I am one of those “lucky” parents who had a baby that was born in September, right before the fall cutoff to go to kindergarten in our state. I knew from the second that the stick turned pink that when my future child turned 4 we would have to make a decision: Would we send her to kindergarten and have her be the very youngest in her class? Or would we hold her back until the next year, knowing that she would be one of the oldest? The decision is not as easy as you might think, and the research out there about delaying kindergarten is definitely a mixed bag.
Some studies show that it can be great for a neurotypical kid to be the youngest in their class, that it pushes them to step up intellectually and emotionally to their older peers. They won’t ever be the bored kid, fidgeting and distracting the rest of the students.
One study even found that kids who waited to go to kindergarten had poorer academic outcomes when they got older. But other studies say that it can be better to wait; that children can benefit from being the older and more mature child in their class, mostly because they have better self-control. Thomas Dee, a co-author of a Stanford study supporting delaying kindergarten said that, “We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73% for an average child at age 11.”
We live in the age where we have studies and research to help guide us as we make parenting decisions, so what should we do when the research literally contradicts itself?
I think it depends on your situation and your particular child, but for us, we decided to wait, and here are the reasons why.
My husband and I both have moms who were elementary school teachers, so their perspective was definitely important when we made our decision. My mom even specialized in working with the children who struggled, and she said that, most of the time, she found that the struggling kid was one of the younger ones in the class. She told me that when the kids had a hard time in school, it changed everything for them. They had to work twice as hard as the other kids and didn’t have as much time to play, and that all created a situation where sometimes they didn’t even like school.
I also have had the experience of my older child being born right after the cutoff date. With him, I didn’t have a choice, he was just automatically the oldest kid in his class. It might just be his personality, but he’s thrived in the position of being a leader. He rocked kindergarten. He could control his emotions a bit better. He could sit a few seconds longer to listen to what the teacher was saying. He didn’t have separation anxiety. He didn’t need naps anymore.
And perhaps most importantly, kindergarten is now a lot harder than it used to be. It’s been said that kindergarten is the new first grade. No more just playing all day, taking naps, and making horrendous clay art. Kids are expected to start learning how to read, know their numbers up to 100, start simple addition, take tests, and sit still for extended periods of time. Free play and recess are severely limited.
My daughter is a mover, and I’m not sure she would have had the self-control at just barely 5-years-old to be successful in today’s kindergarten classroom. Especially with limited outputs for her energy.
Ultimately, I’m sure she would have been okay. She would have struggled a bit at first, mostly because she’s so bossy and would’ve wanted to be the teacher herself, but I think she would have learned the rules and routine and found a way to cope. But now that she’s a year older, I know that she will step in on day one and be emotionally ready — she’s still bossy, but she is better at self-monitoring now.
I feel like the benefits for delaying kindergarten for us outweighed the potential detriments. I know there are many parents who feel the same, and I know there are parents who felt that their younger child was mentally and emotionally ready (and they were right). Everyone needs to choose what they think is best for their own kid, their life and work situation, and be able to predict the future like a freaking seer – so good luck.