: $20 adults; $15 students; $10 kids under 12
What: You read the story, now see it on stage. For this brand-new adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic, Serenbe has planted an English garden that will immerse audiences in the play.

5/30
Mo Willems Day
Where: The High Museum
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Free with admission ($19.50 adults; $12 ages 6 to 17; free for kids 5 and under)
What: Show up early for the High’s retrospective of drawings by award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Willems. (And bring your well-loved copy of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”) Starting at 9 a.m., the ticket desk will distribute a limited supply of tickets for a special book signing with Willems himself.

5/31
Princess Tea
Where: Atlanta Event Center at Opera
When: 1:30 to 4 p.m. (VIP); 2-3 p.m. (show only)
Cost: $50 per person (VIP); $20 per person (show only)
What: Treat your Disney devotee to a magical show featuring 15 (!) tiara-clad characters: Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, Giselle, Tiana, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Mulan, and Tinkerbell. VIP guests will also enjoy pre-show activities, a princess meet-and-greet, and tea served in porcelain cups.

How to throw a party like a pro, from Atlanta experts Tony Conway and Annette Joseph

Photograph by Gallery Stock
Photograph by Gallery Stock

Plan wisely
Cull your guest list
Ask yourself: What if everyone actually shows up? Where will they park?

0415_foodloversguide_partyparking_jschievink_oneuseonlyDeal with parking
If you can afford it, hire a valet, and they will figure out parking, suggests Conway. Or find a parking lot (like a church lot) within a reasonable distance where you can arrange for people to park ahead of time. Post a person or even a sign at the bottom of your driveway to redirect cars to the right place.

Strategize the menu
To free yourself from the kitchen, think carefully about what to serve. “One or two things should be prepped in advance and served at room temperature,” Joseph says. “Then plan one dish that can go in the oven, one that you can prepare on the counter (like a salad), and one that you can prepare on the cooktop.”

Offer direction
Invites should con­vey as much as possible, says Joseph. Not serving food? Invite guests for “cocktails and conversation.” Seated dinner? Spell out what time the meal will be served. Specify where people should park and how far they might have to walk. And ask for a heads-up on any dietary restrictions.

0415_foodloversguide_partysetmood_jschievink_oneuseonlySet the mood
Joseph likes to start off with soft music before building to an upbeat playlist mid-party. Once guests are sitting down to eat, she tones it back down. Try incorporating her no-fail trick: “Play whatever their version of ‘oldies’ music is.” If your guests are all in their 40s, blast tunes from the 1970s and 1980s.

Create a “wow” factor
Don’t have a big decorating budget? “Spend it all on one thing,” says Conway, like a show-stopping floral arrangement on your kitchen island or a dramatic ice carving. “Candles are great, but be careful. You don’t want them to accidentally set someone’s jacket on fire or blow out every time the door opens,” he says.

Remember the details
Lower the thermostat
“You’re going to be packing way more people into your home than usual, and those extra bodies can make things uncomfortably warm,” says Conway. Set an alarm to remind yourself to reset the thermostat before the end of the night, so you don’t wake up freezing.

0415_foodloversguide_partyneighbors_jschievink_oneuseonlyAlert your neighbors
Stick a note in your neighbors’ mailboxes the day before the event, suggests Conway. “Say something like: We’re celebrating a special occasion tomorrow. Please call this number if you have an issue or someone happens to block your driveway.”

Put the bar at the back
“It gives guests a chance to walk in and take off their coats, and it also pulls them into the space,” Conway says. For a larger gathering, place a couple of bar stations in different areas of the party. “Guests will congregate toward the bar no matter what, so that will help spread people out,” Joseph says.

Edit your alcohol
A fully stocked bar can end up feeling cluttered (not to mention expensive). Consider a signature cocktail. “You can make large quantities ahead of time and serve them in pitchers,” Joseph says.

Spread out the nibbles
To keep guests moving about, consider having the first course served at the table and the other courses available at buffet stations, advises Conway. Later, you can serve coffee and dessert outside.

Be a good host
Lift a lull
Evening starting to drag? “Make a toast,” Conway says. “It refocuses everyone’s attention.”

