Parenting • Apr 27, 2015

Kindergarten cut-off dates; Should you “red shirt” your child or push her ahead?

My daughter was born a few days after our state’s August 1st kindergarten cut-off date.  If we followed state regulations, she would be 6-years-old when she started kindergarten.  Her nursery school would not even permit her to enter the pre-K class until after her 5th birthday.  This seemed ridiculous to me, a former East Coaster that is accustomed to later kindergarten cut-off dates like October 1st (New Jersey), and January 1st (Connecticut).  As a pediatrician, I knew she was ready for kindergarten.  I wanted to push her ahead.  Essentially everyone told me I was crazy.  But I did it anyway—we sent her to a private school that accepted young kindergarteners.  Here’s our story, and the research to support our decision.  Kindergarten

I contacted more than ten schools to ask if they would accept my daughter.  I thought they’d applaud me for not choosing to “red-shirt” my child—hold her back intentionally so that sports and school would come easily.  Not so—all but one principal told me I was making a big mistake.  One school counselor told us to, “leave now.”  An experienced principal of more than 30 years gave me a half-hour lecture about the research against younger kids in kindergarten and why I was wrong to want to push my daughter (whom she never met).  A private school principal told me that she was legally obligated to stick to our state cut-off date because the school received government subsidized milk (there is no such obligation).  But we did the horrific deed anyway—we sent our 5-year-old to kindergarten. 

We sent our daughter to private school for kindergarten with the intent of transferring her into our public school for first grade.  Our public schools will accept your child into first grade as long as they have completed an accredited kindergarten.  Many private schools will not accommodate these kinds of transfers.

We knew our daughter was ready for kindergarten—socially, emotionally, and academically.  If we left her in preschool another year, she’d be with kids more than a year younger than her.  She was already bossy and socially dominant.  I was afraid that leaving her in preschool another year would perpetuate false self-confidence.  I wanted her to be challenged academically at school and learn personal responsibility skills like picking up after herself.  I had no doubt that she would thrive socially.

“It’s better to be the oldest,” people told me.  “Everything will come easily to her—sports, academics, social life.”  But I wasn’t sure I wanted everything to come easily to her.  I wanted her to be challenged, learn to push herself, learn that success comes from hard work, not just innate intelligence.

I worried about the physical aspects of being almost a year older than some of her classmates.  Would she get her period in 4th grade?  Would she have romantic interests before everyone else, become attracted to “older boys” who didn’t have her best interests in mind?

People told me, “You’ll never regret letting her be a child for one more year.”  But time is not free—our daughter will have another year of her life as a young adult.  It’s up to her how she uses this time.  She can easily choose to take a year off from school and travel, do volunteer work, etc.  Maybe she’ll be able to finish her education before having her own children.  I’m happy to give this gift to her.  She gets to decide how to use this “extra” year of her life—not me.

The nay-saying educators who discouraged us from pushing our daughters weren’t all wrong—there is good research that shows that children who enter kindergarten at an older age do better academically than those who are the youngest in their kindergarten class.  This academic advantage seems to last at least through the third grade.  The oldest kids in the class have the best standardized test scores.  This, I suspect, is the real reason why kindergarten cut-off dates have been creeping back in the United States.  The older the kindergartners, the better the standardized test scores, and the better the state’s educational system looks on paper.  But where do we draw the line?

Our states have forgotten something—each child is an individual, not a statistic.  Kindergarten readiness has much more to do with the child’s behavior, abilities, and pre-school experience than age.  The same research that shows the academic advantage of older kindergarteners concludes the following:

          The fact that age-of-entry effects were small in magnitude and dwarfed by other
aspects of children’s family and child care experiences suggests that age at starting
school should not be regarded as a major determinant of children’s school achievement,
but that it may merit consideration in context with other probably more important factors
(e.g., child’s behavior and abilities).
[emphasis mine]

From the National Institute of Child Health and Development

Pushing back kindergarten cut-off dates does not help our children.  If test scores indicate that kids aren’t doing well in kindergarten, making them wait another year for education is not the answer.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on School Readiness:

          Children’s readiness for kindergarten should become an outcome measure for
community-based programs, rather than an exclusion criterion at the beginning
of the formal educational experience. Our new knowledge of early brain and child
development has revealed that modifiable factors in a child’s early experience can
greatly affect that child’s learning trajectory.

For my daughter, kindergarten went very well.  There were no concerns about her social skills or academics.  Sports were the big exception—you can’t get away from grade-level and age when it comes to sports, and being the youngest had its challenges.  She learned to swim after most of the other kids in her class, and swim parties were hard.  She played soccer, and I do feel she was at a disadvantage to the girls who were almost a year older than her.  Now, as a second-grader, she loves soccer and seems to have caught up with her older teammates.

