Back to School

What Is the Best Age to Start Kindergarten?

best age for kindergarten"
best age for kindergarten
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

My youngest has a birthday in mid-August, so next year we will face the decision of whether to “redshirt” him for kindergarten. For the uninitiated, kindergarten redshirting refers to delaying kindergarten entry for a year, meaning that a child is six as opposed to five when the school year starts. 

Redshirting is on the rise. In 1968, nearly 100% of six-year-olds were in first grade. By 2005 this had dropped to about 80%, with the rest in kindergarten. Still, the fact remains that in most places the minimum age to start kindergarten is five. So, why would you want to redshirt your child? Let’s take a look at some of the things to consider when making this decision. 


Your Child’s Development

A recently turned five-year-old is very different from a recently turned six-year-old. This is true in terms of academic skills like literacy and numeracy, and also in terms of their ability to sit still and focus for longer periods of time, which kindergarten requires. So, while you may have an exceptionally bright child on your hands, it’s important to also consider their social-emotional development.

Are they able to focus their energy for a sustained period of time? To appropriately participate in a group environment? Are they able to control their impulses and follow basic rules? If your child is currently in pre-K or another group child care situation, their teacher or child care provider should be able to provide input on all these questions.


What the Research Says

Redshirting was thrust into the spotlight in 2008 when Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers made the case that children who are older for their grade do better on tests. Older children are also less likely to repeat an early grade (kindergarten, first, or second), and are more likely to be in gifted and talented programs

Reading about all these advantages, it feels like waiting until your child is six to start kindergarten is the obvious answer. However, as with all research, we should approach it cautiously. These studies are only based on associations, meaning that we can’t say for sure whether being older actually caused these positive outcomes. There may well be other factors at play that the research simply hasn’t been able to tease out.

Beyond basic academic outcomes, in her book Crib Sheet sociologist Emily Oster also points to studies showing that children on the younger side for their grade have a higher chance of being diagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADHD. This is not to say that kids entering school earlier are predisposed to ADHD. However, younger kids may have age-appropriate difficulty sitting still. When compared to their older peers, this could be viewed as hyperactivity. And while there is no shame in learning disabilities, over-diagnosis because of early school entry age could be problematic.


The Difference Between Girls and Boys

It’s no secret that girls mature faster than boys in almost every way. Neuroscience research shows that girls’ brains mature on average 2 years faster than boys’ brains. This means girls are more likely to be “school ready” than boys at age 5, the typical age to begin kindergarten.

In light of these facts, it’s no surprise that we see more boys being redshirted than girls—sometimes up to 20% of the time. In addition, teachers (who know better than anyone what it takes for kids to succeed in the classroom) were three times more likely to redshirt their sons as opposed to their daughters.


best age for kindergarten

Source: Shutterstock


Financial Factors

For many parents with kids entering public school, kindergarten is a welcome reprieve from the burden of child care costs. For many families, the decision of whether or not to redshirt has a large financial implication. Additionally, once a child turns five there are often limited childcare options. If your child has already completed a pre-K program and you want to redshirt them, what do they do for that in-between year? They could repeat pre-K, which may not be an attractive option. Other specialized “gap year” alternatives are few and far between, and are often limited to expensive private schools.


The Bottom Line

Research does associate being older for your grade level with many positive outcomes. It also shows that boys are more likely to be redshirted in order to allow them to developmentally catch up with girls. At the end of the day, though, this data is only one factor in the decision of whether or not to redshirt your child. There are many other things to consider, such as your financial situation and the availability of a good child care alternative should you choose to delay your child’s kindergarten entry.

After reading all this, you may be asking, what will I do with my own son and his August birthday? 

Honestly, I still don’t know. So far he seems to be on track with both his academic and his social-emotional development. But, I have at least another year to decide. I’ll be observing him and staying in close contact with his teachers. And while I’ll consider all the research, at the end of the day I’ll base our choice less on the data and more on what I think is best for my son as an individual and for our family.

Why We Won’t ‘Redshirt’ Our Kindergartener
Click to Read