What Is the Right Age to Start Kindergarten? (According to Experts)

three kids who are kindergarten age draw at a table with markers in the classroom iStock

They’ll have more time at home, but will they be bored when they get into the classroom?

It’s hard to believe that little one, who used to fit snugly in the crook of your arm, is finally ready for kindergarten…or are they? Maybe you should wait another year? After all, what is the right kindergarten age? Especially since the practice of “redshirting” kids—giving them an extra year before starting kindergarten (making them one of the oldest as opposed to the youngest)—has risen in popularity. But like most trends in the parenting world, it leaves parents wondering if it really is a good idea. That’s why we looked at the studies and asked experts to weigh in on what is the right age to start kindergarten. Here’s what we found.

Getting Kids Started in Kindergarten

The preschool years are over and it’s time to start kindergarten. But where do parents start? Where we do with all things—online and by asking other parents. Now is the time to check out your local school’s website or find and join parent Facebook pages or other social media accounts associated with the school. Other suggestions include talking to parents with older kids, and asking your preschool teacher about local schools and expectations. There are lots of resources out there for parents with inquiring minds.

Kindergarten First Year Enrollment

Although kindergarten enrollment varies from state to state, parents can expect to encounter some similar requirements no matter where they live. Here are a few universals:

  • In most states, kids must turn five years old by a certain date, usually September 1.
  • Many schools require kids to have certain vaccinations before starting school; check with your district about specific requirements.
  • Most will ask for proof of residence. A utility bill or other piece of mail works fine.
  • You may be asked to provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate to enroll.

What Do Kids Learn in Kindergarten?

Although the curriculum varies from district to district across the country, parents can count their kindergartners learning the alphabet, sight words, phonics, and basic sentence structure as part of Language Arts. Math covers basics like number recognition, counting, addition and subtraction, measurement, and basic geometry. Additionally, hands-on activities and play-based learning help kids learn about real-world concepts like weather, plants, and animals. But many would say the most important things kids learn in kindergarten support their social-emotional growth (or soft skills) like building relationships, solving conflicts, and developing empathy and self-awareness.

What is the difference between Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Transitional to Elementary School (TES)?

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a two-year public school program designed for kids who turn 5 between September 2 and December 2 of the school year. It provides an additional year of instruction, focused on developing social-emotional skills, language and literacy, math, and physical development, to support kids who may not be ready for kindergarten just yet.

Transitional to Elementary School (TES) is a program offered by preschools or childcare centers to prepare children for kindergarten. It typically focuses on language and literacy, math, social-emotional development, and basic self-help skills so kids can successfully transition to the academic and social expectations of kindergarten.

Related: How to Help Your Child Transition to Kindergarten Like a Pro

Pros of Delaying Kindergarten

three kids who are kindergarten age draw at a table with markers in the classroom
iStock

Your kid will (probably) be more willing to sit still if given an extra year.

Whether or not your five-year-old will sit still during circle time or stay on task at writing centers (or at home) may actually depend on her age, since younger children generally have a harder time doing both. Studies have shown that kids are often misdiagnosed with behavior problems in kindergarten when in fact, the behaviors are just a matter of being younger than classmates. And, according to this Stanford University study, children who wait a year to enroll have significantly lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity—with results continuing even at age 11.

Your kid may be misdiagnosed with ADHD if they start too early.

All those wiggles in the classroom may have some unintended consequences for kids when it comes to the right age to start kindergarten. A 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that kids who turned five the month before starting kindergarten were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than those who started the month that they turned six. "Our findings suggest the possibility that large numbers of kids are being overdiagnosed and overtreated for ADHD because they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school," said study author Timothy Layton, an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, in this article for Education Week

An older child will probably have an easier time saying goodbye to you.

Younger kids—especially those who haven’t already attended a preschool program—may have a tougher time saying goodbye in the morning (and we all know how hard it is to leave a tearful tot at drop-off). Giving your child more time to become independent may help her let go when it’s time for the school day to start. with the in-home model of learning most schools will use this year, it may be challenging to start a drop-off situation mid-year should children resume in-class learning. 

Their fine motor skills will be more developed.

Older kids usually have an easier time with fine motor activities (holding a pencil and using scissors, for instance). Being able to do these things can help build confidence and make a kid more excited about their accomplishments at school.

They have more time to be kids; you have more time with them.

Waiting to start formal schooling gives kids more time to be kids, to enjoy a more leisurely day, and to play freely (which, studies have suggested may be more valuable than academics for young children). Delaying kindergarten also gives you one more year with your child. If you're lucky enough to be home with your kiddo, you'll be glad you got that time.

Related: What Redshirting My Son Taught Me about Time

Cons of Delaying Kindergarten

a kindergarten age boy plays with friends building with colorful blocks
iStock

An older child may be taller than their classmates; that matters (especially in middle school). 

You may not be thinking about the teen years yet, but let’s not forget: A child who is the oldest kid in kindergarten will also be the oldest in her middle school grade—and that's no small thing, especially when puberty hits. 

They may be bored (and consequently misbehave).

This study has suggested that kids who delayed kindergarten were twice as likely to drop out of high school. Researchers think this is because they reach adult age sooner, which is when kids are legally allowed to quit school on their own (most state laws require kids to stay in school until at least age 17).

That extra year may be expensive.

If you’re a working parent, delaying kindergarten means another year of paying for childcare or preschool. And, with the average cost of preschool as high as more than $10,000 per year in some states (according to this study from the Economic Policy Institute), it's an expensive wait. 

They may not find peers on their level (initially).

A year can make a big difference when you're only still in your first decade of life. This means that a calm, more introverted six-year-old may have trouble finding like-minded peers in a kindergarten class full of rowdy five-year-olds.

It may not matter in the long run.

Despite conflicting research and strong opinions on both sides, it is still unclear whether "redshirting" makes any difference at all in the long run. Some studies even suggest that, whether your child starts school a year early or a year late, it all levels out by the middle school years.

Related: 16 First Day of School Picture Ideas to Start the Year Off Right

So... Now What?

With all that information,  you're probably still wondering: What is the right age to start kindergarten? The answer: Both. It really depends on the kid.

"Kids should be with developmental age peers as much as possible since kindergarten builds not just academics but social skills, too," said Deanna Lapen, a Los Angeles-based school psychologist and former kindergarten teacher. "With that being said, every child is an individual. Parents should think about why they would consider redshirting."

Lapen said parents should talk with their child's preschool teacher (if applicable) as well as look at the kindergarten curriculum for whatever school your child might attend. Then ask: "Is the upcoming kindergarten class a place where the child will thrive socially and academically?"

If so, don't delay. And, as always—trust your instincts.

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