WINDOM - Thanks to a new program, parents of Windom-area children with summer birthdays will no longer have to face the difficult decision of when to enroll them in kindergarten.

Beginning next fall, Winfair Elementary will begin its first section of “Begindergarten” - a twist on a traditional kindergarten classroom for children with birthdays between May 1 and Aug. 31.

According to Winfair Elementary Principal Jamie Frank, the class will focus on kindergarten standards at a slower pace with more hands-on activities.

“We’re thinking it will be more play-based learning,” she said, adding that youngsters will still attend special classes like physical education and music. “This will give us an additional year to support them.”

Toward the end of the year, the parents will attend a conference with the begindergarten teacher and they’ll evaluate together whether a student should continue on to first grade or attend another year of kindergarten, Frank said.

As of Friday, 16 kids were enrolled in next year’s inaugural begindergarten class. Frank said 15 kids was the minimum needed to move forward with the new idea. There is a cap of 19 students.

Frank learned of the begindergarten idea from an elementary principal at Belle Plaine during a Minnesota Elementary Principals Association Conference they attended together.

A parent survey was conducted during kindergarten registration to gauge interest in supporting a begindergarten section at Windom. Letters were also sent to parents of students with summer birthdays, which further indicated parent interest.

Next year’s begindergarten class will be one of five kindergarten sections at Winfair Elementary.