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When is a Child Ready for Kindergarten?

As a former Kindergarten teacher, I get asked a lot of questions from family and friends about their young school aged children. One of the most common questions is regarding if/when a child is ready to start Kindergarten. Is she ready? Is she big enough? Should he be the youngest in the class or the oldest in next year’s class? My answer is always the same: every situation is different and it depends on the child.

It doesn’t seem to matter if the child’s birthday is at the beginning of the school year or at the very end. What matters most is the child’s development in these 3 areas: emotional, social, and cognitive (educational). Here are a few things to consider if you’re making a decision about when your child should start Kindergarten:

  • Emotional: Going to Kindergarten can be a very big deal to a child. It’s a large school with lots of rooms and children. To some, it can be a scary place, so you need to decide if your child is ready for this type of environment. Your child’s day will be fill with structure and routines. It can be hard for a child to sit in a chair or at the carpet for more than 20 minutes. With many classroom rules like raising your hand, staying in line, and keeping to yourself, you will need to decide if your child is ready for this.
  • Social: Typically there are over 20 children in each class, all with different behaviors, backgrounds, and abilities. It can be a lot for anyone to deal with. You need to decide if your child is ready to interact, in some form, with his or her peers. Is your child shy, friendly, out-going, aggressive? These are all things to consider when getting ready to place your child in Kindergarten.
  • Cognitive: If your child is already engaged in learning aspects of his or her environment, they are well on their way to being ready for school. Some children are naturally inquisitive about everything, asking questions and wanting to figure things out. They will probably be successful in Kindergarten if they have an excitement for learning. Children come to Kindergarten with a wide range of education capabilities. Some children are already reading and some are just learning the letters in their name. Some of the  basic skills learned in Kindergarten include letters and their sounds, numbers and counting, so if your child has an interest in these areas, they may be ready for school.

As my own daughter is turning 5 in August with a very late birthday, she’ll be the youngest in her class. We’ve made the decision to put her through to start Kindergarten next year as we feel she’s emotionally, socially, and cognitively ready. Although preschool is not a prerequisite, my daughter has had the opportunity to attend, which has been very helpful in preparing her for Kindergarten.

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Every child is unique, but know that children will succeed in almost any situation if they have the love and support from their caregivers.

Are you trying to make this decision? Have you already gone through this with one of your own? Please share your questions or what worked for you!

39 comments

  1. A great post! I have been through this twice and both times decided to go ahead and send them early. After giving it a lot of thought and talking to teacher friends I decided that they were both ready. Both started kindergarten able to name the letters of the alphabet and with a good number sense as we had spent countless hours playing games with 5 and 10 frames, as well as dice games. I used (and still do) a lot of free resources from: http://www.k-5mathteachingresources.com/kindergarten-number-activities.html
    and feel that this gave them both a good headstart.

  2. My oldest son, now ending 3rd grade, has an August birthday. We too had to make the deadline decision. Do you go by the actual deadline as your guide, or judge by your childs skills and development? I had a nephew a month older, and they chose to hold him back, and made it known to me they felt it to be right. I talked to numerous people (all with different opinions). Most saying with a boy hold him back, with a girl it’s ok to send. I found this interesting, and felt that I needed to look at my child as an individual, and not lump all genders or ages together. In the end we chose to send our son. He entered kindergarted just two weeks after turning 5. We felt like if he appeared to be ready, holding him back a year would be doing just that, holding him back. I don’t regret sending him to school when we did. He does well in school. Some of his personality and things that he is, is just him, and those things wouldn’t change if he was a year behind in school. Every kid is different, and all the choices they make I don’t think all depends on the year they enter school. Not all kids are going to be an athlete, or the most popular, or a scholar, no matter if they are the oldest or youngest. I have a June birthday, and am considered to be one of the youngerst, but I never have thought of it as an issue. I never would have dreamed this is such a hot topic, until I had my son. I hadn’t considered holding him back until so many people was asking what I was going to do. I do think this is an important decision to be taken serious, but look at your child as an individual. My other son now entering kindergarten this year is 5 1/2 and is very ready with different things he’s good at. They are two different kids with different personalities. And I think they will both be just fine with their education.

