Kindergarten or another year of preschool?

Happy child in graduation cap and holding the diploma against chalkboard.

It’s one of the toughest decisions a parent can make. When children have a summer birthday, starting kindergarten when they’ve just turned 5 can mean being in a classroom with kids who are about to turn 6 – some within days of school starting. As parents know, one year can make an absolutely enormous difference in a child’s language skills, small and large motor skills, decision-making abilities and social skills. Is sending a younger child to kindergarten a good idea? Will they “catch up” or fall hopelessly behind? What if you have a child born just after the cutoff date and that child is already reading and solving math equations? Should you put that child into kindergarten a year early?

Alzein Pediatrics knows that, as preschool wraps up and teachers offer evaluations and recommendations to parents, this decision is top of mind for many parents.

Most children do begin kindergarten at age 5, but about 6% of kids will delay starting kindergarten for one year. Variously defined as reclassifying or redshirting, delaying kindergarten theoretically improves a child’s education outcomes by giving them an extra year of development and maturity before entering the classroom. Parents delay kindergarten for boys more frequently than for girls, and children born in the summer delay more frequently than children born at other times of the year.

Redshirting summer-born babies seems to be a good idea, because they’d be the youngest, smallest, and, so it would seem, least-prepared in their school class. By the start of kindergarten, a child born in January has nearly 10% more development time as a child born in August and the impact is far greater when a child is born in September or October.

Research does show that younger students are more likely to receive a learning disability diagnosis than older students in a class, but due to the wide range of developmental progress in individual children, it’s not possible to attribute that difference just to age. In fact, research shows that parents who are more likely to consider redshirting are overwhelmingly wealthy and college-educated, and their children are less likely to underperform in kindergarten regardless of start date.

Beyond intellectual readiness for kindergarten, parents may also consider physical development, particularly for boys. That child born in January enjoys 10% more time to physically grow, and that can create real advantages in height and motor-skills. Data suggests a slim advantage in athletics for children who delay kindergarten. For basketball, baseball, and hockey, players born in the earliest quarter of their selection year were over-represented in youth and professional sports. This makes sense as older children are more physically developed, which leads to more athletic development, which creates an early performance gap.

However, physical advantages don’t last very long. Research shows that most of those advantages disappear by the third grade and remaining advantages continue to erode over time. In fact, once an athlete makes it to the pro level, the younger-for-their-class athletes outperform their slightly older peers. When a child is held back in the hopes of improving athletic or academic success, they can experience immense boredom and develop behavioral issues.

Kindergarten readiness can be determined by development assessments, including:

  • Be able to separate from parents or caregivers
  • Being able to pay attention for at least a 5-minute span, such as during storytime or circle time
  • Understand 2-step directions
  • Use the bathroom and wash hands independently
  • Hold a pencil or crayon with some control

When you’re not sure if your child is ready for kindergarten, talk to your Alzein Pediatrics provider. We will help you determine your if child’s language, reading, math, self-care, social and emotional and fine and gross motors skills will provide success in school. We are here to help you make the best choice for your family.

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