What's the Ideal Age to Start Kindergarten? The Answer May Surprise You

Apparently, one in 11 four- and five-year-old children in the United States won’t be going to kindergarten this year. And it’s not because of school closings or overcrowding, it’s because Mom and Dad say so. The delay is called redshirting and it’s when parents put off kindergarten to give their kiddo an academic advantage. (The term comes from a practice in college sports that can give some athletes an edge.)

Think about it: If your child is the oldest when entering kindergarten he’s more likely to have those ABCs mastered while those poor 4.5 year olds may still be struggling to recognize the letter A -- he’ll feel smarter and be encouraged by learning -- hello Harvard! The problem, according to this The New York Times article, is that any advantage that older kids exhibit in kindergarten disappears by the end of elementary school. And the disadvantages pile up. For example, redshirted kids are less motivated in higher grades and actually earn less money over their lifetime.

I’m lucky, in a way. My oldest son missed the kindergarten cut-off date by a matter of weeks this year. He’s in Pre-K while his close buddies who were born a month earlier are all matriculating. I see the parents of the youngest-in-class panicking, believing that their child simply isn’t ready academically. I get it. Heck, I panic when we go on playdates with kids who are churning out pictures that look like people and who write their name in a totally legible manner. (Let’s just say, there are a lot of scribbley shapes hanging on my fridge.)

I’m relieved that my child has one more year before big-kid school. After all, kindergarten is not what it used to be. While I was expected to possibly be able to wipe my own bum by the time I exited kindergarten, my son will be expected to read.

But you know what? If my boy did qualify for kindergarten this year, I’m pretty sure I would have tossed him in. As the Times story notes, “some children, especially boys, are slow to mature emotionally, a process that may be aided by the presence of older children.” I see it with my youngest, who’s two. He’s forced to hang with older kids all of the time and he’s way better off for it -- his language and athletic skills are beyond where his big brother's were at the same age. Not a shock, according to the same article. Apparently, kids who were among the youngest in class made significantly more progress in reading and math than older kids and scored higher on verbal I.Q. tests. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if that research caught a buzz -- parents everywhere would be trying to shoehorn their barely 4-year-olds into school.

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