How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Kindergarten

Updated on November 14, 2017
Robin profile image

Robin is a former third grade teacher, has a Masters in Education, and has three children—two of which are on the older-side in school.

Kindergarten Readiness

Having a mulit-subject credential, a Master's Degree in Education, and having been a third grade teacher, I am frequently asked about kindergarten readiness. As a teacher, I saw children that would have greatly benefited if their parents had held them back to start kindergarten a year later. Since I have an innate interest in the topic of school readiness I have done a lot of research on the subject. Because of this, I have been asked the question many times, "Do you think I should send my son/daughter to kindergarten this year, or should I wait?

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?

The quick answer: In most cases, I would advise parents to wait if possible. It is very uncommon for parents to regret the decision to have their child be on the older side for their grade. However, it is very common to hear parents say they wish they had waited to send their child to kindergarten. I have known many parents send their children to a separate school for a year to repeat a grade. This is especially true once a child is in high school. My advice, if you can afford it, hold your child back and research a good Montessori preschool that will challenge them and get them ready for kindergarten.

Julia graduating from preschool

How to Know if your Child is Ready for Kindergarten?

Whether or not to send your child to kindergarten is a concern for many parents. We all want our children to succeed and whether or not you choose to put your child in kindergarten when they're four or five can have a great influence on their success. In the United States there is a cut off date for beginning kindergarten. In California today, students must be five by September 1st to enter school. However, parents can choose to hold their child back a year if they feel it will be an advantage. When our girls were starting kindergarten, the cut-off date for school was Dec. 1. They have late November birthdays. The school district would have permitted them to begin kindergarten at four; however, we chose for them to wait a year to begin kindergarten. I will give our reasoning for holding them back, and why I felt like it was the best option for our family.

The below chart is a basic starting point on the kindergarten readiness scale. All of the points do not have to be 100% fulfilled to enter kindergarten, it is just a foundation. Most schools would recommend that If your child is missing all or most of the criteria, it would be a wise decision to keep your child back a year. On a personal note, while this might be a measurement for schools to use to determine readiness, I would recommend that most or all of the criteria be met, plus a few more to actually start kindergarten.

Our Experience in Elementary, Middle, and High School

Our girls that are old for their grades are in middle and high school now. It has been a great decision for us to have them be old for their grade. They are at the top of their class, adjust well socially, and are not overly stressed about the rigor of academics. Both of them were reading early (at the age of three because I'm a teacher) and had no behavior issues. However, I'm still happy with our decision. Especially if you have a child that has a lot of energy, I would highly recommend an extra year of preschool. It is easy to recognize, even at the high school level, the students that are old for their grade and the ones that are young.

As an aside, many schools will advise you to send your child to kindergarten early, but you don't have to. Do what is right for your child and family.

Basic Kindergarten Readiness Scale

Social Readiness
Motor Skills and Self-Care
Knows their ABCs - recognizes letters
Can control themselves
Is empathic
Has small motor coordination - can manipulate small objects
Identifies shapes
Can pay attention
Relates to adults and children
Has general large motor coordination
Identifies colors
Controls impulses
Can express own feelings
Can take care of their own basic needs, e.g., go to the bathroom on own
Can count at least 10 objects
Follows simple directions
Is willing and eager to learn
Engages with literature
Can solve basic problems
Can express needs and wants
Can write their own first name
Plays well with peers
Can recognize rhymes
Particpates in class time

Is My Child Emotionally and Intellectually Ready for School?