After kindergarten our family made an unexpected big decision—instead of transferring our daughter to public school for first grade, we switched to homeschooling.  There were many reasons for this decision and I discuss them in detail in my article, “18 Reasons Why Doctors and Lawyers Homeschool Their Children.”  Our daughter’s age was not a major factor in our choice to homeschool, but homeschooling has turned out to be an excellent solution to this kindergarten cut-off issue.  Our daughter can move at her own pace academically and socially.  She interacts with kids of mixed ages at our homeschool co-op.  Even PE is a mixed-age class, so she’s not always the youngest athlete.  In homeschooling, grade level has more to do with ability than age.  A child can be in 5th grade math but 2nd grade writing.  Each child gets an education tailored to their individual needs.  Which begs the question, why do we divide up kids by age for school anyway?  Why not divide by ability?  Why not just test kids to see if they are ready for kindergarten?

One principal I spoke with was honest about this.  “We used to test children for kindergarten readiness, but there were too many problems when a child didn’t qualify for kindergarten.  Now we just use a cutoff date.”  Our children deserve better than this.

Here is a list of kindergarten cut off dates by state.  


  1. I understand your feelings about a “one size fits all” solution to the age cut off. However, as a mom of 2 boys with April birthdays, being the youngest in the class was very difficult for them. Boys vs Girls, maybe? We know that at a younger age, girls often exhibit readiness for academic lessons before boys and you are dead on about physical ability and age being closely linked. Younger kids have it harder. Yes, kids need to learn that not everything comes easy in life, but do we really need to set them up for extra challenges?
    And in defense of schools who follow strict cut-off dates, they have to deal with a lot of parents who are less involved and educated than you are. How many 2- working-parent household moms and dads or single parents today really spend quality time with their pre-schooler so that they can accurately gauge their child’s readiness for school? I think the number is fewer than it should be. So while you make a good argument for your child, I think your point of view is a bit skewed and perhaps not very helpful for a many parents. Schools do need benchmarks to follow and good screening practices aren’t always in place or when they are, they do not provide enough information for decisions.
    And not every school system refuses to honor the wishes of parents and adheres to rigid cut off dates… our original school district in Ohio was extremely flexible in testing and respecting our wishes on placement in school. The same goes for our current system in Georgia, even if they are a little more rigid. We had a few rough years ( we have a child on an IEP and the other has a visual perception delay) and we made the decision to hold both boys back. It was the best decision for them. Not because we’re trying to “red-shirt” them for sports or give them any unfair advantage, but because they were on the younger side and just not ready academically with their extra needs. We hope it will all even out for them as it seems to have for your daughter, but not every child has a great advocate in their corner. And being a good advocate for your child means that you have to fight for what is right for them. It is what every good parent should strive for.
    I enjoy reading all of the articles posted on this site but I this one really bothered me a little. Our children are only children once. I don’t believe we need to think in terms of “banking a year for them” somewhere down the road if we can. Give them every opportunity for learning and enriching their lives, but let them be children for as long as we can.

  2. I have a three year old that just missed the cutoff date in California. I think he’s ahead of his time also. I’ve been doing my research and I was thinking of sending him to a Montessori school where he would be in a mixed age group- the first age group is 3-6 years old. That way he can go at his own pace. I agree that there needs to be some individualized assessments.

  3. Pingback: Check This Out
  4. Amen. Since when was having things come easily a good thing? Doesn’t do much to build character or resilience. And why do these theories insist on lumping all boys together and all girls together? Children are ALL so different.

  5. My husband and I received this same kind of advice from many in the school system, when our daughter was five. Indiana’s cut-off date then was June 1st, which was the earliest in the nation. Our daughter has a June 11 birthday. The principal at the public school she later attended basically told me that I was wrong to think she was ready, and that I might be ruining her life! She would not allow her to be tested for possible early admittance. Both our preschool teacher and our pediatrician thought she was ready. My husband and I knew she was too. We sent her to the local Catholic school for kindergarten and first grade. She had a great experience and excelled. Yes, some of her friends were a year older and were ahead of her in reading and sports until third grade. Then there did not seem to be a difference. Our daughter is now almost 20. She graduated 7th in her class, was a leader in many extracurricular activities, and had high SAT and ACT scores. She is doing well in a competitive environment at her university’s business school. However, with our son who is now in third grade, we made the opposite choice and held him out until he was six. He is just as bright as his sister but was not nearly as mature as she was at age five. He was a follower in preschool and small for his age. We were just as sure about holding him back for a year as we were about sending his sister at five. He has become much more of a leader in his class than I believe he would have been. I believe this enabled him to have more confidence too. Two different kids, two different decisions. Both choices the right ones for each individual.