  3. As a middle school teacher…just want to make sure that parents think a little further down the road than just the first year of kindergarten. By starting your child early the will always be with peers who are older. This starts to become really evident for me in middle school (Do I really want my daughter with all 13 year old boys when she is only 12???) Just something to think about.

  4. Michelle – I suggest you talk with your school and see what their policy is on skipping a grade. She could probably go straight into 1st this next year. See if that’s something that is possible. But your daughter could still have fun in Kindergarten if you choose to send her, as she’ll be meeting new friends, playing with new toys, and experiences. There are usually one or two children that are where your daughter is and if you get a Kindergarten teacher who can help them, spending once or twice a week with them in higher level skills, then it might be a good place for her to stay.

    But this is a tough decision. Try talking with your school administration and see what they think. Again, you have to think about your whole child, and what’s best for her!

  5. My daughter turned 5 last October, but our school district has strict rules about starting kids early (the cut-off is August!), so she will be a few months shy of 6 when she starts kindergarten this coming fall. We went to orientation today and I am very concerned because the list of goals for the END of kindergarten are skills she mastered several months ago. I am so afraid she’ll get bored in school. She can easily count past 100, can count to 30 in Spanish, adds and subtracts, has been tying her shoes for 2 years, knows well over 100 sight words, can write complete sentences, can read most level one and some level two “I can read” books independently… Any advice? She shares well, follows directions, and plays very well with other kids. Can be shy at first but quickly warms up. No behavioral issues or tantrums. I was exactly the same at her age, but my school structured all my subjects for me (I went to the 6th grade class for reading in 2nd grade). Being more mature did help me socially, but I got so bored and frustrated.

  6. I live in California, where the cut off is Dec. 1st. My daughter will turn 5 in early October. I am agonizing over this decision, as i do not want to set her up for failure by sending her to kindergarten too early; however, I don’t want her to become bored in her pre-k program. The preschool director suggests I hold her back one year. She is very well behaved, interacts well with adults, listens, is helpful and academically is doing ok, although she can’t yet tie her shoes and cannot write her name; She can count to 20, knows the ABC’s, shapes, colors, similarities and differences. Interacting with her peers is another story. She keeps to herself and does not initiate play with the other children.

    Another factor is that her father had been ill throughout her life, dying from a serious illness when she was 3 1/2 years old. I, as my husband’s primary care giver, was not as attentive to her needs as I otherwise would have been. In light of the trauma she has endured, I certainly don’t want to push her beyond her capabilities. For the most part she is a happy, delightful little girl..but she has an underlying sadness and uneasiness around other kids.
    I just don’t want to make the wrong choice!

  7. My husband and I have already struggled with this decision once and are about to face it again! Our oldest (daughter) is a late September baby, but has always been extremely socially and academically ‘smart’. She thrived in preschool and has always been great with ‘quiet time’. So, she started school at four, almost five. She is now in the 2nd grade and is one of the top in the school. Our school district just changed the cutoff from 1 Oct to 1 Sep — so she wouldn’t have been able to start if we were moving here now.

    Now… fast forward three years and our third child (son) is coming up on his chance to start Kindergarten too. BUT… we are a military family and are moving to a new state this summer. The cut-off for MO is 1 Aug and my dS has a late August birthday. We can apply for an exception to policy to have him start, since he has attended an accredited PreK program this year in KY. Though he has done exceptionally well in PreK, he has been the youngest in his class and still has trouble sitting quietly for long periods of time. His PreK teacher wasn’t too much help… she said he could go either way — that she didn’t recommend holding him back based on his performance, but that it wouldn’t be a detriment to him either. My hubby and I just don’t know what to do.

    We are leaning towards holding him out for a year, for the combined reasons of making him one of the oldest in the class (my husband thinks like one of the above comments that this will make him the biggest in sports) and to give him some additional time to adjust to moving. We move a lot and the oldest two (girls) thrive at getting back to a normal routine. But I am finding that boys and girls really are, naturally, very different.