0415_foodloversguide_partyguests_jschievink_oneuseonlyConnect your guests
“Help people mingle,” Joseph says. “If you want to create a fun party, this is more important than serving incredible food.” Aim to greet every guest with, “Come over here; I want you to meet somebody!”

Say thank you
“Mannered guests will write thank-you notes to the host, but I also think it’s nice to thank your guests for attending,” Conway says. Or send guests off with a small parting gift: Set out Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the front porch or wrap up extra cookies to take home.

Kick ’em out—nicely
“If you’ve hired a bartender, ask them to do a last call,” Conway says. No staff? Circle the room and ask, “Can I get you one last drink?” And if that doesn’t work, says Joseph, “Just be honest and say, ‘I love you guys, but I am heading to bed.’”

Illustrations by Jochen Schievink

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.

Expert advice: How to hire top talent for private dining events

Illustration by Jochen Schievink
Illustration by Jochen Schievink

What’s the best way to approach someone about a private event?
Richards Book through the public relations or marketing person at the restaurant. I’ve also had regulars just approach me directly.

Thorn Keep in mind that Friday or Saturday nights are going to be a little tougher. Try for a weekday or a Sunday.

Does the size of my party matter?
Richards I prefer an intimate gathering (about 12 people) because the fun part is interacting with everyone. People can hang out in the kitchen and ask questions, or I can come out and talk about each course as it’s presented.

Thorn If it’s a large gathering (about 50 people), you’ll need a second staffed bar station or a self-serve drink, like a punch.

My kitchen is tiny. Is that a problem?
Richards I’ll usually check out the house ahead of time and work the menu around any limitations. And more often than not, the kitchen is nicer than the one that I work in every day.

Thorn Communicate clearly what the bartender will need and what you will provide. Bartending tools are one thing, but don’t ask them to lug bags of ice to chill the beer.

How much will it cost me?
Richards Expect to spend more than you would on a caterer, but keep in mind, you’re buying a much more personal experience. It also depends on the chef; Ford Fry is going to be way more expensive than I am.

Thorn Offer a minimum of $150 for the night; otherwise, it’s not worth it to skip a shift at their regular establishment. Set up a fair fee up front, and don’t worry about tipping. It’s awkward to set up a tip jar at a party.

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue under the headline “Pro tips: Bring in a ringer.”

Back to school: 5 classes to sharpen your kitchen skills

Photograph by Gregg Dupree, styling by James Herrin
Photograph by Gregg Dupree, styling by James Herrin

0415_foodloversguide_beginners_jschievink_oneuseonlyBest for… Serious beginners
The Cooking School at Irwin Street
At the beginning of the Superfoods class, chef Tony asked us to rank our kitchen skills on a 10-point scale. Most fessed up to being a timid four, but we were in good hands at Irwin Street Market’s school, which—as the website notes—caters to people who “frankly hate to cook.” Prepping the entree (pesto salmon with quinoa) felt akin to helping a relative in the kitchen. We chopped garlic and mixed the salad dressing in pairs, while Tony worked the gas range, baked the fish, and shared cooking tips. (My favorite: Locavores can swap pecans for pine nuts in their pesto.) In the end, we sat down for a family meal. And just like a relative, Tony insisted we have seconds.

The basics
Founded by Jake Rothschild of Jake’s Ice Cream. Lessons run 90 minutes and, depending on programming, max out at 80 students. Book at irwinstreetcooks.com.

Cost
$80 to $85; includes dinner
—Tess Malone

0415_foodloversguide_wannabechefs_jschievink_oneuseonlyBest for… Wannabe Chefs
The Cook’s Warehouse
Truth be told, I’d never minced a shallot, so when chef John Wilson asked if he should show us how, I was a little too quick to respond, “Yes!” After all, I didn’t want to be the person he talked about in front of next week’s class—like the poor sap who’d dumped an entire bowl of salt in the soup. Each of us had our own chopping boards and pitched in to prepare a Mediterranean feast of lamb, roasted fennel, a salad, and a sweet ricotta and pasta pudding. For this menu, “hands-on” meant mostly chopping, unless you count rubbing mustard sauce on a lamb shank as a technique. Nonetheless, the informality of standing around a counter lent itself to foodie talk, and I picked up dozens of random tips. Least of all, how to mince shallots.