  6. I held my November baby son back, and I’m glad I did. School for bright children is simply boring. But if you are on top of it, it is totally manageable at the elementary school level. Adolescence is the toughest for a child. Speaking as a child who was pushed ahead as an October baby, to be the youngest and smallest in high school is very tough socially. Being older allowed my son to develop a great sense of confidence. He was a positive leader among his peers. If you are able to put in the time and effort to navigate the boredom in elementary school for the child, life completely changes in high school. Good high schools will have college prep, honors and AP programs that your child can flourish academically. My son was able to hang out with his age group and still become an AP State Scholar (passing 7 AP tests with a score of 4 or above). He never felt socially out of place. When he graduated at 18, he was old enough to take a job as a camp counselor. As an October baby, most of my friends were in the grade below me. Also, I always felt out of place looking for a job until after I turned 21. I wasn’t able to get the jobs of my grade-level peers because I didn’t meet the legal-age requirements. Best to keep your children home an extra year while they are young, you have influence, and they enjoy learning things from you, instead of having them float around in their young adulthood with one year less of maturity to make adult decisions. My November baby graduates from college this year. After graduation, I’m hoping that he finds a full-time job and does not prolong his early adulthood as a dependent in my house, eating my food, not paying rent and bossing me around, because he really think he knows it all right now….

  7. I am reading this story and also wondering about the birthday cut off issue. The cut off here is Aug 1 and our son makes that cut off by a few days – because be was born 6 weeks early. He is already signed up for the fall but now I am wavering. He was so tiny and has had many medical issues in his life that I am fairly positive he would have needed that extra year if not for the fantastic pre-k program he has been in. I know academically he is ready but as his mother I struggle with what is right for him on a more emotional level.

  8. I am going through this issue now with my son. He misses the cutoff by a couple of weeks, but is smarter than kids older than him. I am thinking about homeschooling for kindergarten, then transferring him to school for first grade. I just need to find out if this would be acceptable by our school. I would think as long as he passes the assessment tests after the year of homeschooling, then they can’t deny his entrance into public school. That would be discrimination against homeschooled kids. Anyone have any experience?

  9. I’m holding both my daughters back as their birthdays are just within a week before the cut off date. I feel the benefit comes not in the kindergarten and elementary years but in middle and high school years. To each his own.

  10. “One size fits all” doesn’t apply to kids and when they start school. Every child is different and the parent knows him/her best. I have 3 kids and my youngest has early August bday. I knew that she would start KG just after turning 5 because she was ready, had older siblings, and was socially ready. I know many parents who held their child ‘back” so they could excel at sports, not academics. My daughter has thrived at school academically and she plays many sports, in which her age has never been an issue. Now in 6th grade, I can see where she may lag behind where her friends talk constantly about boys and she is not really interested – but that may be her personality, who knows? I have not regretted my decision to send her as the youngest child in her class.

  11. I’m in the East Coast and the cutoff date here is 5 years old before October 1st. My son turned 5 in August and I immediately put him in Kindergarten for several reasons I did not want to pay more tuition for his preschool and where I’m from, an Asian country, we don’t believe in “red shirting” and we even believe its more impressive when they go to school younger. Yes its all about pride and prestige. But I do understand the social aspects. I figured he went to preschool so he shouldn’t have any problems with social interaction. My son is half white by the way. I can tell you that most of the people around me, even my sister in law advised waiting until he was 6 for kindergarten. She did that for her own son. Well, my son just finished kindergarten and he has perfect grades (all of them under the “exceeded expectations” and his reading level was deemed as “advanced”)

    Now I have to confess that I agree with the previous poster about having a strong advocate for a child in regards to their education learning. I am not a stay at home but my Mom lives with me and she is instrumental in following up on my two sons’ education. They both read at 2.5/3 years old. And thanks to my Mom, they are both a grade level up as I would purchase a higher grade activity books for them to work on. So even though he is entering 1st grade he is halfway done completing 2nd grade activity books (while the youngest is doing K books)

    Another thing is my husband is a 6 footer and I’m 5 feet. Thankfully for my oldest son, he inherited my husband’s height so right now he is similar or even slightly bigger/taller than his classmates (most who are presumably a year older than him).

    So in my case, it really helps if there is someone at home to keep at it with their child in terms of studying. He’s one of the youngest in the class but he excelled. Sorry I know I’m bragging lol but he even answered two trick questions of multiplication (3×3 and 10×10).

