There's a 'Right' Age for Starting Kindergarten, Says Science

kid boarding school bus
The question of when kids should start kindergarten has been a subject of heated debate among parents and educators for years. Most recently, parenting trends have leaned in the direction of "redshirting," or postponing kindergarten for a year so that kids can be more developed intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Now, yet another study seems to suggest that starting school later is the way to go -- but is this really true for all students?


According to researchers from Stanford University, kids whose parents waited to put them in kindergarten until the age of 6 had better self-control than children who started at age 5. And not just a little bit better, either: An analysis of the Danish Birth Cohort, a study of over 54,000 parents who provided data about their kids at ages 7 and 11, found that children who started a year later had 73 percent better outcomes when they were tested for hyperactivity and inattention four years later.

More from CafeMom: Redshirting: Does Holding Kids Back Really Help Them Excel in School?

It makes sense, at least theoretically. Kids develop self-control -- what psychologists call "executive function" -- over time, learning how to focus (even when faced with distractions) and manage their impulses through observing their parents, socializing with peers, and creative play. So the more time they have, the better ... right?

Delaying kindergarten is hardly a new concept: Brought to the public's attention in part by Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 bestselling book Outliers, which argued in favor of redshirting kindergartners for long-term success, the practice has become increasingly popular with parents looking to give their kids a competitive edge. Still, other experts insist that delaying kindergarten doesn't give kids much of an advantage in the long term. So how do we know what the best decision is for our kids?

I'm no expert -- just a mother of three -- but I do have some personal experience with the great when-to-start-kindergarten debate that makes me skeptical about how necessary and/or beneficial it really is to delay the start of school. As someone with a November birthday, I started kindergarten at the age of 4 -- and while I do remember crying a lot in those first few months of kindergarten (I missed my mom, okay?!), I found my footing quickly and excelled academically.

My middle son, whose birthday is in October, also started kindergarten when he was 4 (against the recommendation of his preschool teacher, who thought that because he was a little shy, he might benefit from the "gift of an extra year"). And while I was conflicted about my decision at the time, it became clear almost immediately that it was the right one: Not only did my son do very well, both academically and socially, in those early years, but the trend continued -- now in middle school, he takes advanced classes, gets high scores on standardized tests, and has more friends than I can keep up with (not shy anymore!). I have no doubt that he would be bored out of his mind at school if I'd held him for a year.

Of course, I am in no way implying that my decision is the right one for every parent. My point is exactly the opposite: Every child is different. We can't really say that delaying kindergarten would be beneficial for every child, just like we can't really say that starting kindergarten early is the way to go for every kid. It's all about knowing your own individual children and tuning into where they're at, developmentally, and what they need to thrive.

More from CafeMom: Want Happier, Healthier Kids? Put Off Kindergarten for a Year

Whether our children are behind or ahead of their peers isn't really the point -- what matters is that they're exactly where they need to be. They should feel both comfortable and challenged in their learning environment, and if they're less or more stimulated than the rest of their class, that's not going to happen.

It's a tricky issue to be sure, and one that requires a lot of careful consideration to navigate. But we have to pay attention to our children's individual needs, interests, and quirks -- and hopefully find educators and administrators who are willing to be flexible and collaborate with us, no matter how old our children are.

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