When to start kindergarten?

The New York Times has a very interesting article about the current debate around when kids should start kindergarten. I was very surprised to learn that parents “redshirt” or hold back a child a year

the term, borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.


The pressures of kindergarten?? Aren’t we taking things too seriously here? Apparently not. The article (which you should absolutely read) goes on to talk about the different nuances involved including the fact that a young child could fall behind and never recover from that. Let’s say a child qualifies in year x and in year x+1 to enter kindergarten. The theory is that if they enter in year x+1, they are much more likely to be successful and start a virtuous cycle of success. Interesting.

Another really intriguing part of the article is about poorer families – since they don’t have the financial wherewithal to keep a child at home and pay for childcare, they send their kids to school as soon as the child is eligible. These children are then faced with a double disadvantage – not having a parent at home to help them along and being the youngest in the class.

And there is the competition between various states – the older kids are, the better they perform on the national level grade tests. And states are ranked against each other, so they are incented to raise the age of entering kids so that their kids do better against the rest of the national population.

All I can say is that school seemed much simpler when I was a child. I entered first grade – not kindergarten, first grade – when I was still a few months shy of being five (in India, not the US, but still, similar systems in place). And now we are talking about five being too young for kindergarten? I am all for not pressuring a child to go too fast, but this doesn’t make sense to me. Why is the entering age creeping up at a time when kids seem to be getting smarter younger? I constantly see 4 and 5 year olds who are smart, vivacious and have the vocabularies of seven year olds!

“You couldn’t find a kid who skips a grade these days,” Morrison told me. “We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways — into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.” So parents wait an extra year in the hope that when their children enter school their age or maturity will shield them from social and emotional hurt. Elizabeth Levett Fortier, a kindergarten teacher in the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, notices the impact on her incoming students. “I’ve had children come into my classroom, and they’ve never even lost at Candy Land.”

Is this really preparing kids for the real world?

It is a complex issue and the article is a great overview of all the elements (and there are many) that go into the debate on when kids should start kindergarten.

23 thoughts on “When to start kindergarten?”

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  2. Raji says:

    Yes “the pressures of Kindergarten’ seems ridiculous. But I can totally relate to the x versus x 1 syndrome. I was the youngest in my class, I found that we always looked up to the older students in the class. They seemed to get things faster and were perceived as the ‘wise ones’. I think it helps build up self-confidence in young children..even for a kindergartner.

  3. Shripriya says:

    Hey Raji! I get your point, but er… despite being the youngest, you have done fabulously! I mean *incredibly* 🙂 So… did being young hurt you in any way?

  4. Renee says:

    I know of two cases where the parents held their kids back from kindergarten for the refreshingly-opposite reason: They felt like the pressure would come soon enough, so they postponed that inevitability by holding their kids back from the big K for a year.

    My very smart cousin’s parents didn’t put her into Kindergarten when she was eligible because they wanted her to enjoy being a kid. Twenty-four years later, when I asked her whether she was ever bored because she was behind her age group but knew what they knew and then some, she said she always felt challenged because she took every accelerated class available when she did get to school. She recently graduated from Berekely (in 3 years) and is now in grad school.

    The second is more recent example. My nephew tests so high on assessment exams that nearly everyone but his parents wants to move him up one grade or more. One school official tried to tell my brother that if he only understood just how smart his son was, there would be no question about advancing him. Instead, his parents didn’t start him in K (he’s now in 3rd grade) until the year following his eligibility because they wanted him to enjoy being a kid. They started giving him a bit of homeschooling when he was 3 (after he commented about the way in which jets made vapor trails!) and have always supplemented his schooling with home studies. They love to challenge him but wanted–before K and now–to avoid pressuring him. I love the idea that they thought he’d do just fine in the world without gaming the system.

    BTW, I’d like to say that I could spout off with more examples of intelligence in my family, but it ends with those two cases. 😉

  5. Blue says:

    Yes, kindergarten is “harder” than it was in the past — homework every day, less time for recess and free play, national testing, etc.