  12. You did the right thing. Seven years ago, when my son was turning 5, he missed the MO cut-off by 18-days – he was already adding to the 100’s place, understood place value and base 10, understood so many science based concepts, and knew is letters and sounds. The idea of holding him back for another year just because he wouldn’t be 5 before August 1 seemed so silly. When I grew up the cut-off was December 31 and no one in my class, or classes ahead or behind me were left back for lack of keeping up or getting along socially. A full year may not seem like a big deal when they’re 5, but graduation is at 19, college 23, masters 25 and post-grad as late as 36. That is a lot of years difference when it comes to earning potential and future retirement options for your child! A single year contribution of $10,000 towards retirement can equal in excess of $75,000 retirement money! There were no schools – not even private that would let my son start early, so I homeschooled – now in 6th grade, he’s doing great still – youngest in all grade-based activities, but a natural leader in them!

  13. I am a 57 year old woman who was pushed ahead. I was academically above average, but, as a shy person I felt socially awkward during my entire educational experience. Forget sports. My self-esteem was battered being smaller and less coordinated than my classmates.
    I kept both my children from entering school when they were legally able to. My son was a summer boy and my daughter, born 14.5 months later, would have made the cutoff by 10 days. Because they were the oldest or nearly so, they were able to be natural leaders and dependable. I did not base my decision at all on sports ability. That didn’t even occur to me.
    The age advantage disappeared in 4th grade, but reappeared in 7th grade and continued through their high school years.
    To those who feel their children are ready to enter school as the youngest in their class: your decision today could impact your child for the rest of their life. Be sure.

  14. The finnish, who have the best education system in the world dont start their kids in school until age 7 and dont finish until 19. Thets their normal. This oush to send babies to school is largely ridiculous. Because whe. It matters the most ( in college) the vast majority of very young ones will not have the easiest transition. You may poo poo that fact now but it becomes a (much) bigger factor the older they get. The older ones dont have that disadvantage. That said, i’m not for redshirting.

    Another things…. The vast, vast majority of doctors and lawyers take their kids to traditional schools. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

    Oh and just because a 2.5 year old can sound out words does not mean they are ‘reading’. smh.

  15. Thank you so much for this article…mine is a December 5 yro. And I am terrified she will become delinquent if not challenged. I appreciate your time in putting this thoughtful article together. Jewelz

  16. Thanks so much for this. As a nj native myself i was used to later cut off. My daughter was born in NJ amd we would have been ok but we moved to tx. I believe each child is different. Like your daughter, mine is independent and bossy and loves learning. She wont be 3 until october and is beginning to write her letters. I have time but i already know i will not keep her back. As an educator i know i will homeschool or private school. Also, being of nigerian descent many Nigerian children are already reading by age 2. I am all abput the challenge!

  17. Hi . I am travelling to NJ in November and i found out the Cut off Dates for all major school is October 1st. My child is born on 27th October and so he misses and i will have to enroll him in a day care. My concern here we are travelling from India where the School opens in June and he has already finished half of his term and is capable of forming sentences, can write and spell from 1-20 and have is well versed with three to four letter words. Is there any provision where i can speak to the board and present to them all his work done in school in India through which they can qualify him to kindergarten even though he does not qualify as per the cut off date. I really do not want to send him to day care and plus he would be wasting his one whole year and next year when he starts half of the year he would be doing things which he has already done in his school here in India.

    Anyone here can suggest any ideas to present in front of the school so they can consider giving him an admission in the kindergarten and i also also ready if they want to evaluate him by taking a small test on his skills. Please advise.

  18. Hi Akash & Mittal,
    Have you figured any thing? My kid is falling in same loop, he is almost finished grade 1 in India but he need to join Kindergarten. I heard parsippany has the cut of date of till December but I already took the admission here in Plainsboro, NJ as Parsippany is too far for my office. Is there any way kid can be considered for 1st class rather than kindergarten. Appreciate your help if you come across any helpful information.

