How to Tell If Your Child Is Ready for Kindergarten Early

A small boy doing his class work in a classroom.
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Your 4-year-old daughter can count to 20, knows all of the alphabet, and is starting to read. She loves to learn and is genuinely excited about the work that you give her each day. Preschool bores her, and she’s ready for more of a challenge. The start of the school year is approaching. But with your state’s minimum age of 5, is she ready to go to kindergarten early?

Parents with young children who are gifted academically often think their children are prepared to get a jump on their academic careers. The most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that in 2019, 86% of 5-year-olds were enrolled in school, whereas only 49% of 3 to 4-year-olds were.

Although there is precedence for children starting school ahead of the recommended age, parents have to consider all the factors before making a decision.

“There is often a cynicism about the needs of gifted children and ‘twice-exceptional’ kids, meaning those who are both academically gifted and have some challenges. Gifted kids tend to develop in a particularly ‘asynchronous’ way, meaning they can be very advanced in some areas while needing extra help in other ones," says Rebecca Mannis, PhD, learning specialist and head of Ivy Prep Learning Center in Manhattan.

Academic achievement does not automatically mean a child should start school at a younger age. While you may believe your 4-year-old child is ready to start school, experts say you have to consider the social and emotional capacity of the child, not just the intellectual ability. In this article, we'll weigh the pros and cons of starting kindergarten ahead of schedule, as well as how to make the right choice for your child.

Signs Your Child Is Ready for Kindergarten Early

Seeing your young child perform at an advanced level is exciting. As a parent, you immediately want to make sure they are challenged academically. Experts say your child will exhibit several signs of readiness to make the big leap.

Academic Know-How

Intellectual prowess is often a parent’s first sign that their child may be ready for an early start to school.

“Usually, it’s when children know how to read, and they have some chronological order in there, and they can identify some main topics of reading. And it’s not just about reading. Speaking and writing are a part of it as well,” explains Lieny Jeon, PhD, a Jeffrey Alexander Grigg associate professor in the department of advanced studies in education at Johns Hopkins School of Education. “They can speak or express themselves clearly, or their ideas clearly. Also, emergent writing is a skill, like how to write their names and write meaningful words."

Counting to 20, being able to perform simple number operations with addition and subtraction, and understanding measurements and shape are also tell-tale signs of readiness.

Social and Emotional Maturity

The ability to regulate emotions is key for a child who will be sent off to school. Experts say kids should not only be able to recognize and identify their own emotions, but also the emotions of others. Granted, kids who start kindergarten at the average age are still learning how to properly control their anger and frustration. However, when a child is younger than the others and lacks emotional maturity, it may be harder to relate to others. 

Developing friendships, knowing how to take turns, and understanding how to resolve conflicts with peers are also key traits a child should have.

Developmental Readiness

A child should be able to sit and focus on schoolwork, including topics they don't like, before coming to school. If your child can sit with good posture, pay attention, and even work independently for an extended length of time, they may be ready to start kindergarten early.

Reasons for Early Enrollment

You’ve decided your child checks all the boxes and is up for the challenge of starting school at a young age. If truly prepared, getting an early academic start can be a good thing.

Rebecca Mannis, PhD

[When] children find things more intellectually stimulating, [it] can make them more motivated to learn.

— Rebecca Mannis, PhD

“When they’re entering schools early, they can have more cognitively and intellectually stimulating environments in kindergarten,” states Dr. Jeon. "[When] children find things more intellectually stimulating, [it] can make them more motivated to learn.”

If your child enjoys structure, the schedule of a school day can help improve productivity. Your child may also love being with other kids. Running around the playground and playing on the swings with her peers can help their social and developmental growth.

Reasons Against Early Enrollment

Before deciding that heading to kindergarten early is the right move, experts say you’ll want to consider the impact of sending a child to school too early.

“Kids might be cognitively gifted, but there might be some concerns about developmental stages of social-emotional functioning and physical functioning as well, like using large and small muscles [and] like kicking balls,” notes Dr. Jeon. A child who is not physically up to the challenges of kindergarten could feel left out of games and activities.

Lieny Jeon, PhD

If they’re not socially and emotionally ready, they may have difficulty in terms of making new friends, following rules, or paying attention.

— Lieny Jeon, PhD

Research shows that delaying the age children started school resulted in improvements in their mental health and self-regulation. In other words, the children had a chance to grow up and catch up to where the other students were mentally and emotionally.

“If they’re not socially and emotionally ready, they may have difficulty in terms of making new friends, following rules, or paying attention. The social-emotional functioning could impact their academic functioning as well. Parents may see adverse effects,” Dr. Jeon advises.

How to Decide What's Right for Your Child

No two children are the same. Starting kindergarten may be right for one 4-year-old, yet an almost 6-year-old may need to wait. While you may be eager to challenge your child academically, it’s important to consider the child’s social and emotional maturity and where they are developmentally.

If you’re having a hard time deciding whether to take the plunge and start school early, your child’s pediatrician and even current preschool teacher may offer insight. Ultimately, every child is unique. As parents, use the information and insights you have at your disposal to make the best decision for your child.

A Word From Verywell

Determining if your child is ready for kindergarten at a younger age than the norm can be a tough, sometimes scary, decision. It’s even scarier if you’re not sure that your child is ready. Take your time, do your research, and consider the pros and cons of the decision. You know your child better than anyone else, and you have your child’s best interest at heart. The decision you make will be the right one for your family.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Center of Education Statistics. Kindergarten entry status: On-time, delayed-entry, and repeating kindergartners.

  2. National Bureau of Economic Research. The gift of time? School starting age and mental health.

By LaKeisha Fleming
LaKeisha Fleming is a prolific writer with over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of formats, from film and television scripts, to magazines articles and digital content. She has written for CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Motherly, Atlanta Parent Magazine, Fayette Woman Magazine, and numerous others. She is passionate about parenting and family, as well as destigmatizing mental health issues. Her book, There Is No Heartbeat: From Miscarriage to Depression to Hope, is authentic, transparent, and providing hope to many.Visit her website at www.lakeishafleming.com.

Originally written by
Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.
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