    Unfortunately, we’ll have to make this decision one more time. Our #4 (boy) has an early August birthday! But he is only 20 months now, so we have some time — and will probably be in another state, with another set of cut-offs!

  8. Marie – I can’t believe she is heading to kindergarten too. I’m excited for “Big C” to start. He’ll probably start at the end of July which is still a bit strange for me to get used to. (year round school). I love your blog format. So clean.
    I feel as if we haven’t seen each other forever. Let’s plan something soon. Before my delivery in May.

  9. This was an agonizing decision for our family with my daughter who has a late Sept. birthday. We sent her through after much consultation and prayer. So far our decision has been affirmed through Kindergarten and First. She is by far the youngest, but thriving. Thank you for further confirmation that we did the right thing.

  10. It is fascinating to me that there are so many different rules in different states! I live in Arizona and thanks to this post I now know that our cutoff is September 1, with exceptions made on a case by case basis as long as the child will turn 5 before January 1 of the next year. My daughter’s birthday is December 30th so I always figured she’d be 5-1/2 by the time she started school. As I think about this now, and the fact that I had a summer birthday and was always one of the youngest in my class, I doubt that I will try to push her forward. My parents have always commented how obvious it was that I was one of the youngest, up until about middle school. I also was fascinated by Malcolm Gladwell’s take in “Outliers” and how much better the older children seem to do in general when they are grouped by birth year. Our daughter is bright and already ahead of the curve educationally, so that may mean we look at private school or at programs for gifted kids in public school, but I don’t think it will be a reason to accelerate her entry into school.

  11. Our son turns 5 in May. He is ready. I have a friend who’s son turns give in June. He’s ready. My friend is actually keeping him back so he will be older for sports. I’m outraged. It’s her decision but seriously this is not the best reason to hold a child back. I agree that children with late birthdays can be ready.

    Well now I know my go-to person with Kindergarten questions, as I have no idea on what I’m doing.

  12. I am in the midst of this decision. I seriously fall asleep every single night thinking about it. My son doesn’t turn 5 until October 28th. In our school district, if you have a birthday between Sep 1 and Oct 31 you can test in. While I am certain he is cognitively/academically prepared and super excited to go to school, I don’t know about the social/emotional. He’s very mature, in my opinion, but it’s hard to know how he’ll stack up. So, basically I’m at the point where I think we’ll go through with the testing and just see what happens and then make a decision. I honestly think he’d do great next year. I just worry about all the what if’s of the future depending on which choice we make. There’s a lot of long range implications. I was a sixth grade teacher for 7 years before having kids and saw the other end of things, so I worry about that end as well.

  13. This was a tough decision for me last year. We held back my son with a late-October birthday. Our deadline in CA is to turn 5 by December 1. Although he follows directions, has a long attention span, and can read, we felt like the trend of holding back boys in our area is dominant enough that he would be surrounded by boys who were significantly older than him – ones that had been held back themselves. My main concerns for him were not about how he’d do in grades K-3, but more towards adolescence. I wrote about it here: http://www.rookiemoms.com/fall-birthdays-and-kindergarten/

  14. My youngest daughter will be 5 in September. The district where we live now has a strict cut-off of Sept. 1, so she has been in K-3 this year (private school). It has been a fun year for her and I love her teacher, but I also have the feeling that she could be doing so much more. I am not one to push anything academic before it is time, but I also remember being in school and being bored to tears because I was way beyond my peers during my elementary school years. And by jr./sr. high I had formed bad habits and was a lazy student. I still had a great gpa and was in the top 5% of my class, but I could have done much better.

    So when I’m looking at my Sept. girl, I wonder about what the right decision is for her. She is outgoing and social and has plenty of friends in school. She can speak confidently to many adults–only shy with strangers. She wants to answer ALL the questions at circle time. She is teaching herself to write at the moment because her class is still working on pencil grip and tracing the wavy line on the paper. She can run the wii all by herself, intuitively figuring out menu commands even though she can’t read them all. She’s just such a smart girl! We’re moving this summer and will be in a different school next year. I don’t know what their rules will be, but I’ve been thinking a lot about where I would place her if given the option and I’m just not sure. My tendency is to say she can handle Kindergarten, so she should go for it. But I’m looking at my 7th grader who has a June birthday and am trying to picture her at that age being three months younger. It’s high school that I worry about the most.

