Before You Decide to Hold Your Child Back From Starting School

Laughing boy with drawings in classroom

Andrew Bret Wallis / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Should you or shouldn't you start your youngster in kindergarten in the fall? Parents are increasingly mulling over the decision based on a child's birthdate, social skills, or overall readiness. "Redshirting" a kid, as often describes the practice of holding a child back to develop stronger academic readiness, is utilized for kids with late birthdays and social immaturity. Its merits are debated, and parents need to ultimately decide what is best for their kid.

Age Should Be Considered

If your state says a child must be 5 by a certain date and your child just barely makes the cut-off, this could be a reason for waiting a year. Children with birthdays in the latter half of the year, and particularly for boys, are often held a year from starting kindergarten.

Experts urge that age should not be the only consideration used to decide whether or not to hold a child back. Many young kids are ready to begin school, while older ones may not be.

Consider Kindergarten Readiness Tests or Screenings

If you're unsure, ask your child's preschool teacher to administer a kindergarten readiness screening. There are tests available that parents can do with their own child as well. Some schools even screen kids and offer some thoughts to consider when making the important decision as to whether to start kindergarten or wait a year. Consider attention span, motor skills, socialization, overall behavior, independence, and interest in learning.

Find out School Expectations

School expectations can help parents make informed decisions. Consider whether the kindergarten program is full-day or half-day, for starters. Are there clearly defined academic expectations? Some programs have a more strenuous kindergarten curriculum including reading, basic math, and logic, while others focus more on "soft skills" the first year and transitioning from home to school.

Consider a Transition Approach

Some parents see kindergarten as a "one-two" plan. A child's first school year is spent in a private, half-day or even transition kindergarten program. A child then attends a full-day kindergarten program at public/private school, hopefully with the advantage of the transition year and entering school with more academic readiness and self-confidence. Some programs are specifically geared for 5-year-olds who are delaying school one year.

Be Open to Repeating

Some educators urge parents in doubt to go ahead and let the children enter kindergarten, but with an open mind that their child could possibly repeat the year. Why? With a different teacher the next year, the child still receives a full-year of academic instruction and will gain a year of self-esteem and readiness to boot. There is typically little-to-no social stigma with repeating kindergarten; kids are often all too happy to get to do so.

Emphasize the Positives of Kindergarten to Child

Children should be told what they can realistically expect to do and know in kindergarten. Parents should not sugar coat the experience as all fun and games. Kindergarten does offer lots of social development, but self-control, academics, phonics, math, and even basic science concepts are often included as well. Kids will make new friends and will start their path of academic learning this first year.

Ask How You Can Reinforce Learning at Home

Teachers emphasize how vital parental participation is in their child's learning, and never is there a time more important to be involved than with kindergarteners and early reading. If your child seems to be struggling, ask for specific advice as to how you can help reinforce basic learnings at home. Spend dedicated "homework" time with your child every night to start them on the right path of learning. Keep it positive, and reward strong focus and attention to detail.

Follow Your Gut Instinct

In the end, parents know best for their children. If you think your child is ready, then go for it! If you have nagging doubts or have received feedback from a child's provider or pre-school teacher that your child may be too socially and academically immature to begin kindergarten, carefully consider that advice as well. The key is to make decisions that provide your child with the best chance to succeed throughout school and life, and deciding to hold or go is only one step along the way.

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.