The basics
With more than 800 classes annually at four locations, this is the largest cooking school in the Southeast. Book at classes.cooks­warehouse.com.

Cost
Demos start at $45. Hands-on classes start at $65, including tastings and wine.
—Betsy Riley

0415_foodloversguide_winepeople_jschievink_oneuseonlyBest for… Grape Nuts
Atlanta Wine School
Classes at Atlanta Wine School cater to relaxed cooks who, like me, think that every recipe should start with a glass of wine. A recent class on seafood kicked off with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a platter of cheese and crackers. Soon an instructor appeared and called us to the large communal island—outfitted with two sets of burners, plus a sink—where we were divided into teams and assigned dishes. As someone who’s a bit lazy in the kitchen, I was happy with my team’s assignment: a shrimp ceviche cocktail, the preparation of which required not much more than squeezing a few limes. It allowed plenty of opportunity to wander around—wineglass in hand—and eavesdrop on everyone else’s hard work. Class ended with a seated communal meal—plus more wine, of course.

The basics
Each class runs two and a half hours. Limit 12 students per class. Book at atlanta­wineschool.com at least one to four weeks in advance.

Cost
$59 to $99; includes meal and wine
—Jennifer Rainey Marquez

0415_foodloversguide_carnivore_jschievink_oneuseonlyBest for… Carnivores
Pine Street Market
Don’t go into the basic butchery class at Pine Street Market expecting heirloom cutlery. After all, it’s a butcher shop, preparing 1,500 pounds of bacon, another half-ton of sausage, and dozens of pork chops and loin roasts every week. Owner Rusty Bowers started our class by slicing three slabs of Gum Creek Farms pork belly into four pieces so we each had our own. We rolled and strung it together for roasting before stuffing a shoulder loin with housemade bacon, celery leaves, olives, and spices. Finally, we broke down a whole chicken. We took all that meat home with us (the pork belly alone must have weighed three pounds), after Bowers fed us a Lowcountry boil of chicken and cabbage and treated us to a few growlers from the beer store next door.

The basics
Classes are held every Saturday and include a butcher boot camp, a sausage-making class, and a whole-hog class. Most classes run three hours, and capacity tops out at around a dozen. pinestreetmarket.com

Cost
$100 to $375
—Steve Fennessy

0415_foodloversguide_shakers_jschievink_oneuseonlyBest for . . . Drinkers and Shakers
H&F Whisk(e)y Society
Everyone was tipsy on this sunny Saturday afternoon at Holeman and Finch Public House. I was one of 14 who had signed up to taste—and learn—our way through 12 flights of Scotch. The class, lead by whiskey expert Casey Teague, was part of an educational program that includes bartending as well as wine classes. “Class breaks down halfway through when everybody is just drunk,” joked Teague just before starting. Sure enough, as we emptied our glasses and learned about single malts and sherry barrels, students grew louder. By the end, hearing Teague was about as likely as leaving to hit the gym.

The basics
Each class runs two and a half hours. Limit 24 students per class. Book your seat at brownpapertickets.com at least one week in advance.

Cost
$75 to $150; includes lunch
—Evan Mah

Illustrations by Jochen Schievink

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.

How much would it cost to “mod out” your wheels Vin Diesel-style?

Illustration by Jameson Simpson
Illustration by Jameson Simpson

Atlanta traffic may be an impediment to high-speed auto theatrics, but you can still “mod out” your wheels Vin Diesel-style. We talked to Eugene Chou—managing partner at Koruworks, a Marietta shop that sells and installs parts to modify performance vehicles—about what it would take to create a street race–worthy ride.

Show your fellow commuters who’s boss with a personalized paint job.
Cost $8,000 to $10,000 for a full custom job

Handling is more important than horsepower. Suspension modifications like lowering the springs or coilovers will give you more control.
Cost $2,200

If you don’t want to plop in an all-new engine, there are (not exactly legal) ways to extract more horsepower—like using nitrous oxide in the air intake to force in more oxygen and fuel.
Cost $1,600

A new body kit made of polyurethane, aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber can take major poundage off your car’s weight, making it easier to handle.
Cost Up to $100,000, depending on car and materials

Larger brake rotors and calipers, plus more aggressive brake pads, will help your car stop on a dime.
Cost $2,500 to $4,500

Wider, stickier tires and lightweight wheels improve your grip on the road.
Cost $1,500 to $2,500

On the calendar On April 3, “Furious 7,” the high-action flick—filmed in Atlanta—speeds into theaters.

