Ideally, the best age to start kindergarten depends on the clues your child gives you. You, with helpful guidance from the teacher in an pre-assessment situation, are the best judge of his or her readiness. You can tell if your child is socially ready to be away from you and open herself or himself up to a broader array of friendships. Secondarily a child should be able to grasp basics such as counting and color recognition, and have intelligible speech. Unfortunately, parents often do not feel they can consider only the needs of the child.
Regardless of the age a child starts kindergarten, that child may have difficulty leaving his parent’s side unless that child has been exposed to some other activity which they could participate in on their own, such as a preschool, arts and crafts class, or some type of sports class such as gymnastics. Even if the child attends one of those classes for a mere hour a couple times a week, it is preparation for the temporary separation from his or her parents. Children who have a difficult time adjusting to being away from their parents and display such behavior as crying or having tantrums for long periods at school are not ready for kindergarten.
It is best if the child can learn some basics from his or her parents at home or at a preschool or daycare setting before starting kindergarten. This will help the child adjust easier because he or she won’t be struggling from the start to catch up. The teacher will build upon the basics of counting to number and shape recognition, from the reciting of ABC’s to letter recognition. It will help that child in the learning process at school to have some basics in place. However, a child who has not been in a preschool setting or taught at home will generally catch up to the other students by the middle of the year. If a child waits too long to start school, it may not be enough of a challenge for him.
I mention intelligible speech as a factor because my son was not understood by others at the age of 4. He was an intelligent preschooler who had the basics by the time he was four, but I was concerned that he would have a difficult time adjusting because the other children would not understand his speech and would potentially make fun of him. He attended a preschool speech class which was free through the school district and improved his speech to the point where others understood him before he turned at the end of his fifth year. His speech teacher thought school might be too easy for him if he started later, a couple months before his sixth birthday, but after another year of speech with him, she was convinced that it had been a good decision to wait a year. He made a quick adjustment to school and although school has been relatively easy for him at times, he works independently and is somewhat of a leader.
If a child’s birthday is close to the deadline of starting, you should take into account the readiness aspects and as a general guideline, start girls at the younger age and wait a year for the boys. The boys generally are less mature at this age and will have better success at school if they wait a year to start. Starting a year later is preferable to repeating kindergarten.
Parents may consider their financial situation when deciding when to start a child in kindergarten. However, it is best to primarily base the decision on the child’s readiness for kindergarten and place the child in a preschool if the parent needs to work. There are many funded preschools for low income families. This would also be the best solution for integrating a child into this country who does not speak English. A child placed into kindergarten before he or she is ready will either repeat kindergarten, be promoted without the necessary foundation for success in future grades, or take away needed attention from the rest of the class for remedial work.
Readiness for kindergarten should be based on the child and not on outside circumstances. This is a huge social adjustment for the child and priority should be given to his needs and readiness.