Even if your child displays most or all of the above criteria, it is still not a given that they should absolutely start kindergarten. For example, our daughters would have passed the above criteria to begin kindergarten when they were 4. However, we were convinced that it would only benefit them to have an extra year of development—physically, emotionally, and academically. I realize that for many families, this is not an option. Preschool is very expensive and public schools are virtually free. However, if you are able to pay for another year of preschool, it can be a huge advantage for your child.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers discusses the advantage of holding children back a year in kindergarten and the long lasting effects on their education. Children that are more emotionally and intellectually ready to learn in kindergarten are grouped accordingly, thus they are learning more and are pushed more than the other students in the class. They aren't necessarily smarter than their peers, but they are being challenged in a way that will benefit them in the long run. Most-likely those students will continue to be put in the more challenging groups for reading and math and continue to excel. These small advantages in the beginning lead to larger advantages over the years.

One study conducted by Kelly Bedard and Elisabeth Dhuey looked at Math and Science tests of fourth graders. They found that on average those students that were older scored between four and twelve percentile points higher than their younger counterparts. The difference in scores could make the difference in making the cutoff for a gifted and talented program or other extra programs that further the gap.

Another interesting point that Gladwell discusses is a teacher's mistake of judging emotional maturity for intellectual maturity. Students that are older are able to sit for longer periods of time and act in a manner that is more acceptable to a classroom. While students that aren't emotionally mature aren't necessarily any less intelligent, their teachers may see them as such because they aren't emotionally ready to learn yet.

A child's confidence is also an enormous factor in their success. If your son/daughter legitimately sees themselves as a top student in the class, they most likely will live up to this expectation. Plus, when school isn't frustrating and extremely difficult, it becomes more fun, which begins a life-long love for learning.

If you are still unsure if your child is ready for kindergarten, take the quiz below, and I'll let you know what I think. ;)

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten Quiz

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After taking the quiz, I'm going to send my child to kindergarten

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Questions & Answers

    I would love to hear what you think about kindergarten readiness...

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      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 2 months ago from San Francisco

        I agree, Jean. It has been a great decision for us. Thanks for sharing your experience with your son. :)

      • Jean Bakula profile image

        Jean Bakula 2 months ago from New Jersey

        My only child is now an elementary teacher himself. But he also had a late November B-day. He could read and was smart. But he was a bit spoiled, and I didn't think he would cooperate with the teacher. I took a lot of criticism from relatives for holding him back, but it worked out well for him. In NJ, the cut off date is October 1st, and I think it really makes a difference when your child can be almost a year different in age than classmates. When I was his age, schools took 4 yr. olds for Kindergarten, and it affected my best friend and my younger brother badly.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 4 months ago from San Francisco

        Hi Kari, it's interesting because now that my oldest has started high school, I can really see the maturity helping her! The kids that are young, especially the boys, tend to struggle more socially their freshman year of high school. I still think it was one of our best decisions to have our girls be old for their grade. I appreciate the comment!

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 4 months ago from Ohio

        My daughter's birthday is in late August and my son's is in November. I let my daughter start kindergarten when she turned 5. I started my son when he was 5 almost 6.

        My reason was I felt my daughter's age was holding her back in math. She was an avid reader, as was my son. My daughter always felt that she was bad at math because of those first few years.

        I remember I used to play Pokemon card games with my children. Playing really helped my son in math. He was 4 when we started playing. :)

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 7 months ago from San Francisco

        Hi Nicole, thanks so much for your post. Our daughters are now going into high school and middle school and I'm still very happy with our decision. I think you are making the right one. You know your child better than the principle. :) If you are able, a Montessori preschool is a great choice for kids that are almost ready for Kindergarten but are on the young side. It is a great training ground for elementary school.

