My 4 year old daughter desperately wants to go to "big kids" school like her big sister. She's currently in preschool now and seems to enjoy it. She's bright enough that she should pass all the educational requirements for entering kindergarten (recognize letters & numbers, count to 20, colors, etc.). She also seems to be emotionally mature enough, and holds her own with her peers and when in larger groups of children where she's the youngest participant. However, she's not old enough according to the standard guidelines.

My wife and I have been waffling back and forth on whether or not to send her to Kindergarten early. On one hand, she seems ready in every way and would thrive. On the other, I don't want her struggling or getting left out/behind because everyone else is at least 6 months older than her.

Assuming we can get her enrolled, what other factors should be taken into account when evaluating school-readiness?

Update: Apr-2015

In the intervening 4 years since I wrote this, here's how things ended up going. We had quite a bit of difficulty getting the requirements for early registration from the school and couldn't make the deadline, so she ended up starting school the next year after turning 5.

Socially she's thriving with a lot of friends and involved in activities. Academically she's in the school's QUEST program for gifted students.

Ultimately our daughter would have thrived whether she went early or on time.

Interestingly enough, our youngest is now 4 and we were possibly facing the same dilemma again. This time, the school administration required that we have our child take a particular battery of tests on our own dime (which I have no problem with), but can't point us to a provider -- nor are we able to find one on our own. However, we've realized that he's still got a bit of "growing up" to do yet, so waiting is definitely the best decision for him.


5 Answers 5


Peer pressure

I strongly believe that if the child is ready emotionally and intellectually, you should not hold them back as they need to be challenged to maintain their growing. I skipped a grade and was 4 years old at first grade. Since then, NJ and many of the states upped the grade to be 5 for KINDERGARDEN - which I don't understand. I think kids need the atmosphere of discipline and be engaged in social behavior as soon and as much as possible to prepare them to integrate into our society as an adult. Kids are yearning for knowledge when they are young.

So I was a whole year younger than my peers. Sure there was peer pressure, but I never did drugs or consume alcohol underage. I never even got a fake ID. I just wasn't in to it and that was ME. Every child is different, see below.


My husband on the other hand was deliberately "held back" a year by his parents so that he would be more mature for the kids his grade. This is one of the justifications if you are hoping your kids will get into sports. He has always been very mature and turned out to be really great in athletics. When you are older, you are more mature, bigger, taller, and stronger than the other kids which helps give you an edge. He also never did drugs but he did partake in underage drinking. He would talk his teachers' ears off in grade school. He enjoyed conversing with adults more than his peers probably because he was older.


I think that is great that you even have a decision to make here. Every child is different. If you want to maintain their social level, there are other ways to challenge them intellectually such as after-school programs. Many colleges offer courses (look into non-credit programs) that don't care about your age if you are finding that your child's current education is not stimulating enough.

I would look into whether or not there are options for them to skip a grade later that maybe you can fall back on. Some counties separate grade school from middle school physically so it might be easier to "leave friends behind" when you have to go to a totally different building for the higher grades and not see them every day in the hallways. They can hang out after school.

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    Do you have some research to support your claim that children both "need to be challenged to maintain their growing" and that school is the best place (or even just a good place) for this to occur? What kind of challenges do you imagine promote emotional growth? Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 0:49
  • @ReadyToLearn - I'm not trying to have a homeschool vs. school debate since the question already implies a school so the choice of setting is not relevant to the answer. You don't need research to support the word "challenge" as every day play and learning new tasks (how to use the toilet, use utensils, etc) are little challenges to babies/kids. Challenges to promote emotional growth you come across in social settings (such as in school/play-dates but not exclusively) are sharing, empathy, self control of your thoughts and actions, handling a bully, independence from the caregivers, etc.
    – Rhea
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 15:37
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    Everything you've said about what they need to learn sounds great. And you are right, challenge is required for growth. I just have doubts that 1 instructor per 20-30 students is really going to help that much in teaching the emotional skills you've mentioned. These strangers to the kids teach a government-selected curriculum, to meet testing standards, and in my experience they just cannot or do not engage with children on the level they need. Schools are full of challenges related to the emotional skills you've mentioned, but are strikingly missing the resources to actually teach them. Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 5:28

I was sent through school early as a child, although currently the trend seems to be to hold your child back. It seems the critical factor to evaluate is emotional readiness. I loved going through school young (one year) and was academically and socially able to thrive. The current thought is that it creates social challenges for emotionally less mature kids, as you mention. I think you have to know your child and trust your gut, and sometimes ignore the popular trend. I would send my child through early if I felt he were ready emotionally and academically come school time (he's an infant now) despite the current trends.

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    +1 good answer, though I'd like to add that not challenging a bright child enough can and will bring about all sorts of problems. If your child is already academically and emotionally ready, get her in there! Holding her back now may set her up for failure later.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 22:56

There are many arguments on either side. I want to make one point however:

People argue that if they are held back, then they may feel bored once they get to school because they are not challenged enough. If that is the case, then you may want to seek out better eduction or a different school. Any good educator will challenge them, regardless of the level of the child compared to others in the grade.

This should not be related to if they were held back or not, good quality education will recognize the advanced students regardless of the age.


While I did not skip a year, I was born at the exact boundary for the year splitup. While I never had any intellectual problem to stay ahead, emotionally I was not that advanced, and sometimes just didn't get what other kids were on about (esp. concerning things like sexuality). To me it is striking a balance. Also think about a year being very long for a 4 years old. Do you want her to be bored and unchallenged for another year? My (almost 5 years old) started school last September and he was absolutely more than ready. He is doing very well in his class (he is much better socially than me, he got it from his mother I guess) and would have absolutely be bored to death had he waited another year (He is from June, so also rather young to start).


I can't add much more to Rhea's answer. Hold them back if you want them to have an advantage in physical activities. Enroll early if you want them to have an advantage in their education. And in either case, make sure they are at an emotional maturity for the situation.

We struggled with this decision with our youngest boy. In terms of genes, I knew he likely wouldn't be a linebacker, and he really wasn't being challenged enough at preschool. He took too kindergarten immediately and has since excelled at his studies. As for sports, it turned out that he wasn't really into the team sports thing anyways and has found plenty of sports he enjoys that aren't tied to Americanized rituals of highschool (ie, football, baseball, hockey or basketball) so the size issue isn't even there.

He hasn't quite hit puberty yet, and that will be the likely next area that might cause some friction with him being the youngest in the class. Fingers crossed that we'll make it through that.

As for me, personally, I was also younger than most of my classmates. I did well at school but, in hindsight, I was probably always the more immature one socially. I can't say that my parents holding me back a year would have helped or not.

In the end, I think as long as you are a good parent (and you are if you are worrying about this) then that's all that really matters.

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