A full-time education doesn't mean the same thing to all parents. While some parents might view "full-time" status as equal to elementary school education, others view full-day schooling as any program that includes educational aspects and operates on an all-day schedule. Determining the exact age that a child would start full-day school depends on many factors such as the type of educational program, school or district policies, and parental preferences.
While there is no mandatory requirement for preschool in the U.S., many parents choose to give their little learners a leg up on their road to education and start them off in a full-time preschool program. Most formal preschool programs don't start until the child reaches age 3 or 4. Preschools in public schools or Head Start centers place requirements for the age of child entry to full-time programs. For example, Tennessee's Voluntary Pre-K requires that children are 4 years old by Sept. 30 of the beginning school year. This means that if your child turns 4 on Sept. 15, 2012, she could start school during the 2012 year. If her four-year birthday is Oct. 15, she would need to wait until the following school year to begin.
Kindergarten marks a step up from preschool in many ways. While preschool is optional, kindergarten -- as the start of elementary school -- is a requirement for many children. Depending on the district where you live and your school's programs, some kindergartens are full time and others are still part time. Whether a school has a full- or part-time educational option for kindergarten, age guidelines are typically the same. Most schools won't admit a child into kindergarten until she is 5 years old. Some states or districts will allow a 4-year-old into full-time kindergarten as long as she will turn 5 by a proscribed time. For example, California allows 4-year-olds who will turn 5 by Nov. 1 of the 2012-13 school year to start kindergarten.
For many children, first grade is the true start of full-time education. Kids in half-day kindergarten programs, or those who are home-schooled until they reach school age, might not begin a full-day program until age 6 or 7. Like kindergarten requirements, public schools typically have age restrictions for starting first grade. These are in line with age policies for kindergarten, making it an age-related educational continuum. For example, if children must turn 5 before starting kindergarten, they will have to turn 6 before starting first grade.
Some exceptions exist to the age when a child starts full-time education. Private schools might have a different start requirement than public schools. Some public districts might offer parents the option to test-in their children at an earlier age. If a child is close to, but just misses, the age cut-off or shows exceptional promise in her academic and developmental abilities, that child might have the option to start early. If a district allows that, the child might need to participate and pass an educational evaluation that the district performs as well as an evaluation by an educational or psychological professional.