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Should I enter my child early? Should I 'red-shirt' my child and wait until he is 6?

I am frequently asked whether a child is "kindergarten-ready" by parents in my clinic. This is a complex question - and different for every family and child.

Part of the answer is rooted in state education law. In Nebraska, a child must be 5 years old before July 31 (September 15 for children in Iowa).  But there are other factors.

Early entrance

Some parents struggle with whether an "almost 5-year-old" is ready early and will be bored if he or she waits another year. In Nebraska, parents of children who turn 5 between August 1 and October 15 may petition the school district to allow their child early entrance to kindergarten. Iowa school districts do not permit any early entrance.

Some parents feel the child is ready for the challenge of kindergarten early – or are pleased that day care costs will be reduced.

Red shirting - or delayed entrance

Other parents feel it is best - regardless of "readiness" to keep a child out of school until he or she turns 5 - or in some cases, 6.  In Nebraska, all children must be enrolled if they will reach 6 years of age by January 1 of that school year.

So, what should a parent really look for to make that important decision?

Kindergarten readiness is unique to each child and family situation. Here are some factors to consider when making that choice:

Physical ability

We look at both gross and fine motor skills a 5-year-old typically performs such as: skipping on alternate feet, catching a ball, zipping or buttoning. Your child will also need to be capable of toileting himself and lasting through the school day without a nap.

Academic ability

Although children may start kindergarten with a wide range of abilities, most catch up to each other by the end of the year. Some areas to assess include the child’s ability to: print his name, identify shapes and colors, count to ten and know the letters of the alphabet.

Social ability

Look for your child’s ability to play well with groups of other children, stick with a day-long schedule and follow two-part instructions (“get the box and sit on the rug,” for example).

This decision is a long-term one

Children entering kindergarten early may do well the first few years. However, some children begin to fall behind their older peers by the time they enter the fourth grade. Consider that your child, if not able to keep up, may be held back in his later academic years.

Consider your child as a teenager as well. He may be a year behind his peers in getting a driver’s license, being able to date or get a part time job. Peer pressure from older teens may also be stronger.

For some children, entering kindergarten early may be a good decision. For others, the decision to wait until the next year may be best. Your physician can help you assess your child’s ability and come to a decision which is best for your child.

Rosann Nichols, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court (178 & Q)

Dr. Nichols answers your questions about child health and parenting. As a mom of three children, she tells her patients that she is in the parenting trenches with them and she can relate to what they are going through. She enjoys answering questions from her patients and their parents and helping parents adapt to the changes a growing family brings. She builds trust with parents and helps them understand that they are not alone and that they can call her office anytime if they have a quest ...

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