Kindergarten This Year, or Next?

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

I wonder whether you could give parents some information about how to determine whether their child is ready for kindergarten, especially those with children whose birthdays fall near the cut-off date. My daughter will turn 5 three weeks before the cutoff date, and I've gotten so many different opinions about sending a younger 5-year-old to kindergarten. My husband and I feel that she meets all of the criteria: She can sit still for an appropriate amount of time, follow multi-step directions, interact well with her peers and separate easily from us.

At a presentation about kindergarten readiness at her preschool, an elementary school principal and kindergarten teacher seemed to push for giving most kids "the gift of time" and keeping them out an extra year, while research that I've read suggests that keeping kids who are young but otherwise ready for kindergarten can cause self-esteem issues and might not result in any long-term gains. Add to that a growing trend of parents keeping children out until they are 6 and concerns about how being young can affect them in high school, and it's enough to make your head spin. Do you have any advice to parents who are dealing with this question?

Amy Heiman


I am only as good as my sources, and on this issue I have one of the best in the country. Bob Pianta has recently become dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, but I know him as one of our leading researchers on education for this age group. Here is his response:

"Ms. Heiman's question is a common one and a source of a lot of unnecessary worries for parents. She is right that the research shows that any possible benefit of an extra year wears off soon, and her description of her daughter's behavior tells me that she is looking at just the right behaviors and that her child is doing well on the kind of things needed to be successful in kindergarten, an impression that I suspect would be confirmed by her daughter's preschool teacher (if she goes to preschool). Seems to me she should do just fine in kindergarten as a younger 5-year-old."

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