  19. I have a daughter who turned 5 in December. We live in an area where the cut off is 10/1. Upon starting preschool, I debated putting my daughter in a 2 year old program at the age of 2 years 8 Months, or putting her in a 3 year old program. The school asked me to bring her in and they would help me determine. They advised she enter the 3 year old program. In this program she ended up being the most advanced in her class and when the program was over the teachers insisted that she go on to the 4 year old. At this point I figured she could repeat prek since she wouldn’t be old enough for starting K anyway. She completed the prek program and again was at the top of her class. The teachers insisted that she was beyond ready for K. She was already reading small sight words and adding and subtracting. The social aspect was never an issue and often parents were shocked when they found out her age. Since I had to pay for another year of school, I decided that she would do private K and then she would just repeat K in public school. I assumed that she would do fine, but would still have room to grow since she was so young. People of course had a lot of comments and concerns hearing that my 4 year old would be in K. I read articles about it and really thought about it long and hard. I really thought that this would be my last year of agonizing over where to put her. She ended up being in class with kids who were 12-13 months older than her. I definitely had my reservations at this point just because I was focusing on age and not my particular child. Also, other parent comments were making me doubt my decision even though in my gut, I felt as though these kids were her peers. I recently registered her for public school and didn’t put any thought to it. Then, I was called in for a conference to discuss her progress. I couldn’t wait to hear that she was holding her own, but would still benefit from another year of K. This would have alleviated any doubts I had in the past. Well, the teacher told me again that my child was at the top of her class. She is writing at the 2nd grade level and her reading and math are already at the 1st grade level. They said that she is an outgoing student who always help her peers when they struggle. They said that she was doing higher level work already because she was finishing the K material so quickly that they started differentiating for her. I told the teacher that she was actually going to be repeating K and the teacher was horrified. She said that my child loved to learn and had such a yearning for getting more and more. She advised that having her repeat might put out that fire that she has for learning. Now I find myself at a loss another year. Do I pursue 1st grade or just have her repeat Kindergarten? This is a child who has been mature from the beginning and I have had teachers tell me for 3 years in a row that she seemed like an old lady who was trapped in a child’s body. She was swimming and diving by 3 1/2 without shimmies and riding a bike without training wheels at 3.5 as well. She often has better gross motor than kids year or 2 older than her. Her handwriting is perfect. She writes paragraphs for fun and is constantly writing people letters and notes because she loves it so much. Does anyone have any advice or has anyone had to deal with a similar issue. I plan to go and speak to the public schools to see what they recommend. I want to make the very best decision for my child and I don’t want it to just depend on the fact that most people in this area keep their children back a year and being the youngest is often frowned upon. HELP!

  20. SD, Im in the same boat as you. Have you come up with a solution of getting your child into grade 1?

  21. I contacted the school and I had her tested. I’ll wait for results now. Hoping the results can decide for me.

  22. Thanks for your response SD. Which school district? I might try the same. Is it the school running the test or the school district?

  23. Hi, My son will be 4 years and 11 months old by the NJ Oct 1st cutoff for Kindergarten, so he doesn’t make it. Does anyone know of any schools in Bergen County that will accept him into Kindergarten? He’s been going to school since he was 20 months old and we’re not worried. He’s bright and talented and we want him in Kindergarten. Thanks in advance!

  24. Seriously people, this cut off crap does our kids a huge injustice. If a child is academically, socially, and developmentally ready, they should be able to attend kindergarten when they are five. What happens is that kids who are genuinely intelligent and advanced for their ages are being held back through no fault of their own. Maybe if parents actually accepted that maybe their kid just isn’t ready at 5 and someone else’s kid is ready, then that’s fine. Your kid may not be the most intelligent, or most ready and that okay. Kids develop at different stages and there is nothing wrong with them if they can’t go to kindergarten at 5. All parents want to think their kid is highly intelligent and advanced. The truth is, their likely not, but average for their age and that is perfectly fine. But what ends up happening is that the genuinely intelligent and advanced kids get held back a year and end up in classes that are too easy later on. This happened to me, and it happened to my niece. She is bored in school and the work is too easy for her. She isn’t being challenged. She is bright, intelligent, and a year behind where she should be. It isn’t fair to these kids. They end up in classes with kids who are behind and it slows them down. These cut off dates need to go abd the kids who are ready for kindergarten at age five should be able to go. They should test every kid who are 4 and five before the new school year. Those who are ready and score well should go regardless of their age. Those who are not ready should be held back until they are.
    Please do not redshirt your kid if they are truly ready. Send them to school. Your separation anxiety will pass. I promise. Stop listening to other people who don’t know your kid. Only you as a parent know your child and know when they are ready for school. The schools need to stop pretending that everyone is on the same level. One size does not fit all. Now as my child turns 5 this October, I have to wait, too. However, she is young and immature for her age. In her case, it is probably wise to hold her back a year. She is behind where she should be. This gives me a year to work with her and prepare her. kids are on different levels at the same age. One kid may be behind, and one kid may be advanced. I think as kids get older it evens out. Regardless, I wish these stupid cut off dates were gotten rid of. They’re just stupid.

Comments are closed.