As an educator I have seen the dramatic evolution of what is known as redshirting (the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before kindergarten) over the past fifteen years. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited that some 6% of kindergarteners are redshirted nationally, however, the number can vary by neighborhood. For example, the same article notes data from Connecticut's department of education that shows the incidence of redshirting ranging from 2% in poorer school districts to 27% in wealthier ones. Parents of children who are farther away from the actual cut off (e.g. a May birthday is now sometimes considered for redshirting where there is a September cutoff) are holding off on the decision to start kindergarten. Classroom dynamics are significantly effected by the decision and teachers are left reaching a wider range of abilities than ever before. Where should the line be drawn? When are we actually doing wrong by the child in redshirting?
We are currently deliberating this exact issue with our oldest son who is eligible to begin kindergarten in September, but will undoubtably be the youngest chronologically given his birthdate and state cutoff. With the trend of redshirting he is likely to have classmates who are 19 months older than him. I believe whole-heartedly in the notion that someone has to be the youngest and that this is not the only reason to keep a child from entering kindergarten. There are a number of cognitive, social, and physical factors to consider outside of a child's birthdate. Currently Big A attends a morning preschool program five days a week and demonstrates appropriate kindergarten readiness; yet the pressure to redshirt is real amongst parents and is at times promoted by area preschools and independent schools.
One of the most frustrating phrases I hear from educators and parents alike is the notion that "it is never harmful to give a child the gift of time." I find generalizations like this to be a poor justification when considering redshirting. It is far more important to look at your child's learning profile (how do they learn best?) and consider their overall readiness (cognitive, social, and physical). A two year span in development is normal in any area of a child's development (physical, social, language or cognitive growth); therefore, it is more than fair to expect a child to still be developing skills in some areas as they enter kindergarten. No two children are the same, even within the same family, and while children may go through predictable stages in the same order, they will not all go through them at the same time. Comparing your child's kindergarten readiness against others is not the best predictor of how they will perform.
The following list of questions has been part of our ongoing discussion about the next school year. It is by no means the end all be all for considering what is best for your child, but it is a helpful place to begin the dialogue.
1. What is your child's overall academic readiness?
2. What is your child's overall social and emotional readiness?
3. What is your child's overall physical development?
As you reflect on these areas it is important to remember that your child does not need to have all of these skills mastered to be considered kindergarten ready; however, a child needing growth in a significant number of these areas should be monitored closely to see if further support is warranted.
We are close to reaching a decision about next year's plans and are grateful for the thoughtful conversations that have occurred with Big A's preschool teachers. I am confident that Big A with thrive no matter where we land on this issue because we will support both his areas of strength and the areas needing attention. Growth, like many things in life, is uneven and there is an ebb and flow that will emerge regardless of whether or not we chose to send him to kindergarten in the fall.
I recommend the following articles (in addition to those referenced above) if you would like to read more about what has been published recently on the topic of redshirting:
Can Your Kid Hack It in Kindergarten (Slate)
'Redshirting' Kindergarten-Age Kids Can Lead to Regret (NYT Motherlode Blogpost)
Kindergarten 'Redshirting' Gets Tougher in N.Y.C, With Repercussions (NYT Motherlode Blogpost)
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ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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