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Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Each year, in late summer, most 5-year-olds head off to kindergarten, no questions asked. But when a child doesn't turn 5 until just before or after the school year starts, or is intellectually precocious or developmentally delayed, his parents may hesitate before signing on for this educational leap. In fact, the current trend is for parents to decide themselves when their child will go to kindergarten, rather than automatically sending him according to age, says Craig Ramey, a professor of psychology, pediatrics, and neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who studies children's transitions to elementary school.

Unfortunately, it's not always an easy call. "There's more to consider than just what happens in the classroom that first year of school," says Karen Economopoulos, a former kindergarten teacher who creates elementary-school curricula for TERC, a nonprofit educational organization in Cambridge, MA. If you enter your child early, will he be the last in his class to get a driver's license? If you hold her back, will she be the first to start her period?

Though deciding can be tough, you can take comfort in knowing that there's no "right" answer: What works for one child may not for another, and there are trade-offs inherent in every choice. The important thing, as parents who have struggled with this issue will attest, is to ask yourself some key questions, then use the answers to draw a conclusion that your youngster  -- and you  -- will be happy with.