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Kindergarten can wait

By Erin Barrette Goodman

Last spring, as kindergarten registration loomed and I watched as my daughter’s friends’ parents made plans for their children, I did nothing.

“She’s just not ready,” I told my mother one day, when she asked what we would be doing for school the following fall.

You’re not ready,” she responded.

I don’t remember what I said in response (it was basically the 35-year-old equivalent of “Whatever Mom”) but in the weeks that followed her words stayed with me.

Was I really denying my daughter the age-appropriate kindergarten experience just because I’m not ready for her to go to school?

I spent most of the summer second-guessing our decision.

Our daughter is extremely bright. She’s an eager and motivated learner who frequently amazes my husband and me (as well as complete strangers at the grocery store) with her ability to remember tiny details she has picked up from books we’ve read to her, nature videos she has watched, or places we have visited.

By the fall, she was showing a clear interest in learning to read and write and was asking me to give her “homework” (reading and math workbooks) to do when she came home from preschool.

All academic signs pointed to her being ready for kindergarten. And yet, as a family (spearheaded by Mama) we had decided not to send her.


There are (at least) a dozen reasons why I wanted to have an “extra year” before we started school.

Many are personal and unique to the circumstances of our family in the months leading up to what would have / could have been our daughter’s first year of school. Others are more universal — like the growing concern that as a society we are putting too much academic pressure on our children at too young an age. But when all was said and done, what it really came down to was that sending her to kindergarten shortly after her fifth birthday did not feel right in my gut.

She was not ready. I was not ready. We were not ready.

And as we wrap up her “extra” year at her play-based preschool, and I look at how she has blossomed and matured in this year and how ready and excited she is to begin kindergarten this coming fall, I am sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we made the right decision for our family.

How about you? What works for YOUR family?

Erin Barrette Goodman is a writer, yoga teacher, and mother of two. She is the founder of the RI Birth Network, which promotes empowered decision-making during the childbearing years, and the creator of Mamasté Mothers’ Circles, which are held monthly at All That Matters in Wakefield.

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  • Is kindergarten required in RI? There are contradictory laws on the books — on the one hand, it seems that kids need to complete kindergarten to get into first grade, but on the other, kids don’t have to be in school until age 6….

    Maybe it means you can delay but you can’t skip kindergarten?

  • My guys are almost three but I have already been “worrying” about this. They have been going to a half day daycare program which they love, but will be “too old” to attend anymore by the end of the summer. There is GREAT pressure here in Spain to put your kids in all day school starting at three years old so that you can “secure” their spot in a decent public school. Although we have dutifully applied, I think I will be keeping them out of school until they start kindergarten….when they are 6…

  • i put my son in kindergarden and was relucant… although he was smart was it kindergarden ready smart. with in about 2 months i got my answers. he was always such a great kid and the reports i was getting from his teacher was opposite. we decided after much pray that it was not the right thing for him. i pulled him out of kindergarden and into a play focus preschool. as soon as we took him out he did a total turn around and was flourishing again. he is now in 4th grade, he is on the honor roll and the star of his school play. i could not be more proud. i know i made the right decision by taking him out. now he is the great student and all around kid i knew he could be. i know if i would have keep him in he would not be at this same place now.

  • I think we will be the same way. They are little for such a short time and soon enough they will begin that school ‘career’.

    It’s good to be brave and do what feels right for your family even when it is different than what others do!!

  • I think following your instincts about your child is the best guide. For a long time, I didn’t think a preschool had much to offer my son. Then he reached a point, when he was about 3 and a half, and just seemed so *ready*. I can’t really explain it – something just turned.

    So we enrolled him two half days (3 hours), just increased to 3 half day a week in a play-based preschool. I was worried about the separation, which has always been an issue, but he had no anxiety at all. He literally jumped into the middle of an exercise class of 20 kids he didn’t know, stretching his arms this way and that, waving to me while I left to register him.

  • Such a beautiful perspective. Eli will be going to K next fall and I had that moment of panic. Do I want him to burst into the world of homework and sitting down all day? It’s a touch decision. He’s ready, so now I need to be ready.

  • I’ve enjoyed reading all thoughts that have also crossed my mind. Erin, thanks for writing about your experience. It’s such a tough decision! I taught K, 1st and was a reading specialist k-3 and saw many children who were not ready to start at age 5.

    Correct me if I’m wrong (Megan you might know) but I don’t think kindergarten is mandatory. Children need to be in some form of schooling by age of 6 in RI (public, private, home). So Erin, if your daughter seems to be ready for first, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue registering her for first.

  • thank you all so much for sharing your varied perspectives!!!

    this “discussion” has been so helpful for me.

    my husband and i spent some more time talking about things last night and we’re both staying open to the idea that she might be ready to jump into first grade this fall.

    we’re going to talk to the principal about it and ask for her help in determining the best placement for our daughter.

    either way, we’re feeling really good about how we’ve spent the last year!!


  • Tiffany–no, I didn’t mean your son. I meant the older children of the parents who had held them back a year. I only know my niece, so I only have her input, but it’s interesting how as a teenager she’s not happy about it. Of course, I think as a teenager anything that sets you apart in any way is not welcome.

    My kids are in a school with multi-age classrooms. I love it.

  • Amy – No, I didn’t ask my son. He wouldn’t even have understood the question, I’m sure. As it turns out – he’s not the oldest in his kindergarten class. Also, his school seems to have the habit of putting the younger and/or “not quite ready for 1st grade” children into a special transition year classroom for an extra year of “advanced K” before 1st grade. So by the time it all shakes out – there will be a number of kids his age, in his grade.

