In this document, we respond to a variety of questions about starting kindergarten in Illinois.
When do children begin kindergarten in Illinois?
To begin kindergarten in Illinois, a child should be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the kindergarten year and live within the boundaries of the school district.
Do all Illinois children have to attend kindergarten?
At present, Illinois requires districts to offer kindergarten but does not require that children attend kindergarten. Illinois also does not require that children attend kindergarten before being permitted to enroll in first grade.
What factors should parents consider when thinking about starting kindergarten later?
Parents may want to delay, by one year, the enrollment in kindergarten of an age-eligible child if the child has a birthday so close to the cut-off date that they are likely to be among the youngest in the class. (By law, a child must begin school if he or she is 6 years old on or before Sept. 1.) These parents believe that older children are more successful in coping with the social, emotional, and academic demands of kindergarten than younger children. This practice is sometimes referred to a “academic redshirting.”
Research on the effects of redshirting has shown mixed results. It is difficult to establish a direct link between being redshirted and doing well or poorly in kindergarten and beyond. Studies indicate that children who are redshirted may show a short-term gain in academic skills, but these early advantages may decrease as children move through the elementary grades (Sands, Monda-Amaya, & Meadan, 2021).
There are potential pros and cons to delayed kindergarten entry. A benefit of redshirting may be that older children are less likely to be held back or diagnosed with a learning disability. Another benefit may be for the younger students enrolled in a classroom with older students who were redshirted. The younger students have older peers to model appropriate social behavior and better academic skills for them. Conversely, delaying school entry can cost a family an additional year of childcare or preschool, or it can result in the loss of a parent’s income for an additional year if that parent stays at home with the child (Elder & Lubotsky, 2006).
Parents, rather than school districts, may initiate the process of delaying kindergarten entry. However, some school districts have policies related to age and grade placement that indicate a 6-year-old child enter first grade, thus not allowing for redshirting. Parents should become familiar with their district’s policies.
The following list describes some factors for parents to consider, as well as some tips.
- Clearly identify the specific characteristics that cause you to be unsure about your child’s readiness to begin kindergarten. Don’t delay entrance into kindergarten just because a child has a summer birthday or is likely to be among the youngest in the class. Some younger children may be more ready for kindergarten than some older children.
- Talk to your child’s preschool teacher or childcare provider about your child’s abilities in following directions, completing tasks, and getting along with other children. Also ask the kindergarten teacher or attend a kindergarten fair or open house if available in your district for suggestions about what you can do at home to help your child prepare for kindergarten.
- Find out more about the nature of the kindergarten program. Is it half-day or full-day? Many kindergarten classes in Illinois are full-day. If your child still takes a long nap, they might need time to adjust to a full school day.
- What is the typical class size? Kindergarten classes may have larger groups than those found in preschool or childcare centers. A very shy child might need time to adjust to this change.
- What else would your child be doing if they did not start kindergarten? Would your child have easy and safe access to playmates and play spaces? Are there easily available (and affordable) good-quality preschool programs for your child? If so, are they still developmentally appropriate for your child, or are they geared toward the needs of younger children?
What factors should parents consider when thinking about starting kindergarten early?
Some parents may consider enrolling their child in kindergarten ahead of schedule. This is called accelerated entry. Parents might choose this if their child has a birthday just past the cutoff date (e.g., a child is required to be 5 years old by Sept. 1, but the child’s birthday is Sept. 2) or if they believe their child is ready for kindergarten significantly early. Districts are required to have policies for assessing a child’s readiness for school. Based upon that assessment, a school district may let a child start early, or it may deny the request.
Some considerations for parents thinking about starting kindergarten ahead of schedule:
- Clearly identify the specific characteristics that make you think your child is ready to start kindergarten early.
- Consider your child’s self-help skills and communication skills, such as following multiple-step directions, waiting for a turn, using the bathroom and washing their hands, and communicating wants and needs.
- Find out more about the nature of the kindergarten program. Is it half-day or full day? Many kindergarten classes in Illinois are full day. If your child still takes a long nap, they might need time to adjust to a full school day.
- What does your child’s preschool or childcare teacher think about your child starting kindergarten early? Get their perspective.
Note: In a school district operating on a year-round schedule, children who will be age 5 within 30 days after a term starts may start school that term. For the full text of this code, see Illinois school code (105 ILCS 5/ § 10-20.12).
How can I support my child in beginning kindergarten?
- Talk to your child in a positive way about starting school. Your child is likely to adjust rapidly if you approach the beginning of kindergarten with real confidence and reassurance and if you share any concerns you have with the teacher.
- Talk about some typical expectations and routines in a classroom. Explain to your child that if they need to go to the bathroom, they should ask their teacher. Also talk about the fun things they will do in kindergarten such as making friends, playing outside, and reading books.
- Practice kindergarten tasks. Practice eating a packed lunch. If your child needs help opening a sandwich bag or water bottle, either consider teaching them how to do this or select an “easier-to-open” option. Practice hanging their coat by the hood or by the sleeve on a low hook. Practice taking their coat on and off independently.
- Tip Sheets:
- Resource List: Preparing for Kindergarten