When to start kindergarten

Around late August, parents like me, with children born in June through November, start the emotional process of determining when and where their child should start school. Most of us have no idea how to evaluate a school or determine when our summer/fall child should start.

A group of students raising their hands in a class setting

The rule of thumb is that parents know their children best and will know what’s the best timing and setting for their children. Of course, few parents are trained educators or psychologists who conduct research on the topic. In fact, most parents and early childhood educators are uninformed about the ramifications of holding a child back or the impacts of different settings on lifelong attitudes towards learning.

When I realized that I didn't know what the ramifications were of starting versus holding back my son, I started looking for scholarly research. My friend and co-parent has fall kids too and searched the professional psychology journals (she's a PhD in psychology) to inform our choices for our first-born, September children.

Reading Rockets does an amazing job of summarizing the research on when to start a child in school – with cites to the published research. My layman’s interpretation – holding your child back doesn’t help them succeed socially or academically. It “holds them back”. It makes kindergarten and first grade easier (i.e. fewer discipline/impulse control issues – especially if you have a boy) but it has no impact on success from 3rd grade on. In fact, research shows that students on the younger end often are more accustomed to striving in school (to keep up in kinder and 1st grade) so that by third grade, they outshine their older classmates because they know how to apply themselves.

If you’d like to hear professional educators discuss this issue, I recommend the Kindergarten Readiness podcast (registration required, but free). 

Since we knew that our bright, high energy child would need to be stimulated in class and that striving in kindergarten and first grade would start him developing expectations that you have to apply yourself in school, my husband and I determined that our son, a September birthday, would start school with his class according to the California cut-off – which is December.

Funny things happened when I spoke to potential schools after making this difficult decision. For example, I called a private school to inquire about their admissions deadline and it was August 31. I politely thanked them and said I would not need a tour or to apply since we missed the date. The woman on the phone attempted, for 15 minutes, to convince me that I should tour and that my son would be much, much better off if I had him repeat pre-K. She hadn’t met him or spoken with his preschool where he was already completing pre-K.

What are you basing this recommendation upon?

I just know – I’ve worked here for 7 years.  The younger kids struggle.

How do they struggle?

They’re just younger.  It’s easier for them if you wait another year.

Why not wait two?


He’s ready for kindergarten, but I respect your rules, we’ll find another school.

He’ll do better if you wait.

And so it continued until I finally gave up and shared both my husband and my birthdays (yup – fall babies) AND our academic accomplishments and honors (pretty good) – asking her how exactly we would have benefited from being held back – suffice to say, that closed the conversation.

We didn’t apply to that school – but we did review and visit 6-8 schools. And I found a passion for education innovation and education research. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share as much as I’ve learned so far. I’ll cover what to look for in a school, questions to ask the school and your spouse.  I’ll have a guest blogger writing about children with special needs and school selection.

What challenged you about selecting a school?  Why did you choose the one you are at?