What's the right age to start kindergarten?

Kindergarten readiness is at the top of many parents' minds. While a child's birthdate is one indicator, parents should learn to judge school readiness by these other indicators.

Learning Stages

By Clement Chau, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Learning Expert

As the children and media expert on the Learning Team, Clement primarily works on toys and digital products related to social studies, creativity, life skills and early childhood development. Before joining LeapFrog, he was an early education consultant, a media literacy researcher at the MIT Comparative Media Studies department, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a researcher and lecturer at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies Research Group. Clement received his PhD from Tufts University's Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development and completed his dissertation on evaluating children's mobile apps.

Many parents worry about their child's kindergarten readiness and wonder about the correct age to begin kindergarten. Indeed, many school districts are raising the kindergarten entrance age with the belief that older children will be better prepared for school. But a child's birthdate, while important, should not be the primary indicator for school readiness. While many parents focus on academics, a child's school readiness also depends on his attention span, physical and motor skills, social skills, attitudes and interests in learning, and overall behavior.

If your child attends a preschool, ask the teacher for his or her general assessment. Be very clear about the specific characteristics of your child that worry you regarding his school readiness. A child's activity and behaviors at school often contrast significantly from what you observe at home. Your child's teacher might have a different view into your child's readiness.

You can also ask your child's elementary school to administer a Kindergarten Readiness assessment or screening. There are many different types of assessment and screening tools; your child's teacher would be able to select an appropriate one. Besides early academics, these screening tools also measure social-emotional skills, physical and motor skills and behavior.

I suggest you visit kindergarten classrooms in your district—you'll likely find a wide variety of kindergarten approaches. Some classrooms might be more formal and focused on academics, while others are structured around less formal "learning centers" that allow more exploration and social interaction. Discuss your child's characteristics with potential teachers and get their opinions regarding your child's readiness for their particular classrooms.

Nonetheless, there are pros and cons for holding your child back versus sending him or her off to kindergarten early. Waiting an extra year will give him or her the time to develop physically and socially before facing more demanding school experiences. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to repeat a year of kindergarten should you and the teacher decide your child needs more  preparation for first grade. Research has shown little to no harmful effect of delaying or repeating kindergarten as children progress through early grades. Young children are very resilient and can typically adapt to new environments that are safe and supportive, even if they are a bit hesitant at first.