School Enrollment / School Readiness / Ages 2-7

What Parents Need to Know About Delaying Kindergarten

The decision to hold your child back from kindergarten for an extra year can be a fraught one for families. Here’s what you should know.

Families with children on the young side for their year group often ask us if they should consider keeping their child in an extra year of preschool before starting kindergarten. There's no easy answer here. Delaying kindergarten can raise questions about what’s best for your kid, and what’s best for other people’s kids, too. Families also need to consider the rules in their state and school district.

If you have a child with a “cusp birthday” (usually those kids born right before or after September 1, but the cutoff does vary by school district), you might be weighing up all your options. Maybe your child seems much younger than their peers, and the idea of them in a classroom with children almost a full year older than them feels intimidating. Maybe you’re worried that they aren’t ready for kindergarten due to behaviors that “seem young,” like a lack of emotional regulation.

Here are some things to consider as you make this decision:

  • Your state and school district’s policies about kindergarten enrollment. Not all states mandate kindergarten. If you live in a state where kindergarten is technically optional, then you might not have the choice to hold your child back an extra year. There are probably birthdate requirements for kindergarten enrollment, and if your child stays home in the year they are technically kindergarten eligible, they’ll be expected to enroll in first grade the following year. In that case, losing a year of school can be detrimental since they’ll learn and develop so much in kindergarten.
  • Your child’s readiness for kindergarten. To be honest, this idea of kindergarten “readiness” can be misconstrued. A lot of parents think their kids need to be academically prepared in ways that are truly not necessary. For example, some children will start kindergarten already knowing all their letters; others will learn the alphabet soon. Children do not need to be reading or writing yet in order to be ready for kindergarten; some children will be doing those things at this age, and others won’t. That said, if you feel that your child could benefit from another year of social development, that could be a valid reason to wait. A preschool or pre-K class will likely have fewer children and more adults than a kindergarten classroom. It never hurts to consult with your pediatrician about this, too. Your doctor might recommend another year of preschool to give your child more time to develop those emotional regulation and social skills, or they might think your child will do just fine building those skills as a kindergartner. Whatever you decide, you can work with your child’s doctor and teachers to figure out a plan to support your child with their learning.
“Research shows that, most of the time, the age a child starts kindergarten doesn’t make much difference for their long-term outcomes.”
  • Financial matters. Unless you’re in a district with public pre-K, you’re probably paying for childcare or preschool right now—and another year of that is no small thing. If your family opts to enroll in kindergarten to save on tuition, that is a totally valid reason for enrolling now.
  • Someone has to be the youngest. When parents who can afford another year of preschool keep their children out of kindergarten, while other parents can’t do that, it raises important equity questions. Families that choose to delay kindergarten tend to be higher income and more highly educated than those who don’t. And research shows that, most of the time, the age a child starts kindergarten doesn’t make much difference for their long-term outcomes.

Bottom line? 

Some families have valid reasons to keep their children in a preschool setting for an additional year (or ultimately repeat kindergarten, which may be another option). This was particularly true in the immediate aftermath of the first year of the pandemic, when children missed so much social interaction and learning time, too. But for the majority of children, it doesn’t matter much whether they’re the oldest or the youngest in their grade—and enrolling your child in kindergarten when they’re eligible will probably be just fine.