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue under the headline “Drive like Diesel.”

April in Atlanta: 15 great events for families

4/1-4/12
Orchid Daze: Pop!
Where: Atlanta Botanical Garden
When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Tuesdays through Sundays)
Cost: Free with admission ($18.95 for adults; $12.95 for kids ages 3 to 12; free for kids 2 and under)
What: See thousands of the exotic plants flanked by colorful pop art prints inspired by the work of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein.

4/3
Annual Open House
Where: University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, Ga
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Free
What: Pet live animals, watch sheep shearing and horseback riding demonstrations, and get your fuzzy friend fixed up in Teddy Bear Surgery.

4/4
Easter Egg Hunt
Where: Smith Gilbert Gardens
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Nonmembers: $10 per child, $7 per adult; Members: $5 per child, adults free
What: Meet the Big Bunny himself, make Easter crafts, and—of course—fill your basket at this first annual Egg Hunt. Children will be assigned to one of three hunts based on their age.

4/4
Back to Your Roots Farm Fair
Where: Chattahoochee Nature Center
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: Free with general admission ($10 for adults; $7 for students ages 13 to 18; $6 for kids ages 3 to 12; free for kids 2 and under)
What: See farm animals, enjoy live bluegrass music, learn how to make natural dyes for your Easter eggs, get your face painted, and more at this back-to-nature event.

4/7-4/12
Blue Man Group
Where: Fox Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. on Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday
Cost: $30 to $110
What: The cobalt crew’s wordless, all-ages theatrics include percussion music, dancing, and cereal slinging.

4/9-5/24
Paul Bunyan and the Tall Tale Medicine Show
Where: Center for Puppetry Arts
When: Tuesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.; Saturdays 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Cost: $16.50 for nonmembers; $9.25 for members; free for kids under 2
What: Mosey up to the Center For Puppetry Arts for country crooning and old-fashioned yarns, including the stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and John Henry.

4/11
Sheep to Shawl
When: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Atlanta History Center
Cost: Free with general admission ($16.50 for adults; $13 for students; $11 for kids)
What: Show your kids the journey from fleece to Fair Isle in this ovine event, which showcases shearing, dyeing, spinning, and weaving.

4/17-4/19
Seussical
When: Friday 7 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday 5 p.m.
Where: Mable House Barnes Amphitheatre
Cost: $8 for ages 13 and up; free for kids 12 and under
What: The Theatre Project at the Mable House Arts Center, a community theater troop for kids and adults in South Cobb, performs the Broadway musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

4/18
Atlanta Steeplechase
When: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Kingston Downs
Cost: $38.75 for general admission;  free for kids 12 and under
What: Sport your best hat for the 50th annual horse race—and dress up the young’uns for the kids’ hat contest, too. In addition to the main event, check out Jack Russell races, bagpipers, and a skydive demo.

4/18–19
Bear on the Square Mountain Festival
When: All day
Where: Historic Square in Dahlonega
Cost: Free
What: Kick up your heels in a mountain dance, plus hear storytelling and bluegrass from bands like the Skillet Lickers at the Appalachian culture showcase.

4/18–6/7
Georgia Renaissance Festival
When: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekends only
Where: Fairburn, Ga
Cost: $22 per adult; $10 per child; free for kids 5 and under
What: Tear into a smoked turkey leg while gaping at costumed jugglers, jousters, acrobats, and more at the 30th annual Fairburn tradition.

4/24–26
Up Right Atlanta
Where: Ponce City Market
When: Friday 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday noon and 3 p.m.
Cost: Free (Must reserve tickets in advance)
What: The fantastical Soundsuits made by Chicago-based performance artist Nick Cave are striking enough as display pieces; when worn by dancers, they spring to noisy life.

4/25
Peachtree Sports Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Cobb Galleria Center
Cost: $8 in advance; $10 at the door; free for kids under 6
What: Participate in clinics for sports from basketball to dance to archery, play interactive games, and meet star athletes.

