Determining whether your child is the right age for kindergarten can be difficult. While most five-year-olds are ready to take the step to full-time classroom learning, some are not — and that’s OK. To determine whether your little one is truly ready, you must take into account their emotional maturity as well as their budding academic skills.
Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?
What do kids learn in kindergarten? They focus on the basics, like letter recognition, number skills, and social-emotional learning. You might feel proud that your child has known the ABCs since age 2 but concerned about their ability to take turns with peers without having a temper tantrum. In contrast, you might feel confident about your child’s social skills but worried about whether they can pay attention for long periods of time.
Three core factors determine whether your child will succeed as a kindergarten student:
Age range. Kindergarten starts around age 5 for a reason. At this stage, children have passed through toddlerhood and are more mature, socially aware, and willing to interact with peers. They can also balance sitting still for instruction with the playfulness of young childhood.
Not every state legally requires full-day kindergarten, but every state mandates that children start school at a certain age (usually 5, 6, or 7).
Emotional maturity. Being emotionally and socially ready for school can’t be emphasized enough. Your child should understand how to take turns, listen to the teacher (and, ideally, to friends), and regulate their own emotions.
Academic readiness. Before entering kindergarten, your child should be able to complete basic academic tasks like following multiple-step directions, counting to 10, and recognizing letters. Their time in this first official year of school will build off what they learned during their preschool years.
What Are Your Choices as a Parent of a Soon-to-Be Kindergartner?
Parents are often confronted with an overwhelming number of choices that could affect the rest of their little ones’ lives. The timing of kindergarten entrance, though, is probably not going to harm your child’s future.
It is important, though, to make sure that your child is fully ready for kindergarten and that they don't enter school too early. Otherwise, they may have to repeat the year anyway. Consider your options for sending your child to school as a 5-year-old (or almost 5-year-old):
Early entrance. It’s rare for a child under the age of 5 to be truly prepared for kindergarten. If you feel that your child is ready, consider whether their social-emotional skills will be on par with older peers. An almost-5-year-old who has a late summer birthday — and who is cognitively and emotionally mature for their age — could be ready for kindergarten.
Starting on time. Most states have a compulsory attendance age of either 5 or 6 — and most kindergartners are 5 when they begin the school year and turn 6 sometime during the next 12 months. Starting on time is the right choice for the majority of typically developing children.
Waiting an extra year. The concept of having your child wait another year, whether they need to for academic reasons or not, is commonly called “redshirting” in reference to college athletes who jump into practice, but not official games, a year early. Kids who delay kindergarten by a year can often pay attention better and learn more quickly than their peers because they're older than most of the other students in the class.
What Are Signs Your Child Is Not Ready for Kindergarten?
Kindergarten-age children should have mastered, or be very close to mastering, specific skills before they enter school. For example, they should be able to complete self-help activities like using the toilet and getting dressed. They should also be able to sit still for short periods of time to listen to the teacher, and they should engage in positive behavioral interactions with their peers.
You’ll notice that beginner-level math skills and reading are not on this list. Kindergarten readiness mostly depends on children being ready to learn. While development varies among children, most 5- and 6-year-olds will be able to check all of those boxes. Signs that your child is not yet ready to enter kindergarten are as follows:
- Your child cannot yet demonstrate age-appropriate self-help skills or ask for help when needed. They should know how to go to the bathroom independently, use utensils during lunch, and put a coat on in cold weather. If they don’t, the teacher will end up performing these tasks for them, which will slow down instruction for the entire class.
- Your child often explodes with anger, melts down when frustrated, or gets into physical fights with peers. While some behavioral problems can be expected of young children, severe aggression could lead to obvious safety problems in the classroom for peers. Have an important conversation with your pediatrician about why your child may be acting out in these ways before you send them to kindergarten.
- Your child becomes hyperactive or disruptive in class or distracts others when they’re bored. Socially immature children often catch up to their peers if they’re given an extra year. In other words, a young kindergartner who acts out probably doesn’t have a long-term problem.
- Your child has a developmental diagnosis like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism that severely interferes with their ability to pay attention or sit still in the classroom. Most children with these diagnoses can attend regular kindergarten on time — but they may need extra help like targeted instruction during the school day. Others will be happier and learn better if they delay kindergarten entrance. Experts usually recommend, though, that children with developmental or mental health diagnoses start school on time with their peers.
Delaying Kindergarten Pros and Cons: Is Waiting a Year Right for Your Child?
Experts differ over the benefits of redshirting preschoolers (giving them an extra year of preschool after they turn 5). Some recommend it for those born near the cutoff date, as it will make this child one of the older children in their class, while others don’t think it serves most children. Boys who have late summer or early fall birthdays are typically the ones who fall into this category and who benefit the most from a later start to kindergarten.
You know your child best. If your almost-5-year-old seems emotionally and academically ready to learn in kindergarten, speak with your child’s preschool teacher and pediatrician about whether starting now would be appropriate. On the other hand, if you know that your child is not ready, don’t be afraid to delay their entrance a year — so long as your child is within the kindergarten age range for your state when they start school.