What Age Does a Child Start Full-Time Education?

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.

Full-time Preschool

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 1.

First Grade

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.