Ready Or Not? When Should A Child Start Kindergarten?

"A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” Friends Anna and Carson share something besides a game of ABC. "We did it,” said Carson. “Now let's do another one."

They're both old enough to go to kindergarten this year, but their parents held them back, essentially “redshirting” them. "We wrestled with that decision,” says Carson’s mother, Jill Peters of Omaha.

Carson turned 5 last June. Anna has a September birthday. "Maturity wise, she wasn't quite ready,” says Anna’s mother, Joyce Delagarza of Omaha. “I talked to a lot of moms about their deciding factor and every single one of them never regretted it."

"I always tell parents that this is the first major decision you will make for your child that will affect the rest of their life,” says Legacy Primary School teacher Kelly Pedersen.

With so much on the line for kindergartners and whether they are ready, how do parents know if they're making the right call to enter Mrs. Wolfe's kindergarten at Picotte Elementary or any other classroom? "There are certain things we put capital letters on."

"I think it's important for parents to realize it's not a black and white decision.” Dr. Lynn Olson is the director of Elementary Education at Creighton University. “What kind of worries me is the parents who look at kindergarten as an all day, free day care, and they're putting their kids in as soon as they can."

Experts offer this advice to parents. Can the child play with others and is he or she ready to be away from home? Can they sit for 10 minutes or more for a story? Are they able to match letters and follow directions? Do they have good balance? Can they hop and jump? Do they know where they are in space?

“Sometimes boys mature a little slower.” This woman redshirted her son, who turned 5 in August. She hedged her bets in a way by enrolling him in the half-day kindergarten at Legacy Primary School.

“It was a good option since he could go to half-day kindergarten here and then go to first-grade next year or just kindergarten again,” says Michelle Gaeth of Omaha.

The school is accredited, meaning he could jump to first-grade at an elementary school this fall or re-enter kindergarten without the stigma of being held back while classmates move on.

“They're just looking for advice and it has to be a child-by-child basis,” says Legacy Primary School Director Buffy Baca.

No matter the decision, principals say there is one thing that stays the same in kindergarten. "The first month is tough,” says Picotte Elementary School principal Denise McCown. “I'm not sure if the child or the parent cry more."

Nebraska's cutoff date changes quite a bit next year. Right now, if a child turns 5 on or after October 15th they can go to kindergarten. Next year it changes to July 31st. Iowa's cutoff date is September 15th.

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