    I guess our saving grace is that my husband is a minister and we are likely to move around several times between now and high school for her, so if I regretted a decision, I could probably un-do it without too much of a problem. And I do homeschool one of our children, so she could always be homeschooled for a year or two if it would help us make an adjustment.

    Lots to think about. Thanks for a great topic!

  15. My son turns 5 at the end of August, and so far we have planned to hold him back. It’s not something I am entirely comfortable with. He gets bored at home and loves preschool, but I hate to see him be the youngest boy in his grade. He is very smart, but not great with writing, so that worries me. I will probably just keep him in preschool for one more year…. I feel sad for that.

  16. Ugh. This is us. We have a late July birthday, so it could go either way. Social and cognitive I’m not really concerned about, but we didn’t do preschool, so I’m nervous for his emotional well being. So tough!

  17. Thank you for this wonderful article! My son will be starting Kindergarten in 2011 and will be 5.5 years old (Feb bday)! This year has been his first year in Preschool and he has done so well! Next year he’ll be going 3 days a week at his same preschool and then off to all day Kindergarten the year after! He’s always done good in social environments (playgroups and Sunday school) so I’ve never been worried about how he’d do at school!

  18. Thank you for the great comments and discussion, and for so many of you sharing your own stories. This can be a tough decision. And I didn’t realize the cut off dates were so different for each state.

    It is so true, Amy, that it can depend on the right school and teacher for certain children. As there are some who will thrive in any situation, some need a caregiver that is more specific for your child’s needs.

  19. Our oldest son has a May birthday and we held him back a year and he started when he was 6. He was just not socially ready for Kindergarten. It has been the best decision that we made for him. Our second son has an April birthday, but he is a completely different child. He will be starting Kindergarten when he is 5.

  20. I taught special education before having my kids. So many of my students who just need a “little” help where the summer and fall babies. Those who struggled to make friends where the summer and fall babies. The youngest of the class. So, my two summer girls waited a year and one is in her first year of high school and I am so glad she is one of the oldest. She thinks peer pressure to do things is just plan dumb and stands up for herself and others. My fall boy didn’t make the cut-off date and I never worried about it.

    Sometimes I think people believe that everything really is learned in the first 5 years. Not true, I am still learning several years after I turned 5!

  21. As a homeschooling mom of a 4-year-old, who’s birthday is in November, I have struggled with this. I struggle no more. Not because I homeschool. I think I struggled more since deciding that: when do I officially start? In many states, like mine, Kindergarten is not even required. School reporting is not required until a child is 6. Kindergarten is just the typical progression of a child’s life. I have found release from this struggle lately, though. I have discovered “unschooling”, as a homeschooling way of life. It has freed my family from the traditional ways of thinking to a way that makes more sense for us. As many parents have said, each child develops at a different rate. Taking this into consideration and really knowing this has allowed me to step back and just let my little ones “be”. It’s amazing to witness the difference between the child of a homeschooling mom who used workbooks and charts AND the child of the mom who just lets him be himself and learn at his own rate. There is such a focus on preschool and kindergarten that some children end up being physically and emotionally ill from it. What’s the rush?!

  22. We’re facing preschool this fall for my youngest son. He’ll be 4 in September but I’m not sure if he’ll be ready for preschool. He’s smart, active and loves to be with other kids. I’m not sure how much structured time he’s ready for. He’s never spent a day in daycare so being in someone else’s care and supervision will be new. Preschool is twice a week for a couple of hours so I’m hoping things will work out well for him. If he doesn’t do well in preschool then I will not put him into Kindergarten next year…I’ll just have him repeat preschool. Here’s to crossing our fingers!!!

