Parents who have kids rapidly approaching the end of toddlerhood know that looking ahead to the school years can be anxiety-inducing. It's easy to stress out over decisions regarding your child's education, from which school you should choose to what class they should enter or whether they're even ready at all. If you're trying to figure out the best age for your child to start school, you should know that there a lot of factors to consider.
Depending on where you live, your child might not legally be required to start school until the ages of 5 or 6, though some states push the age up to 8, according to Lawyers.com. Kimberley Moran, a former teacher and education expert at WeAreTeachers.com, believes kids benefit from not being rushed into school. "I don't think I've ever met anyone who regretted their kid going into school older, but I meet a lot of people who say they regret their kid going to school younger."
But that doesn't mean you should necessarily wait until your child is 5 or 6 and send them straight to kindergarten, says Moran. "Kindergarten is not what it used to be. People think, 'That's where my kid will go get socialized,' but really that's what happens in Pre-K now." Moran thinks a year in Pre-K has huge benefits for kids. "I basically think that Pre-K should be a requirement. We have to have something in place where kids learn how to play with each other, how to take care of their own personal needs like putting their shoes on, going to the bathroom by themselves, washing their hands by themselves, in an environment where they're not also being asked how to learn how to read and do all that," she says. Having those sorts of tasks down pat before they enter kindergarten frees up their mind to focus on the monumental tasks of learning to read and write.
Pre-K is typically geared toward 3- and 4-year-olds, according to The Bump, though some schools will have shorter day programs for 3-year-olds and longer days for 4-year-olds that are more focused on kindergarten preparation. That may seem awfully young to be starting school to some moms and dads (especially to parents like me who have kiddos with late birthdays), so Moran recommends judging your child's readiness for school not by the calendar but by their development.
One thing to consider is where your child is emotionally, and whether they're prepared to spend hours away from you everyday. "You know when your child doesn't feel bereft at leaving you... I've had many kindergartners and first graders when I was teaching that couldn't take their parents leaving, and just looked out the window and cried. That to me is a sign that another year would be a good idea." Moran says their attention span and ability to sit still can also be good indicators of whether a child is ready for school. "There's just certain things like understanding how you sit in a circle and how you respond to a book... Looking at their confidence level about just talking, I think you can learn a ton about whether a kid is ready."
If your child is heading to school in the fall and you're worried about whether it's the right time, Moran says there's a lot you can do at home to help prepare — and it doesn't involve drilling them on numbers or letters. "Read with kids, and ask them questions about the books, because those are the kind of things that will be expected of them, and the more familiar they are with them, the better they're going to do," she says. Adding some structure to your day to mimic the schedule they'll be expected to follow at school can help, too. "Setting up routines at home can't be underestimated." You'll also want to spend time focusing on the basics of self-care, like taking care of their bathroom needs, and social skills like sharing, according to HealthyChildren.org.
Starting school is a huge milestone in a child's life — and a parent's, too. Going by more than just their birthdate to decide when their ready to start can help make sure you're both comfortable with the choice.