4/25
Strawberry Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: The Rock Ranch in The Rock, Ga
Cost: $12; free for kids 3 and under
What: Pick a pint, meet Strawberry Shortcake, and indulge in a homemade strawberry “ice dream.”

4/30
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses-Master Quest
Where: Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
When: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $45 to $125
What: Video game fanatics get a night to remember with this four-movement symphony that retells key moments from the Legend of Zelda franchise.

The real problem with Georgia’s Kindergarten cut-off

When I accepted a job offer at Atlanta magazine last fall—which meant relocating from New York City back to Atlanta, where I grew up—one of the first calls I made was to a local public elementary school. “We’re going to be moving to the area in a couple of months, and I’m wondering about enrolling my daughter in school,” I explained. “She currently attends public pre-K in New York, and I’m hoping to find her a pre-K slot in Atlanta. The only thing is, her birthday is September 8.”

“That’s impossible.” “Sorry, we can’t do that.” “If her birthday is after September 1, there’s nothing you can do.”

No matter how many schools I called, the answer was the same: no dice.

I was frustrated on her behalf—and mine (after all, now we’d be stuck paying for private preschool, and slogging through the pre-K lottery process, again). “She’s excited about going to kindergarten next year. She’s doing great in pre-K, her teachers love having her in the class,” I huffed to my husband. “I feel like she’s being punished just for moving.”

Kindergarten cut-off dates vary throughout the country. New York City’s cutoff—December 31—is among the latest. Georgia has long been part of a large pack of states with a September 1 cutoff, although a new bill may change that. Lawmakers have proposed moving the date up one month to August 1 for the 2016-2017 school year, and then to July 1 beginning in 2017-2018. In other parts of the country, the cut-off date is as early as June 1.

The result of having a six month range of cut-off dates across the country: Students who transfer from one state to another can end up being a year and a half older—or younger—than the other kids in their class. If we ever move back to New York, our daughter will be a grade below children who are a few months younger than her.

And that doesn’t even take “redshirting” into account. The practice allows parents of children with late birthdays—which could be anywhere from May to November, depending on where you live—to hold their kids back an extra year before starting kindergarten. It’s especially popular among parents of boys, who may be less behaviorally mature than their female peers—and, let’s be honest, who may go on to play sports in which being older, and bigger, is an advantage.

Some places have tried to curb redshirting, which—despite what many parents think—hasn’t been proven to benefit kids socially or academically. (In fact, some studies have even shown the opposite to be true: As kids progress in school, being the youngest can be a boon in terms of performance.) In 2013, some of our New York neighbors panicked when the city decided to enforce the December cut-off date more firmly, making it much harder for parents to delay sending their kids to kindergarten.

Still, in most places holding your kid back isn’t difficult. If your would-be kindergartener’s birthday is a few days—or even weeks or months—before the cutoff, you’re free to keep him or her home and no truancy officer will come knocking on your door. It’s an “individual decision,” as one school official told me. For a child whose birthday falls a few days after the cutoff, though, that “individual decision” rhetoric gets thrown out the window.

Which is why I would like to personally endorse a two-part solution for leveling the playing field:

1. Enforce the rules equally. Ideally, school districts should take a much firmer stance on redshirting. It doesn’t help kids, and it makes things harder for teachers, who can end up with a nearly two-year age spread in their kindergarten classes. It’s also self-perpetuating: The more often kids are held back, the harder it is for parents to feel comfortable sending their late-birthday babies on time.

But if you’re going to allow redshirting, you’ve also got to give the parents of early-birthday kids the same leeway. I’ve got two daughters with birthdays right around the September 1 cut-off date, but as it stands now there’s one meaningful difference between them: With my late-August baby, I have a choice about when to enroll her. With my early-September baby, I don’t.

2. Create a national kindergarten cut-off date. Getting states to agree on anything when it comes to education is a challenge, I know. But picking a date and sticking to it could prevent a lot of headaches for families.

After moving to a new district, parents of young students (like mine) wouldn’t have to worry about having their child unexpectedly held back. (Or skipped ahead: Imagine if you suddenly found your child eligible for first grade, and he or she hadn’t yet enrolled in kindergarten!) And parents of older students wouldn’t have to worry about their kids ending up dramatically older or younger than their grade-level peers—something that gets a lot pricklier once the puberty years hit.

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