  23. No wonder I like your blog so much :) I am a preschool teacher and love your posts, would you consider posting some make and takes for preschoolers and kindergarteners? I would love to see what ideas you have under your sleeves for the little ones :)
    thanks again

  24. This has always been a struggle for me with my daughter. Her birthday is in November and the cut off for California is in December if you can believe it. When she was in Montessori school, it didn’t seem to affect her as much because there was such a wide range of children in her class. Due to other circumstances I’ve had to transition her to a public school and she is facing some challenges. She is NOT on par with her peers, maybe academically but not socially, and I know this puts a strain on her and she has developed a certain amount of social anxiety. And although she is adjusting fine in some ways, I think she is going to struggle. My other daughter on the other hand has a January birthday and was the oldest in her class. Although she was a bit upset because she is so “tall” compared to the other kids, she has done much better socially and emotionally because she had that extra year. I think it’s a tough decision of when to put kids in school but it is important as you said to look at all factors. I’ve suggested to parents before that maybe their child could use another year before the start Kinder. It’s always easier when its someone else’s child. It is an exciting time but I feel like with academic pressures and intense socialization children are being pushed into school too soon and I wish I had listened to my instinct more.

  25. Marie – this is the perfect topic for what has been plaguing my mind recently! Mostly because I just registered Adalyn for Kindergarten starting this next year. She turned 5 in January, and has been attending a preschool program all year, and based on her progress, I feel that she is ready in all areas for Kindergarten. The only reason I even considered holding her back was because of my working schedule – hoping that I could make things work to stay home more by next year. But since I don’t want my daughter’s developmental progress to remain stagnant, I’ve decided to get her going. And everything else will probably just work out in the meantime…

  26. Janine hit it on the head. I teach four year olds in a parent cooperative preschool. Parents wil often ask me if their child is ready for kindergarten. I always tell them how I feel, but I do let them know that many times a younger child in kindergarten does not suffer academically, but they do sometimes suffer socially. And then when they’re in middle school and many of their classmates are starting puberty and they’re not, there can be issues especially for boys. My oldest son had a June birthday, we started him in kindergarten that fall, and most of his friends were almost one year older than him but in the same grade. My son was athletic which helped him during that delayed puberty time. If I had it to do over I would have delayed his starting kindergarten to the next year.

  27. Great post!! I’m making these decisions for my son this year & then in 3 more years I’ll be making the same with my daughter – both August birthdays!! Why did I do that to myself;). After alot of talks w/friends/family & also his pre-school teachers, we’ve decided to keep my son from starting until next year. One of the deciding factors for me, was that our state has had & will continue to have lots of budget cuts … class sizes will be going up (and help going down). I worry that if he’s not completely ready, he could get lost among the crowd w/out the extra teacher support. Of course that could happen when he’s a year older too, but I’m hoping he’ll be more prepared in the 3 ways you mentioned over a period of a whole year!! My one concern is that he’s so tall for his age … Socially, he fits in good with his age but physically he could look like a giant:)

    Thanks for your teacher & parent perspective!!

  28. Thanks for this great post! My son turns 5 in July but we have decided to hold my son back a year. However even though I know it is the right thing to do, I am feeling some kind of strange guilt about it. Your post reinforced my reasons for holding him back and made me feel a little better. Thanks!

  29. I taught fifth grade before my kids were born and when I was pregnant with my oldest and the kindergarten teachers at my school found out I was having a boy and due in July, they all told me to wait a year before starting him in kindergarten. I thought it would be best to at least wait until he was born to make such decisions. :) We did start him “on-time” for kindergarten, and he’s doing just fine.