    But to me holding the kids back seems another example of helicopter parenting. It seems that children never get to grow up anymore. It’s a tricky balance — yes they should be children when they are children, but then there’s the other extreme, like the young woman (my age) who responded to my roommate ad… that is to say, her mother responded, her mother brought her to my apartment, her mother did all the talking, and her mother called me the next day to say that her daughter had chosen a different place!

    How do we make sure that X doesn’t turn into Y?

  6. Shripriya says:

    Hey Renee!! So great to see you here!

    I think it is a great point about letting a kid be a kid. That is a fabulous reason. It makes so much more sense than the reason of “but if I hold her back, she will do better!”

    @ Blue – Yeah, we all know people who don’t outgrow their parents. Whether it is mommy finding the apartment or daddy getting them a job. There was a hilarious article in the NYT a while ago about how a mother called a partner at a consulting firm to talk about her kid. 😀

  7. eispy30 says:

    I’m not saying all parents do it for the reason noted, but I believe this is one more example of parents trying to have their kids have a leg up in the system before they even start out in life. And as Blue says, the pattern of “helping” your child begins. A slippery slope.

    This reminds me of an old Tracy Ullman skit where she plays an upper crust yuppie parent trying to get her 3 or 4 yr old into an elite pre-school. Each child had to audition for the school administrators. The first child candidate comes out and plays a classical Mozart on the violin flawlessly. The second child is placed on top of the table and tap dances the hell out of the table. Tracy, as the mother of the third child, announces in her toney accent, that her child will be performing an interpretation of a children’s classic. Her kid gets up and begins to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” 🙂

  8. Now that I have a 1 year old, I’m terrified about having her go to school in this country based on what I see.

    Frankly I think a lot of the problem is that parents don’t want to bother parenting. We all have our own “rights” and therefore don’t feel that we have any obligation to parent our children. Note that by parenting, I don’t mean turning into an over-protective helicopter parent – I mean helping prepare our child over 18 years for the real world. If you don’t want to do that, get a puppy!

    I see schools assigning amounts of homework that I never thought possible when I was a kid, but I don’t see the kids getting any great benefit from it. Path of least resistance to get them to keep quiet for a while, I suppose. Worse yet, I see parents “doing” the homework for their kids, to make sure their kid stays at the top of the pack. Some life preparation that is.

    If parents just focused on teaching their children how to deal with life, hard knocks and good times and all, and helping their children to learn how to learn (sorry for the cliche), I wager a lot of these concerns would disappear.

    As for starting kindergarten early or late – I’m a big believer in keeping kids with their age group. I am so glad that I never skipped years of school when the opportunity came up. I’m generalising of course, but socially it has a phenomenal effect on a kid who is 12 being stuck in a class full of 14/15 year olds. And I think the opposite is true as well.

    Bottom line – if as a parent you’re actually prepared to commit to your kid, you can challenge them, stretch them and prepare them without having to buck the system and hold them back or accelerate them in school. A school worth it’s salt will facilitate that too, though I say that knowing little about public schools in this country.

    I’ll stop – I could rant for days on parenting, schooling, the dreaded Kumon, and how we bring up our children in general.

  9. Shripriya says:

    @Eispy 30 – That is hilarious. I love that skit!

    @ Forth Ump – Yes, I can see you care about this topic! 🙂 While I agree on most things, I feel very strongly that each child is different and parents need to figure out what is best for that kid. I have a cousin who graduated high school at 12 in the US. He skipped something like 5 grades. Forcing someone like that to stay in his regular age group could have been more damaging.

    And he was a well-rounded kid too – played the piano, swam and was very social. Importantly, he was very well-adjusted too. And he’s a very grounded adult. A great guy.

    So, it all depends on who you are dealing with – if a child needs to be ahead, they can be and that’s fine. As long as it is not the parents *forcing* them ahead… or *forcing* them behind… to gain an advantage in some way…

    I think parents need to chill. And kids should be kids. I went to a school with no homework for the first few years and no exams either. It was heaven!! We need more of that.

