Delaying kindergarten: Experts weigh in

Kids don’t all develop at the same rate, especially when they’re young. For example, some kids have less self-control or are less focused than others in pre-K and then catch up. So if your child has trouble with certain skills, should you delay the start of kindergarten? (You may hear people call this “redshirting.”)

Here, experts weigh in on some pros and cons of delaying kindergarten.

How can I tell if my child isn’t ready for kindergarten?

Bob Cunningham, in-house advisor for Understood: The preschool teachers can usually give you a good sense of if your child is ready. They look at a bunch of things, like language skills, social skills, and how well kids follow directions.

You can look at these same things yourself outside of school, especially when your child is around other kids. See if your child can participate in conversations and games with other kids. You can also ask your health care provider about where your child’s at.

Amanda Morin, parent advocate and former teacher: There isn’t one measure that can tell you for sure. Kindergarten readiness is a combination of many different skills. It’s not unusual for kids to have strong skills in one area and weak skills in other areas.

Most kindergarten teachers can teach to a range of abilities. Still, here are some things to consider if you’re wondering whether your child is ready:

  • Can your child communicate needs?

  • Can your child express feelings with words?

  • Can your child follow instructions and sit still for five to 10 minutes?

  • Is your child safe without one-on-one attention?

Your answers to one or more of these questions should give you a starting point for making the decision.

Kelli Johnson, educational speech-language pathologist: There are no official guidelines for when a child is ready for kindergarten. And no two kids are alike. Every child has a unique preschool experience and early academic skills (like counting and letter knowledge).

If your child is in a preschool program, start by talking to the teacher. Also take a look at a kindergarten readiness checklist. Many states and districts give them to families as part of the enrollment process.

Virginia Gryta, special education professor: Schools expect kindergartners to sit and pay attention for short periods of time. Can your child sit in a circle and listen to a story for 10 to 15 minutes? If not, some kindergartens might not think your child is ready.

Emotional development is another thing to think about. Does your child struggle with sharing or taking turns? How about making transitions or separating from you? Kids who have a lot of trouble with these things might have a tough time in a kindergarten setting.

What are the benefits of delaying kindergarten?

Kelli Johnson: Some research suggests a one-year delay in kindergarten can help kids be more focused and calmer in school. But experts agree there’s a lot we don’t know about what makes a child kindergarten-ready.

Bob Cunningham: It’s not unusual for preschools to suggest waiting if a child has trouble in certain areas. One is language delays. Another is self-control.

These areas are very important in kindergarten. There’s no real downside to delaying in these cases. But the upside doesn’t happen automatically. The preschool would need to do something to directly address these issues. If it doesn’t, it’s unlikely your child will make significant growth that wouldn’t have happened in kindergarten.

Delaying can make sense if your child gets extra help during that year, like the kind kids get through early childhood special education.

Amanda Morin: Current research doesn’t show any clear long-term benefits. But if your child is on the young side for kindergarten (has a summer or fall birthday), an extra year might have some short-term benefits. This is especially true if your district has full-day kindergarten or if your child is behind in certain areas.

Delaying can give your child time to gain a little maturity. It’s also valuable time to work on social skills and focusing. Improvements here won’t just happen automatically, though. You have to have a plan for getting your child ready during that extra year.

What are the downsides of delaying kindergarten?

Amanda Morin: There are a number of downsides. One is the financial burden of paying for another year of private preschool. Another is related to whether your child is getting special education or early intervention services. They may not continue if your child doesn’t start kindergarten.

There’s something else to keep in mind, too. Even if kids struggle with certain skills, like focus or self-control, they can also be very bright. So if you wait to start kindergarten, your child might end up being way ahead of other kids after an extra year. That might make your child less excited to participate in class.

Virginia Gryta: Sometimes kids have conditions that cause problems with certain skills, like focus and social development. Delaying kindergarten might also delay your learning about these challenges and getting support for your child.

Bob Cunningham: That extra year of preschool is helpful only if your child gets the right support during that time. If kids need help catching up but don’t get it, there are a number of downsides to delaying.

There are only two groups of kids who really benefit from an extra year of preschool without any intervention. One is kids who will be very young for their grade. The other is kids who missed a lot of preschool for medical or other reasons.

For kids who will be one of the youngest in the grade, social maturity is often the deciding factor. It makes sense to go to kindergarten if your child usually keeps up in conversation and play. If not, it might make sense to wait a year.

For kids who’ve missed a lot of school, the decision usually comes down to two things: language development and pre-academic skills. For kids who struggle in these areas, there are benefits to waiting. But if kids can handle preschool and are hitting milestones, they’re likely ready for kindergarten.

Learn more: Find out what to do if your child isn’t hitting developmental milestones.


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