Is he ready for kindergarten?

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

Lydia wrote: “I live in a state with a December 1st cut-off and both of my kids have fall birthdays. We started the oldest when he was four and have never questioned our decision, but my younger son’s birthday is in late November, so he’d be four for the first 3 months of the school year. The kindergarten classes have over 25 kids and the district is starting full-day kindergarten for the first time next year. Are most four year olds ready for full-day kindergarten or for such large classes?”

I think most four year olds are ready for this kind of experience, if the classes are organized and supportive and well-run. With tight budgets, though, parents need to ensure that there are adequate resources for a strong kindergarten experience, no matter what the age of their children.

I’ve written kindergarten readiness on this blog before, and also recently on WebMD. My feeling has always been to allow most kids (boys and girls) to advance and proceed as recommended by the guidelines of the local school—that is, to follow “the usual track”—unless there’s a specific academic or emotional issue that’s holding your child back. Schools that indulge parents only for being “squeaky wheels” are not doing children or society any favors by allowing a handful of older children to stay back and mix with younger kids.

There is a downside to holding kids back. Some will get bored, and some will end up pushing around the smaller, younger kids. Children surrounded by same-age peers are more likely to pick up new, more mature skills than children who are with kids younger than they are. As held-back children age, they may feel especially awkward going through pubertal changes in fifth grade, long before most of their classmates will.

That being said, there certainly are some kids who should be held back. Some children, whenever their birthdays, may not be emotionally or academically ready to proceed forward. The best people to make this judgment are people from the local school, who know what the kids in their classes are like, and know what kinds of expectations there will be. Parents also need to keep in mind that not all kindergartens (or pre-Ks) are the same—a child may not quite be ready for “The Aristotle Scholars Academy,” but could do great in the “Learning Together Preschool” across the street. There isn’t one set of requirements that applies to all schools.

Parents know their kids best, and local teachers and administrators know their schools best. They should work together to help choose the best placement for children entering school.

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