Should I Send My 4 or Barely 5 Year Old To Kindergarten?

If you’ve been following along, you probably know that I have written a small series on kindergarten. In January I researched kindergarten entrance times, intervention start times, and length of the kindergarten school day. To read that article, click here. I also wrote an article addressing adding playtime into the curriculum. This post is specifically addressing the frequent question: Should my child begin kindergarten at 4 years old? Or, if my child has a summer or fall birthday, can I (or should I) send them to kindergarten the year they are turning 5?

Really my answer is short. If you need or want (happy parent equals happy kids… that’s a different post though) to place your child in a free, all day, educational setting, they are going to be fine. You should feel comfortable with that choice. If you are able to keep them in preschool/daycare or at home another year, they could be benefitted long term from the extra play time. The caveat for the second option is to continue to encourage play time, social interactions, and exposure to vocabulary (keeping your child home to watch TV all day is not doing them any favors).

However, if you are a parent who is worried about your child having the skills necessary to access kindergarten (answering when called, imitating positive behaviors, can participate in group activities without much personalized direction), I recommend that you place your student in a preschool that focuses on getting ready for kindergarten. This typically applies to a child who has developmental delays or has a disability.

My personal opinion would be to keep your child in preschool, daycare, or home where they can play more than at kindergarten.

The Reasons Behind My Answer

First, parents should feel comfortable making the decision to place your child in kindergarten on the earlier side. This is because research does not show negative effects for starting kindergarten too early or late. Most positive academic effects from starting school older tend to work themselves out by third grade (you can check out this research from my previous post). There is some research that points towards too much rigid schooling could hurt students long term.

Second, parents should feel just comfortable to keep your child in a preschool setting longer, or have more time with you at home. Research has shown consistently that students with increased behavioral or non cognitive skills are more likely to be successful adults. We know that part of that development occurs during non-academic learning time or play time.

I personally lean towards the second option because one, the academic benefits from starting school at specific times tend wash out around 3rd grade, and two, kindergarten within the United States has limited play time. Additionally, the amount of time a child spends in an early education setting, does not make any statical differences on their academic test scores. A child could spend a few hours a day at preschool and be receiving just as much intervention as a child within a whole day kindergarten classroom (just with more play time in the preschool setting). Even though this is my preference, I want to make it abundantly clear, please do not feel badly for placing your child in kindergarten over preschool/daycare. That is simply not an option for a lot of families.

If your child is developmentally behind

There are lots of reasons a child could be behind their peers developmentally. This does not always mean that they will have a disability later in life. However, children within this category do benefit from early interventions. Particularly interventions that focus on life, behavioral, and emotional skills.

If your child is behind their peers, seek early professional help. I would still advocate for play time and having natural social experiences, but a structured support system could greatly improve your child’s interactions with friends, family, and how they learn.

Two side notes to this:

  1. If your student receives early interventions and still is asked to attend school in a 100% special education setting, do not panic. Sometimes that is the best placement for your child. I always encourage advocating for more placement with regular peers, but this does not mean your child will be in the special education classroom forever.
  2. Do not assume your child has developmental delay just because they are not speaking “as much as” their friends, or they unable to hold a pencil. If you have concerns, speak with your pediatrician, reach out to the local elementary school, or talk to your child’s preschool. They can assess if your child is actually behind or just needs some correction within the regular setting.

What you should advocate for

After all of this reading and writing, I strongly advocate for more playtime within the kindergarten setting and more options for parents. Since there are no long term benefits for all day kindergarten, there should be a half day option.

Tell me about your experiences! How did Kindergarten go for you or your children?

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