Age and Kindergarten Readiness

Question: My son, who is large for his age, will turn 5 on Aug. 29, 2002. He makes the kindergarten cutoff date with just two days to spare. I feel the decision to send him this August or hold him back another year is one that will shape his entire future. What are the benefits of keeping him home another year? - Decision-Making Time

Answer: Most studies show that older children have a slight advantage when they enter kindergarten that lasts throughout the school year. By spring of the kindergarten year, older children usually possess higher reading and math knowledge and skills than their younger classmates. They also are more likely to persist at tasks, seem more eager to learn and pay better attention in class. How long the advantage of age lasts is seriously disputed by researchers. Some feel that younger children catch up academically by third grade, while others feel that they always lag behind.

In some areas, there are so many older children entering kindergarten that the academic expectations have increased to meet the needs of the 6-year-old children. There is a real danger that the kindergarten programs in these schools will become developmentally inappropriate for very young children. You need to go and visit the school your son will attend to find out if the trend in your area is for parents to keep their younger children home an extra year.

Certainly, age is only one factor that you should consider in making your decision. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education shows that home educational activities and a mother's level of education are very important in determining how well children will do in reading and math.

You must remember that readiness to do academic work is only one more piece of the school-entrance age puzzle. Consider your child's physical, social and emotional development as key pieces in making the final decision.

It is not easy to decide whether or not a child is truly ready for kindergarten. Such decisions need to be made on an individual basis, as all children have special characteristics and unique life experiences. You know your child well. After visiting the kindergarten class that he will attend, you should have a good idea of when it would be appropriate for him to enter school.