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What Are the Pros & Cons of Delaying Kindergarten?

'If your kid is excited about being in school, it's going to be fine'

I’m the mom of a kid with a right-against-the-registration-cutoff birthday who didn’t wait for the next school year. My husband’s reasons and mine were manifold (we’re both teachers; our child was excited to start school; um, we were going broke paying for two kids in preschool/day care), but we did ultimately decide to go ahead and put him in with the earlier enrollment. If I had to do over again, I’d put it off. So I may not be an unbiased source on this matter, but I have given the topic a lot of consideration. If you're struggling to decide whether to delay kindergarten, let's take a look at the pros and cons.

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Obviously, each kid is different and your experience will not necessarily be the same as ours. However, it seems our case is not unique. A Japanese study even suggested that those with close-to-cutoff birthdays might be at a higher risk of suicide, possibly due to greater academic struggles and subsequent diminished opportunities. We’re not jumping to this level of concern, certainly — and the challenges we’ve seen have in many ways decreased over the years. But they have been present, real and ongoing.

Here are some reasons delaying enrollment could have been a better choice.

Social disadvantage

Our son is both intellectually mature and socially immature. This produced the obvious friend consequences. His peers have understood coalition-building, boundaries, teasing and more recently, boy-girl relationships before he has.

It’s also had the less-anticipated effect of perhaps too-high teacher expectations. Physically, he is tall for his age, and therefore resembles his classmates. He’s had several teachers who have expressed frustration or irritation with him for not also possessing the equivalent emotional development, and that’s made for some rocky years academically. In the big picture, delaying kindergarten may impact the overall success of a group. Economically advantaged families are usually the ones delaying kindergarten, and it may cause kids with fewer resources to start school further behind than they might be otherwise, which also causes a later imbalance within the classroom.

Physical disadvantage

Wait, didn’t I just say he resembles his classmates? Yes. But his other physical development is still nearly a year behind some of them, and when it comes to coordination, he’s at a disadvantage. We didn’t hand him a very athletic gene pool to start, but he’s also just not as far along as his peers. For example, when they were becoming more adept with hand-eye coordination and thus doing better at T-ball in gym class, he was behind and often discouraged.

More: 7 totally unexpected things that happen when your kid starts kindergarten

Academic disadvantage

Let’s be clear here on the distinction between intellectual and academic. Intellectually, he’s been fine. He understands what he’s taught and readily masters most concepts. Academically... that’s a different story. The expectations for school overlap in many places with social-emotional development. Kids are expected to be able to focus, pay attention to detail and work cooperatively as appropriate for their age. These are all necessary skills, but ones that kids tend to develop as they age. A younger child will often be less successful at mastering these expectations than an older one. Furthermore, an older child will often have a greater advantage in elementary testing, which may affect the opportunities they have access to; in our school district, for example, these tests often determine access to advanced academic opportunities.

Now that I’ve completely convinced you to hold your child back and wait for the next go-around, let’s look at the other side of the argument. Here are some reasons why on-time enrollment might have been the better option after all.

Social advantage

Socially, delaying kindergarten may deconstruct existing friend groups formed in preschool or activities. If the other kids are all getting ready to start school and yours is the lone holdout, it may be tough to explain why your child is the one who won’t be hopping on the bus with everyone else.

Physical advantage

This aspect is harder to see the sunny side of. Realistically, physical maturity is often a reason for delay (such as ability to perform better in athletics). Developmental maturity, such as hand-eye coordination and motor coordination, tends to become normalized for most kids; however, particularly as they relate to ability within the classroom, these benchmarks are usually expected within a range of years.

Academic advantage

Academically, there seems to be significant support for not delaying enrollment. A 2006 study by the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Southern California, for example, suggests that keeping kids back may ultimately lead to decreased test scores and higher dropout rates.

More: What are the differences between preschools?

Ultimately, school enrollment is about exactly that: school. Your child will learn the alphabet, numbers and how to stand in a line without poking others. If he or she is excited about being in school and learning, it’s going to be fine — whenever you decide it’s time for them to get on the bus.

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