      • profile image

        Nicole 7 months ago

        I wanted to say thank you for your post, my husband and I have been agonizing over sending our son to Kindergarten. We spoke with the principal and she said, "just send him, if he is not ready he can just repeat the year"....but I felt like the whole point was to prevent a year of frustration and give him another year to grow and build self confidence. After researching pubmed, the web and specifically reading your post/ taking the quiz, we are going to keep him back. There really is a big difference between social/ emotional intelligence and academic intelligence. His birthday falls just before the cut off, and although academically he is ready, he is still having a hard time with his emotions. I can imagine him sitting in class feeling so frustrated after "messing up" on one of his letters... he would not hear anything for the next half hour, he is a bit of a perfectionist. I think one more year will help him to deal with his strong emotions and help him to see that "messing up" is how we learn and grow.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 10 months ago from San Francisco

        Interesting, Natalie. I can imagine that different schools have different requirements, and that private schools will differ from public schools. It does seem like a lot of pressure; however, I found, that with our girls, that as long as the process was fun, they enjoyed the learning. Kids are capable of a lot, but we need to make it fun and also know what their developmental limitations are. When it becomes a chore or we are pushing them farther than they are capable, they suffer. Thanks for the comment!

      • profile image

        Natalie Frank 10 months ago

        Great Hub! I can't believe how much kids need to know before going to kindergarten now. I had a friend who's child was going into kindergarten at a Jewish School. Not only did they have to do all that you mentioned, they also had to know the Hebrew alphabet and be able to print it out, be able to count to 10 and print their name in Hebrew, and know some basic Hebrew vocabulary. My friend was in a panic because her son actually had to take and pass a readiness test to be able to get in. It seemed like a ton of pressure for a child that young.

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        both my kids weren't ready for kindergarten even at age 6 years old. They weren't active in any sports or playground because we never take them there. So, they are more indoor , less activity, no interaction with other kids. They fear other kids. I had to stay at kindy for a month before they could let me go

      • favored profile image

        Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

        When I first started teaching third grade was the best, until students came that we not ready. It's hard for some parents to believe that starting their child one year later would actually help them excel. Glad you presented this article. Hopefully it will help some parents understanding there is nothing to be ashamed of in starting a child a year later.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 3 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, Maggie. I'm sure other readers will appreciate hearing your story and that waiting was the best thing for your daughter. It has been the best decision for us as well. :)

      • Maggie.L profile image

        Maggie.L 3 years ago from UK

        A really useful hub on a really important topic. I agonised over whether to send my first child to school at 4 or whether to wait a year. Her birthday falls just a couple of weeks before the cut off date so she would have been the youngest child in the class. She ticked all of the academic boxes you mentioned above and more. But she wasn't socially or emotionally ready. After discussions with lots of other parents, many who regretted sending their children to school too early and not even one who regretted waiting an extra year my decision was made. I waited another year! I think it is probably one of the best decisions I've ever made as a parent. Every step of the way, from moving on to senior school to sitting her final exams, she has benefited from being that little bit older.She is now 18 years old and getting ready to move on to university, a confident young adult with high self esteem. I really insightful hub that will help many parents make the right decision for their child.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

        That's an interesting perspective, Amber, and something that families should consider. I think that children gain confidence that lasts a lifetime in their primary grade years; being older can be a big advantage for their academic self esteem. Thanks for the comment!

      • Amber Vyn profile image

        Amber Vyn 4 years ago

        This hub was very interesting to me. My birthday is 9/26, so I was almost 6 when I began kindergarten. Then I skipped the 4th grade. I think being older was a huge advantage in the earlier grades, and then being younger was a huge advantage as I progressed through middle and high school. Thanks for the great hub!

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, careermommy. It's a hard decision, but I'm sure you will make the best one for your little guy. Personally, I have never regretted having our girls be older, but every child is different Good luck! It's a really fun time! :)

      • Careermommy profile image

        Tirralan Watkins 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

        Good info. We're trying to decide now if we'll send our son to kindergarten next year. Thanks for the tips!

      • nylarej profile image

        nylarej 5 years ago from Ph

        Thanks for a very wonderful and insightful post, Robin. I am indeed a mother of 3 and I am still undecided whether to send my son to kindergarten.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi rfordin, I understand your apprehension, but even for those kids that are "advanced," I think being older is a good thing. If you can, and if she seems bored in the classroom, I recommend providing other resources to expand her learning. I do this with our girls - especially in kindergarten. By the time they reach 1st grade, the teachers are working on different levels for different kids. Kindergarten seems to be the most lacking since reading is a main focus. I'm sure it will all work out - especially since you seem really involved, which is a huge indicator of a child's success in school!