  10. Priyank says:

    Well I’m not really sure about the age factor working towards advantage. Statistics and surveys apart, I think that the earlier a child learns, the better can he leverage it. One year is not much, yet its sufficient enough to mould your personality in the early years. Earliear the better:)

    Consider this. A graduating class has one student who is 22yo and other is 23yo. The entrance age limits for, say, military service is usually 24yrs (or even lesser, depends). Similarly, for entrance exams in India, typically where students take the exam over and over, the younger ones are at advantage. Ditto for job advantage, insurance (I was surprised to see the premium fluctuate per year), and of course searching a girlfriend;)

    You spoke about ‘pressure’ on the kids. I have a shocking story to tell. This building aunty I once met was telling me about the hassles of finding a good ‘tuition class’ for her kid in grade three. I asked her over and over just to confirm what I was hearing was true. There is a prominent coaching class in Mumbai that advertises “special” batches for students from grade 1 to 4.

    This stuff is creepy.

  11. indira says:

    Its not just the US, India is as scary. People register their child in a particular school even when they are pregnant!! Its unbelievably difficult to get a child into school in india – especially the prominent ones. Kindergarten is the most difficult. Its even easier to get them transferred when kids are in the 2nd or 3rd grade.
    So thats what a lot of parents are doing. If they dont get the school that they want, they settle for a second choice and then transfer them to the school of choice later.

  12. radha says:

    Every parent has different idea on when their kids should start K, but they all want the BESt for thei kid, My son started K at the right age, actually he was in montessori by age 3. yes i Insisted 🙂

    i din’t want him lounging around at daycare singing sings all day.

    but the one thing i noticed, he didnt seem to care either way 🙂

    he’s now in grade2 and is a yr younger than his classmates.. but still loves school and does way less homework than what i did in India..way way less.i think kids are more resilent than we think, he l9oves school but also loves his daycrae during summer when he does nothing and spends time with 2 and 4 yr olds.. oh he also enjoys getting pampered at his grandparents home in india doing absolutely nothing..

    so o i don’t beleive in holding then back a yr..an active mind creates an active body &., my 2 yr old will start montesori this sept yahooo 🙂 and i don’t think i’m burdening her, oh yes she will have to follow their rules, but she’ll also get to dig in the dirt, garden, read,play with friends and learn to beindependent,

    ok enough with the rambling, in short i don’t think sending them to school makes them grow up fast, they just grow up differently , atleast mine do and i havn’t heard a word of complain, they just whie if i drag them away from they play to pick them up early 🙂 win win for both of us

  13. Shri – Agreed that ultimately, as with anything, you can’t go by broad generalisations and you have to look at each specific case.

    Radha – I’m not sure all parents really want what’s best for their kid. There are many out there who pay lip service to that notion, but in actual fact appear to want what’s best for themselves. Not that anyone can really judge this from outside, of course.

    I guess my contention is that, having chosen to have a kid (by whatever means), if you then take responsibility for that kid, and put their needs first, then you’re probably doing the right thing in general. That will obviously mean different things for different kids.

  14. Shripriya says:

    @ Priyank – that is indeed a scary story. I think the problem is the pressure of the Indian system. If you aren’t topping, it is almost impossible to get into college. I guess that pressure is going younger and younger!

    @ Indira – Seems like that is the norm world over now. Japan, China, US, India…

    @ Radha – Great to hear that your kids are happy even though they are young for their class. I think a lot of it has to do with the parents and how they supplement their kids’ education – whether they are young, correct, or older for their class.

    @ Fourth Ump – You are right in that not all parents want/do what’s best for the kid. … I started writing reams here on how parents can mess up a child, but I deleted it 🙂 Let’s just say I’ve seen parents mess up kids for life with their “efforts”!

  15. Deepti says:


    I hear this new theory and I wonder what would we then say about the new fad catching on in India,which is to prepare to send your 3 year old to prep school,which are unaffordably expensive, to prepare them for a head start at an age when they can absorb the maximum.

    This is like those theories that came out earlier. ” An egg a day is good for you”, then “Eat just the egg white a day and that is good for you”, ” Egg once a week is good for you”.

    So eventually you realise , Excuse me boss, let me decide what is good for me from all that is thrown out and figure out what works best for me.

