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My son is a “cutoff” baby: His birthday falls right on our district’s enrollment cutoff date, so we get to decide whether to enroll him in kindergarten for the fall, or do another year of pre-K. This means he’ll likely be either the youngest or the oldest in the class. I’m not sure he’s ready for kindergarten right now—he still struggles with some behavioral stuff, like throwing toys or spitting at other kids. But I’m having a hard time convincing myself to hold him back. Somebody has to be the youngest, right?

Indecisive in Ohio

A photo of Caroline.

Caroline Cahuantzi

Caroline has worked in education since 2006, serving as a classroom and adult educator, teacher evaluator and coach, and school operations manager. These days, she’s EdNavigator’s resident operations and technology wizard.

Dear Indecisive,

You’re right, of course, that “somebody has to be the youngest.” But it’s also true that some children will thrive in the younger role, while others will be happier as the older kids in the group. And you’re in a very unique position, in that you get to make this choice rather than having it made for you. You also avoid the dilemma faced by other parents of having to choose between kindergarten now or kindergarten never, because in states that don’t mandate a kindergarten year, families that choose to hold their child back may be required to enroll in first grade the following year.

So you’re lucky, in that sense, that you get to make this decision based purely on what you prefer for your child. At the same time, you’ve got a challenging decision to make. Let’s look at a few factors:

Your son’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 son could benefit from another year of social development, that’s a valid reason to wait. A preschool or pre-K class will likely have fewer children and more adults than a kindergarten classroom.

    The root causes of his current behaviors. There’s a spectrum of what is developmentally “typical” for a given age, and kids are different. If you haven’t already done this, you might want to speak to your pediatrician to try to get at the root of the behaviors you’re observing, like the toy throwing and spitting. Your pediatrician might recommend another year of preschool to give him more time to develop some of those emotional regulation skills, or they might think he’ll do just fine building those skills as a kindergartner. Whatever you decide, you can work with your son’s doctor and teachers to figure out a plan to support him with his learning.

      The potential for more remote learning. This is a weird year, of course, and there’s a decent chance that the next school year will be interrupted in some fashion or another, too. Your district could revert back to remote learning for some periods of time, or they might opt for a hybrid model. It’s hard to know for sure. A daycare center or preschool, meanwhile, is more likely to remain open for in-person learning; many of them haven’t closed at all throughout the pandemic. And remote learning for kindergarten is not ideal, and particularly not ideal for a child who will benefit from the social development of being in a classroom. (All children will benefit from this at your son’s age, to be clear—but some children will inevitably do better at remote learning than others.)

        Financial matters. Finally, unless you’re in a district with public pre-K, you’re probably paying for 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.

          To put this all together, there’s no right or wrong answer here for your cutoff kid. As you say, some children will always be the youngest, and I get the sense that you’re weighing up the “fairness” of keeping him out of kindergarten for an extra year. It is true that 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. At the same time, you need to feel confident that your child is ready to have a good school experience. If you were asking if I thought you should do an extra year of preschool so he could be the tallest child in the class and be the star on the varsity basketball team, I’d probably raise an eyebrow. But you’re asking if he’s developmentally ready, and I think that’s a different consideration—particularly in such a strange time for schools and families.

          “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.”