Not so long ago, a friend asked me whether I plan to send my youngest child, my third, to kindergarten on time, or if I'll choose to hold her back. The question didn't surprise me. "Redshirting," or delaying entrance to kindergarten by a year, is not uncommon where I live, and my daughter makes the cutoff in our district by a scant five days. That makes it likely she'll be the very youngest in her grade, something I've come to see could actually be a positive thing academically. But the timing of my friend's inquiry did throw me a bit: My daughter is just 2 ½ years old. Surely that buys us some time to decide whether she'll be ready at almost-5 for kindergarten.
Still, you can't blame parents of children on the younger side for their grade for worrying early and often, particularly when we have to suffer through anxiety-inducing commercials for websites and other wares peddled to get our kids prepared for kindergarten, which sounds increasingly like an intimidating, unforgiving place rather than the warm welcome to education that it used to be.
In the May issue of Parents, for our "Preschooler" column "Ready for Kindergarten?" writer Renee Riebling quotes moms who've already made the decision, and their experiences are varied and enlightening. (Renee had to make the choice herself, too, whether to hold her son a year or send him on to kindergarten, and her blog post about it is worth reading.) A few things I learned from reading (and editing) our piece in Parents:
Check with your school district first to find out what the rules are. For example, ask whether children must start kindergarten or first grade in keeping with their birth year; even if you think you already know the answer, it's still worth a call to the district office, as these rules can change. Also find out if special exceptions can be granted by the school principal, as was the case for one of the moms Parents interviewed.
Think about down the line, not just kindergarten. Will you be as happy with your decision, whichever way you lean, when your child enters older grades? I admit I don't love the thought of my daughter being a youngin' in, say, fifth grade with redshirted boys who are a year (and then some) older, or sending my 17-year-old baby off to college. On the flip side, there may be some downsides to holding her back: After talking to a couple of parents of teens, I'm not crazy about the thought of her getting a driver's license at the beginning of junior year of high school, a potential distraction during a crucial academic year for college.
Get the preschool teacher's input when making a decision. Some of our parents interviewed agreed with their teachers' assessments that another year of preschool would help, whether with developing fine motor skills or confidence or maturity. Others felt that these weren't necessarily good enough reasons to delay kindergarten, and were glad they trusted their own instincts that their kids were ready enough.
Remember every child and family are unique. I hope we'll make the best decision for my daughter (my hunch is she'll be ready), and I wish you well choosing what's best for yours. (For another article on the subject, you can read this story we previously ran in Parents: "Thrive in 2025: Holding Kids Back for Success.") As with all big decisions regarding our kids, sometimes it's just helpful to hear it straight from other parents who've been there.
Image: Children painting in school via Shutterstock