Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

Many parents are faced with the choice of delaying their child's entry into kindergarten by an extra year because of late birthdays in the hope that they will be more "ready."

Barbara A. Willer, deputy executive director for the National Association For The Education Of Young Children, visits The Early Show to offer advice to help parents make this decision.

The term redshirting originally referred to postponing a college athlete's participation in regular season games for one year to give him or her an extra year of further growth and practice with the team in the hope of improving the player's skills for future seasons. But now the term has moved down to kindergarten as many parents are choosing to do the same for their children who are of kindergarten age.

Willer says, "I think many parents think if their child is older in the classroom, that they might have an advantage. But, research says even if that is the truth for first or second grade, they all catch up by third grade. In high school, some of the older kids have more difficulties. It's not such a good idea."

Willer and the NAEYC say parents need to consider what the school expects of their children, and the kind of kindergarten program the child will attend.

Willer says, "If your child is legal age, we believe it's appropriate to send the child. And the most important thing is to have a good program that meets the needs of the children."

Here are some things to look at:

  • Are teachers and principals welcoming all 5-year-olds, or are they discouraging families with younger children?
  • What are other parents with children the same age doing and why? If lots of parents are red-shirting their kids, it may suggest that there's a problem with what the school is expecting of children. Holding your child back may seem like the right thing to do, but it really just makes the problem worse because it says that inappropriate expectations are OK. In these situations, the best thing to do would be to work together with other parents to make sure that the schools are better able to meet the needs of all children as they enter.
  • Make sure this is a decision for the child's sake and not the parents' convenience. It is important for parents to distinguish between concerns about school readiness and concerns about the overall transition to school. Many children - and some parents - get nervous about starting school. It's a new experience and a new setting.

Since the research doesn't provide a definite answer as to when is the right time for kids to enter kindergarten, it's a decision that each family needs to make on its own.

You need to think about the skills and abilities your child has developed.

  • Is he curious?
  • Does she like to figure things out by herself?
  • Does she have a growing command of language?

Willer says, "Look at the types of things you can do to encourage your child's readiness. It doesn't start at age 5. It starts as early as when children are born. Talking to your child, listening to your child, finding out what your child is interested in. Those are ways you can help your child get ready for school that are much more important than their birth dates, that they're the youngest child in the class."

NAEYC advice, in general, is unless there are really unique extenuating circumstances, follow the age guidelines in your school district. Some people say to ask yourself questions like: Can he sit still for longer periods of time? Does she listen well and follow instructions? Does he recognize letters or is able to write his name?

Here is the kindergarten entrance age:

The entrance age cut-off dates for kindergarten are not uniform across states.

  • Only six states have cut-off dates between Dec. 1 and Jan. 1. This practice leads to a robust mix of 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten.
  • Thirty-five states have kindergarten entrance cut-off dates between Aug. 31 and Oct. 16. These policies lead to fewer 4-year-olds entering kindergarten, but classrooms consist of a combination of 4- and 5-year-olds entering each fall.
  • Three states have cut-off dates on or before Aug. 15. While legislative intent cannot be determined without additional research, it can be supposed that these states want to ensure all children are 5 years old before they enter kindergarten.
  • Another six states leave the entrance-age question up to local district decision.

About Barbara A. Willer, Ph.D.

Dr. Willer is the deputy executive director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the nation's largest organization of early childhood teachers and others working with children from birth through age 8. NAEYC has more than 100,000 members, and a national network of nearly 450 regional, state and local affiliates.

NAEYC also accredits child care, preschool and other early education programs through the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs. More than 15,000 programs are part of the NAEYC accreditation system. In addition, the association publishes the journal, Young Children and more than 100 other publications including books, brochures, manuals, posters and video tapes; holds conferences and other professional development programs including the NAEYC annual conference with more than 25,000 attendees; and is active in public policy advocacy at national, state and local levels.