Dear Mr. Dad: Our daughter will turn five this summer, just three weeks before the cutoff for kindergarten. If I send her to kindergarten this year, she’d be the youngest in her class. How do I know whether she’s actually ready?

A: Welcome to the first of many life-and-death decisions about your child’s education! I’m kidding, of course, but it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it? Like most parenting decisions, rest assured that the decision about when to start kindergarten isn’t half as consequential as we tend to think. There are roughly equal advantages and disadvantages to being the youngest and the oldest in class, so that really shouldn’t be the basis of your decision. More important is your last question: How do you know when your child is ready?

Though many districts offer a non-binding kindergarten readiness assessment, there are no hard and fast criteria. Kindergarteners enter with a wide range of emotional, physical, and intellectual abilities, but there are a few ways to gauge whether your child is ready to get the most out of the kindergarten year. Can your child do most of the following?

  • Get along fairly well with other kids, including basic sharing
  • Pay attention to an adult for short periods
  • Put on her own clothes and go to the bathroom herself
  • Be away from parents without being overly upset.
  • Recognize a few letters and count to ten
  • Recognize her own name in printed form
  • Speak understandably in complete sentences
  • Use a pencil and scissors
  • Sort similar objects by size, color, or shape
  • Show an interest in books and stories

If your child has most of these skills mastered, she’s most likely ready for kindergarten. Language, thinking, and perception-related skills are considered the best indications of likely success, followed by social and emotional maturity. To reinforce your own decision, talk to your child’s preschool teacher and/or your pediatrician to get additional opinions.

If you’re looking for some ways to enhance your child’s kindergarten readiness in the months leading up to the first day, try some of these activities:

  • Discuss kindergarten with your child, expressing excitement and enthusiasm. Try to draw out her own feelings as well.
  • Give your child experience being away from you with relatives or neighbors.
  • Give your child as much experience as possible playing with other children. This is especially important if your child is not in preschool.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Practice with zippers, buttons, snaps and shoe laces. Practice using the toilet, flushing, and washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, talking, listening, counting, sorting, sharing, drawing, cutting, and putting things away when done with them.

In the end, if your child meets the age requirement, the decision is pretty much up to you and your spouse. It’s tough, but try to remember that whether your child ends up in jail or on the Supreme Court will have very little to do with whether your child was the youngest oldest in her class. So gather as many opinions as you can, spend some time observing your daughter, take a deep breath—and jump!

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And one final note to all those moms, step-moms, adoptive moms, and grandmothers out there: Happy Mother’s Day!