  30. Thank you so much for this post. Our school district has a strict cut-off for kinder – you must be 5 by a certain date (Sept. 1) or you cannot enroll. No tests, no evaluation, no exceptions. My daughter misses the cut off by one week, so our decision to enroll her was made for us. (It would be nice if they took into consideration the individual child, wouldn’t it?) Janine, your comment makes me breathe a little easier knowing that being the oldest could actually be a positive thing. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  31. I sent my daughter to K this year and she was only 4 1/2. It was a very, very, very tough decision to make as CT you can start K when you are 4 as long as you are 5 by Jan. 1st of the school year. My daughter’s 5th b-day was Nov. 29. Starting school she was the third youngest in her class but the tallest(at 4 1/2 strangers thought she was 7!), she was starting to read, and she did not fit in socially to stay in preschool one more year but rather fit in with the kids going to K. We spoke with her preschool teachers and they said that they thought she’d do fine in K and also we spoke with a couple K teachers who thought she was ready for K. She had a rough start to school but it also didn’t help that she came home with a fever and unknowingly to me, had been sick all day. She missed the next few days of school to her sickness and then had to start all over. At my December conference I told the teacher about my concerns(which she already knew) of her being one of the youngest. She told me that she fits in just fine and that she is doing great. She said that I made the right decision to send her(as of now, I’ll know for sure when she is done with school I suppose) this year. I trust in her teacher as she has been a K teacher for 25 years and is one of schools best teachers. As of right now my daughter is really thriving in K and I think I made the right decision for her but it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and I’m so glad that I won’t have to make it for my younger daughter. Good luck to anyone making this decision this year.

  32. Great and informative post Marie. As soon as I saw the title I had to read it. My daughter will be going to Kindergarten next year and she will not turn 5 until October. So there’s always that question in the back of my head “Is she ready”.

  33. I would add only one thing to the cognitive area: Sometimes your child is ready to learn but not in the way that a particular kindergarten (or school) chooses to teach. Obviously the methods used in most kindergartens work for most kids; however, there are a few that march to a different drum. Finding the right teacher, the right school, the right curriculum, the right supports, or homeschooling for a period of time to work on skills necessary for a traditional classroom might help avoid academic (as well as other) problems in the future.

  34. Marie, I just have to tip my hat to you. Any kindergarten teacher automatically wins all my respect. My mom taught kindergarten for years, and I know that I could never, ever do it. So… mad props.

    And, in response to Janine’s comment, I completely agree. There are so many social aspects of going to school that are equally as important as the academic stuff. I considered leaving high school early and going to the local community college instead, but looking back, I’m glad that I stuck it out – I made so many good memories and learned so many valuable lessons, socially speaking, that I would have completely missed out on if I had not stayed in high school. Something to think about.

  35. My daughter started kindergarten the year she turned 4. She started school at the age of 3 and turned 4 about a month later.

    She was very ready and we are lucky that they offer that here. (publicly funded and will be changing to full day/every day kindergarten very soon too)

    There were very little issues with her starting so young. She will do another year of kindergarten before going into grade 1.

  36. I actually had a child who was quite advanced but had a late November birthday. Our district allowed us to start her early (at age 4) if she tested appropriately. We decided to wait, but then the next year when she started kindergarten it was evident that she was WAY beyond all the other kindergartners. After the first week, the school requested a meeting with us and suggested that we skip her up to 1st Grade. She had never even been to preschool, so this was her first experience outside of church with an organized setting. We had our reservations, partly because I just wanted her to be a kid and enjoy the fun of kindergarten, but my husband felt strongly that she was smart enough to be advanced. Now that she is 16, I would have to say that I think it is the worst decision we have ever made. Looking back, I can see that she had always struggled socially because her social skills are lagging behind those of her peers. She has pushed to have more freedoms at a much earlier age and she has gotten into all kinds of trouble that we feel she doesn’t have the maturity to handle. If I had it to do over again (and I have with my other children), I would much rather choose for my child to be the oldest in the class rather than the youngest. Just my two cents worth…..

  37. Hi Marie,

    This is something that we are struggling with as well. Our son turns 5 at the end of July. He’s very bright and inquisitive, but his preschool classes have been on the smaller side so far allowing for more individualized attention. Our worry is that he’ll get lost in a larger class. One option we have is to send him to a private kindergarten this year, but then the question is, do we hold him back a year and send him into public K so that we’ll know he’s socially ready, or will he be bored and get into trouble for the rest of his school days because he’s not being challenged enough? Tough decision!

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