      • Rfordin profile image

        Rfordin 5 years ago from Florida

        Thanks for this Hub. At the present moment I am dealing with a situation where I feel my (late September baby) should be going into VPK this year.

        I have two children ages 5 and 3. My three year old will be 4 on 9/26...however in Florida the cutoff date is 9/1. My 5 year old JUST turned 5 so the little one has been learning all along with the older one and it makes me feel she is more advanced than a "normal" almost 3-4 year old.

        My five year old HAS to start kindergarten this year. Here in Florida if you are 5 years old before 9/1 of the school year opting out of kindergarten for a year is NOT an option.

        Back to my three year old... I am terrified that since she will not be going to VPK until she is 5, and won't be starting kindergarten until she is 6 that she will be "bored" in school throughout her whole life.

        I wish Florida had similar regulations to that of California I feel like I am almost holding my daughter back from VPK for no other reason (she's ready) then the fact that the state says so. I'm really not one for the state to tell me what is "best" for my child and this is just one of those instances I seem to have an inner battle with.

        Anyway, again thanks for the hub it makes me feel a little better that holding my 3.99 year old back from VPK may be a semi-warranted decision on the states part at least.

      • GoodLady profile image

        Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

        I'm sending this informative Hub to my son and his wife who have a 2 year old in Milan in Italy. They kept their daughter back from the nursery at great cost to themselves (economical etc) because neither thought/felt it was a good idea to push her out of the house. In Italy these days, if you are working parents with full-time jobs it's hard to NOT put the baby in a nursery (because it costs less in a nursery!). At home, I see how she benefits from the one to one care she gets (from a babysitter and then her Daddy in the late afternoon)and is learning confidence in herself. The lesson here is 'not to push, no matter what'. It is better to measure a child's moves into schools/nurseries/kindergarten to their own natural pace.

        These days it is all so hard for working parents to do the right thing for their children because alternative costs are so high, but nevertheless, from what you write, it pays in the long run.

        Thanks for your research and information.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, Laura! It is complicated. Just for discussion purposes, why do you think that holding a child back hinders their ability to reach their full potential? I actually think that allowing children to be a little older when starting kindergarten helps them reach their full potential. It is usually the social and emotional maturity of children that hinders the academic potential when children are very young, i.e, young children may have the brain power to get the work done, but they aren't quite mature enough to sit and engage with the material for a long period of time. Thanks again for the comment! It's a great topic of discussion - at least I think so. ;)

      • LauraGT profile image

        LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

        Interesting hub. I think deciding whether your child is ready for kindergarten is pretty complicated. But, I do worry that many people are holding their children back because it's "popular" and not letting them achieve their full potential.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Hi Leah, thanks for the comment. Sometimes the policies of our education system just don't seem right. To lose your specialist because a child is held back is so counterintuitive! I'm sure he will do well because he has you looking out for him, but many other children don't have that same parental involvement. It's a shame. Thanks again and I appreciate you sharing your experiences! ;)

      • leahlefler profile image

        Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

        This is an excellent guide, Robin, and I love the quiz! Our older son has a December birthday, so he did not make the cut-off date for New York State (children must be five by December 1) - it was the best thing that could have happened. He is the oldest child in his Kindergarten class this year and is doing extremely well! Our younger son, Nolan, is an August baby. In addition to the younger age (he'll barely turn five before the start of the school year), he has a congenital hearing loss, which means his "hearing age" is younger than his chronological age. He does well academically, but has been sick for much of his childhood and is "behind" the others socially and physically. We are considering holding him for a year, though he will lose services through the school district if we do so. To keep his current services, he'll probably go to kindergarten next year (losing his teacher of the deaf and speech language pathologist would be terrible, because his progress each year is reliant on the extra instruction he gets from those professionals).