  16. Lotus says:

    Both my kids started school really early, they were not even three when they went to a kindergarten prep class…the only disadvantage to that is that when they joined the mainstream, they were a little bored in class because they knew so much more than the other kids. But things evened out in a couple of years and now they are both doing fine in their respective grades…Grade 10 and 6 (French Immersion).

    Thanks for a nice, enlightening post!

  17. mumbaigirl says:

    I only know what I’ll feel when I have kids, but this is something I think about a lot…especially when I see some of the over competitive parents around these days.

  18. Sunny says:

    My son is 2 and i am sending him to Nursery which will take 1 year.

    then next year he goes to Lower Kidergarten for 1 year and then upper kindrgarten for 1 year. Then he will be 5 when he goes to class 1. I think thats not too early or too late.

    I also remember reading about the mind and other peoples’s experiences including the geniuses and also watched some programs on discovery and nat geo.

    As soon as you open your eyes into this world , your mind is ready to learn and starts doing so. These basic things that one learns are so basic that we do not feel our child is learning anything, but actually some of the most complex things are learned then. Adjusting to the light. Focus adjustment of the eyes to far and near things. learning to hear and judge where the sound is coming from.

    Judgement of the toy in front and calculating the distance and then extending your arm enough to catch it and then grasping it to bring it closer is one of the most important thresholds of life that a child crosses in a few months. If you see a mentally challanged child , who is unable to do so even after several years , you will understand the importance of it.

    So the child still learns whether he/ she goes to school or not.

    You only ensure adding a certain things to his curriculum by sending him to school like language and numbers. Also another important thing is that a child or any person learns much more from his friends, siblings and competetors than his parents. As sometimes the child feels presuured y the parents instructions as the parents are always instructing and luring the child to eat , sleep , change , take bath etc. on time.

    so the child also learns a lot by mingling with other kids in school.

    You may ask that if the mind is ready to learn always then why does a three year not learn calculus. The answer is that the calculus is a ten step claculation which involves ten other calculations which a child learns and practices first so that he can do it together. So in order to do calculus first one needs to be efficient with the previous calculation steps, which is taught in steps year by year to the kids.

  19. Shripriya says:

    @all – I think it just depends on each child. Some children learn faster and are fully capable of interacting with children who are older – they should be encouraged to do so. The Kindergarten/Primary school I went to was particularly good at identifying these kids and making sure they were in a class of their “intellectual peers” versus their “chronological peers”.

    For others, their chronological peers are their intellectual peers and they are in the right group for their needs.

    As long as the child is happy and learning, that’s what is important.

  20. hipm0mmy says:

    My child will start kindergarten this fall, a year older than she had to be to start. She is very advanced already and so I think kindergarten will be very easy for her.

    As a society, why are we in such a rush to send our kids off to school? It was great to let the joys and freedom of childhood play out another year. Older children naturally have the advantage socially and academically. To acknowledge and act on that idea is not ridiculous or calculating as a parent, but instead, respectful of your child’s well-being.

  21. smilnstace says:

    i am currently considering this dilemma. my daughter will be five in may and able to attend k-garten in the fall. she went to nursery school last year and she’s going to Preschool this year. She loves school but i still think we will hold her the extra year. i have been giving lots of thoughts as to my motives. i am not a “helicopter” parent. i just think that you have your entire life to be on a schedule why start if you don’t have too. my child is relatively intelligient; she did lots of things early but she is small for her age and she is an ACTIVE child. Lots of comments come my way about her being ADD. Which i found interesting in the article that younger children are often diagnosed as ADD. A few things i have read say well the younger ones are behind in the beginning but they catch up by grade 3 or 4. so, because they “catch up” it’s okay to make their educational experience more challenging?? I don’t think so. Yes, there will be an addtional cost to keeping her home another year. But for me…the financial expense it places on us for one year is better than the several years it might take her to “catch up”. We will also be sending our son a year later as well.

  22. Gabriele says:

    There are a lot of arguments from both sides (advocates of earlier or later admission). No one should forget, that parental care, especially in early years of young human, is something that could not be overestimated. It is not only the matter of education, but also emotional development of child.


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