    But as I tried to say earlier – he wasn’t ready for kindergarten either socially or academically. He would have been a discipline problem, I am sure. The extra year gave him a tremendous amount of confidence socially, and he is still catching up, academically. He loves, loves, loves school – and I am sure that the extra year went a long way towards helping him embrace all of the excitement of kindergarten, rather than being overwhelmed and frustrated by it. (And then taking it out on the other kids…which was my big fear…)

    In any case – nice discussion and comments all around. Good luck to everyone who struggles with this question; it’s so hard to always know what the best decision is for each child.

  • This wonderful post and all the great comments reminds me that childhood is certainly not “one size fits all” and the best way to parent is by using your gut.

    When I was looking at day care facilities a few years ago, I instinctively knew which ones would be okay with me and which ones wouldn’t – and they were all wonderful, clean, safe, healthy places.

  • Good for you Erin. My son is 5 and we’ve enrolled him in a Montessori kindergarten program for the fall, in which he’ll be away from home twice as much as he ever has before and I AM NOT READY. I feel like he’s not ready either, but it’s hard to separate my feelings from what I may be projecting onto him.

    I like hearing how you clearly see your daughter’s readiness after waiting a year.

    Congratulations on listening to your instincts!

  • We compromised and sent our five-year-old to a montessori kindergarden, with 3, 4s and 5s in the same room. He gets a lot of the “ready for first grade” stuff, but learns to navigate the social stuff a little more slowly and it has been a super choice for us.

  • I wish I had waited.

    My 4-year-old boy is in pre-k now and he’s so smart but maybe a little emotionally immature. I was kind of pressured into starting him in a pre-k program, full day, 5 days a week before we both were ready.

    To remedy it, I’m thinking of doing kindergarten twice, although at a different school, so he doesn’t feel like he’s repeating or being held back.

    He was born in August and if he was born two weeks later, he wouldn’t even be allowed to start kindergarten next year.

    I have never, ever heard someone that held their child back say “I wish I hadn’t,” although I have heard many people that didn’t say “I wish I had.”

  • I applaud all women who listen to what their gut is telling them. In our family our oldest has desired structure from the instant he was born. We actually had to learn how to create it for him, since we tend to be more laid back. He was eager to go to school but was “red-shirted” because of an early fall birthday, but late enough for the cut off. I took that as more of a sign that he would get one more year either way. Our second child is finishing Kindergarten this year, and although she is “on schedule” has changed and grown so much because of where Kindergarten is for her. I think part of this also is understanding where your child is going to spend this time away. My daughter’s K program is like being at home, just with another (possibly warmer) woman, and 11 of her friends. This place has allowed her to grow and learn about relationships and navigating friends. Yes, for many K is about the letters and their sounds but for us it was so much more.

    The third child, I worry that I may never let her go. I am consciously checking myself to see if I’m holding her back from where she desires to go because I don’t want to lose the “baby” of the house.

  • I am a kindergarten teacher – and I commend parents who take the time and consideration when deciding to enroll their child in K. I have come across many books on brain based research encouraging parents to give kids a “gift of a year”, especially boys. One challenge as a teacher is getting the kids at all different levels – I always get kids who are not ready – and my job is to meet them where they are – and I always have kids who are far beyond the kindergarten level in their academics – and it is my job to meet that child too – Parents know their child best – and those of you who are in this space – are likely to be really in tuned to their child. – I wish you all the best in these decisions. this year is extra special because I too have my first child entering kindergarten – tonight “Mom” is leading kindergarten parent night – and registering her child 🙂

  • I always love reading Erin! I remember being so happy that my child was old enough for kindergarten. He was so shell-shocked after his first full day of school…he got off the bus, hugged me, walked home silently, stripped off all of his clothes except for his socks, sat on the sofa, and stared at a wall for half an hour with his mouth open in stereotypical “shocked” position. I think if I had been more thoughtful, I would have realized: this dude is not ready for school.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I have felt very strongly about homeschooling or at least not rushing into any kind of academic setting. It’s nice to hear from other moms who feel the same.

  • It would take a very long comment to explain our thought process, because I really did agonize over it, but in the end we sent our son, who turned 5 at the end of May but wasn’t gestationally 5 until July and was a young 5 on top of it all, and I’m glad we did. It was the right decision for all of us, but on the other hand, I didn’t send my older child to K (or 1st) at all. If it wasn’t the right place, they weren’t going. Honestly, I’m more worried about my daughter, who will start K at 5 years, 11 months. I suspect she will be ready for K well before she’s allowed to go.

    (Tiffany–did you ask the kids? My 13yo niece hates being the oldest one in her class. She feels like she was held back.)

  • For what its worth; we surveyed as many parents as we could on this topic as we contemplated the same question for our (so clearly not ready for K) late July-born son.

    We did not meet one family who regretted “redshirting” their child. Many pointed out that it was the best gift they could give to their child; an extra year of childhood. But every child is different, and I’m pretty sure that our March-born guy will be going into K right on schedule.

  • What a timely post! We’ve been going in circles about this recently as I contemplate planning to waiting an extra year to send my little one and it’s always great to hear more thoughts of others who considered the same!

  • Thanks for sharing this Erin. It can be so challenging to unweave the fears form the societal pressures from our intuitive knowing.

    Sounds like you are doing a great job with your family.

  • This is one of the big reasons why I’m glad both of my boys have fall birthdays. Good job listening to your Mother’s instinct!

  • Erin,
    Thank you! I have had those very same thoughts, comments, worries. My little guy turns 5 in June and we are opting not to send him this fall despite many who feel that he is more than ready. Like you, it just doesn’t feel right for our family. Your comments help boost my confidence in my “gut”.