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, tamara. I'm not advocating holding back children that are not close to the cut-off date unless they are very immature. For example, my girls made the cut-off date by only a week. Had I sent them, they would have been the youngest in their classes; for our family, it was to their advantage to wait a year and they are thriving because of it. Why wouldn't you give your child that advantage?

      • tamarawilhite profile image

        Tamara Wilhite 6 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

        We should discourage red-shirting, deliberately choosing to wait as long as possible before a child starts kindergarten. This leaves the youngest kids at a disadvantage and to be dominated by those artificially held back.

      • Mama-n-Teacher profile image

        Mama-n-Teacher 6 years ago

        So many decisions we must make for our children daily! This one is a biggie. Thanks for all the practical advice.

      • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

        Ruchi Urvashi 6 years ago from Singapore

        Great information. Enjoyed reading about children development signs and readiness scale to check before sending them to school.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks, Keeley. I'm so glad your son is doing well in kindergarten! I appreciate the read.

        Thanks for the comment, gmwilliams. Other opinions are greatly appreciated! ;)

      • Keeley Shea profile image

        Keeley Shea 6 years ago from Norwich, CT

        What a great hub! Had a read this hub before my child started kindergarten I might have had second thoughts about sending him. However, it seems to be working out well at this point. He is definitely one of the youngest but he is very excited about learning and so is doing very well at this point. I am looking forward to parent-teacher conferences in a couple of weeks. :)

      • gmwilliams profile image

        Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

        This is an excellent hub. However, I staunchly believe that parents should rigorously prepare their children for preschool and kindergarten from very early ages. I believe that if a child is properly prepared, he/she should be able to commence kindergarten education at 4 or 5 years of age.

        I believe that holding children back a year can have deleterious effects on his/her self-worth. He/she is considered academically slow and below par and this can have further damaging effects on his/her future academic achievement. Thank you for letting me voice my opinion nevertheless you did an excellent job!

      • Whimsical Chair profile image

        Whimsical Chair 6 years ago

        Your hub looks good. I don't have any kids. I read it because I was curious what you wrote. It looks like your research paid off by providing a table to refer to.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, Cardelean! It's great to hear responses from teachers and parents. I think you are right, very rarely has a parent or teacher felt a child would do better had they started a year earlier. Cheers!

      • cardelean profile image

        cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

        Great information Robin. The cutoff day in Michigan is also December 1st. My nephew is also a Nov. birthday and my sister and brother in law chose to keep him in preschool one more year as well. For him it was not an academic issue but more of a social one. He will be starting second grade this year and she hasn't for one second regretted her decision.

        A friend of mine teaches first grade in our school and she says that she can always tell who her Nov. birthdays are without looking because of the maturity factor. It really is advantageous to keep those kids out of kdg. for just one more year. It just really sets those children up for greater success in the future.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks for the comment, randomcreative! When a child's birthday falls in the summer months, it's hard to decide whether or not to send your child to kindergarten. It sounds like your in-laws made the right choice. Cheers!

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Thanks for this great information! This is an issue of concern for many parents as well as a debated topic among teachers. My husband and his littlest sister both have summer birthdays and waited to start until the following year. My husband definitely feels like he benefited from this.

      • Robin profile image

        Robin Edmondson 6 years ago from San Francisco

        @RebekahElle - Thanks for the comment. It's great to hear that you agree since you are working with kids this age! I know that we have quite a few teachers on the site and it's nice to have the agreement! You're little pre-kinders are lucky to have you! The other thing I want to mention is that since our girls are older starting kindergarten, we put them in a Montessori school to challenge them a bit more before their first year. I feel like they are academically ready for more than strictly play-based preschool and they love it. Just an option for those parents that feel their child is ready and will be bored with another year of preschool.

        @BarbaraKay - Thanks for your first-hand experience. I also started kindergarten at four and was the youngest in my class. I was the last to drive, the last to turn 18 and 21, etc. It would have been helpful for me to have another year for sports as well. However, all of my friends were the same year as I, including Paul. ;) In that sense it was a better fit for me. I think you make a great point that going into college at 17 can be really hard. It's a big developmental time. My first year of college was a bit brutal; I wasn't quite mature enough and didn't do as well in school as I should have. Thanks for your comment!!

        @Marellen, Simone and Earth Angel - Thanks for you comments!! They are greatly appreciated.

        @PattyInglish - That is an interesting story and wonderful. I'm sure the extra year greatly benefited him. I have never heard of a parent regretting holding their child back a year before starting kindergarten, only the other way around.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

        Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        A friend's son benefitted a lot from staying out of K until age 6. They let him take his timemwith many things, beucase he had Asperber's on the sutism spectrum. I say "had", because today at age 20, he has no symptoms of it at all and is set to enter his sophomore year at university as a straight-A student since elementary school. Sports is the last thing he was able to try to he rides motocycles with his dad and friends, hunts, and a few others. No team sports, though. Forcing him into K or PreK at age 5 would have been disastrous.

        In Ohio, kids need to be 5 for K by the end of September. We do have a lot of children in PreK-4 and PreK-3 and some kids benefit from those at an early age.

        I enjoyed this Hub very much. Rated Up.

      • Simone Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Wow Robin, this is an awesome Hub! I always thought kids started kindergarten once they reached a certain age, and I suppose a lot *do*, but I can see how these additional factors can make a huge difference. Voted up and useful!

      • Earth Angel profile image

        Earth Angel 6 years ago

        Dearest Robin,

        What a lovely and informative Hub! All the parents I know who waited a year to start their children in kindergarten have been quite happy with their decisions! The benefits to their children seem obvious in hindsight!

        Two of those children will enter kindergarten this year and are sooooooooooo much better prepared than they were last year! They will start at the top of their class and I think that confidence builder will carry through their lives!

        I wish my parents had waited! I started kindergarten the day I turned four years old! Academics and social readiness were never a problem but I was always the smallest and couldn't run or play ball as fast as my peers who were a year or two older! I got straight A's but was always last picked to be on a sports team!

        Thank you for sharing this enlightened perspective! You are a GREAT mommy! The girls are lucky to have you both!

        Blessings to all the Edmondson's! Earth Angel!

      • profile image

        marellen 6 years ago

        My daughter is now 25 but when the decision had to be made when to start kindergarten, I waited that extra year. No complains, it was the best decision. Wonderful and informative hub....Thanks for sharing...

      • Barbara Kay profile image

        Barbara Badder 6 years ago from USA

        My son was able to read, do simple math etc at 4. I let him start at 4, because he was born September 15th. It was a big mistake. All of his friends were a grade lower than him all the way through school.

        He graduated at 17 and we just couldn't get him to go to college or work until he was 18. He was an excellent athlete, but think what he could have accomplished if he'd been in the right grade.

        Even though he did well in school, I wish I would have kept him home for another year.

        This is a good hub right before school.

      • rebekahELLE profile image

        rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

        Robin, I think you have given great advice to help parents decide if their child is ready. I know most of us like to think our children are above average and ready for big school, but the emotional/social factor is a big one. I work with 4-5 year olds preparing them to enter Kindergarten, and the biggest concern we hear from K teachers is not so much academics, but the maturity level of the child and their social skills. Are they able to listen, follow 2-3 step instructions, respond in a socially appropriate manner. It's generally those children who have difficulty in these areas that may need more time in the preschool setting, maturing and strengthening their pre-kindergarten skills. They will learn more easily when they are ready. Thanks for sharing such great tips and guidelines for the Kindergarten experience.

        Your little Julia looks adorable1