April 12, 2012 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Redshirting Kindergartners: Good Idea or Bad?

Redshirting Kindergartners: Good Idea or Bad?

I was at the YMCA yesterday, working out next to a friend, when the subject of my five-year-old son’s March birthday came up.

“A spring birthday,” she mused. “Are you going to send him to kindergarten in August or hold him out another year?”

This was a completely run-of-the-mill question for her to ask. Parents around here routinely hold their kids- particularly the boys- out of school for an extra year so that they will be emotionally, academically, and physically more mature when they enter the classroom. The practice is so common that I wrote a newspaper column about it a few years ago when Punky started kindergarten. Here’s an excerpt from the intro to the column on my blog:

Kindergarten classrooms at many of the private schools here in town are filled with kids from five all the way up to seven. Think of what this means down the road- Fourth grade classrooms include both children who are nine and adolescents who are twelve. Eighth grade classrooms now contain both 13-year-olds and kids who can drive. Come senior year, 20-year-olds will be accepting their high school diplomas!

But I’ll be honest- I hadn’t really thought about the subject too much since then, certainly not for Bruiser. Sure, I’m anticipating a few issues next year as he learns to adjust to seven hours a day, five days a week in a classroom (not to mention homework every night), but in my mind’s eye I saw him facing those challenges alongside other boys his age. They’d all go through it together.

Now, though, I’m starting to picture my poor five-year-old son in a classroom surrounded by pimply faced, peach-fuzzed boy-men, all crammed into kindergarten-sized desks. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little (you guys know how my mind works!), but after I posed the question on Facebook, I realized that a LOT of you out there are holding your kids back- or at least considering it.

And… no offense, but…. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH.

Don’t get me wrong — I sympathize with your concerns that your child is still too fidgety for the classroom or that his or her birthday is right before the cutoff date or, or, or– well, there are lots of reasons why I’m sure you’re nervous about your kid starting kindergarten and I get it. I do.

But whatever happened to the idea of putting all of our five-year-olds together and letting the natural differences between them sort themselves out? Or the idea of letting your kids try kindergarten and then repeat it if at the end of the year there are still some major issues that need to be addressed? I know plenty of kids who’ve done kindergarten twice. There’s no shame in it.

Plus? Nearly every teacher I’ve talked to about redshirting is completely opposed to it. Here’s why, again from my column:

“If you gear the class toward the older children, the younger guys get left behind,” says Catherine McTamaney, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt. “If you gear it toward the younger children, you spend a lot of your time dealing with behavioral issues with the older guys. We’ve created a monster in these structures, and these kinds of parent games just feed it.”

I think the phrase that hit me the hardest during the Facebook discussion yesterday went something like this: “I’m holding my son out for an extra year because I want to give him an advantage…”

Well, we all want to give our kids an advantage, right? But in this case, the unspoken end of that sentence is “…OVER YOUR SON.” The obvious “advantage” is that these kids are a year older than the ones who started when they were supposed to. And that makes me… a little bit ill.

Perhaps the most contentious reason parents are holding their boys back is in the hope that the extra year will help them perform better in sports once they reach high school. Not many parents will freely admit that this is the case, but it’s pretty obvious who’s done it here when you look around at your friends and acquaintances– and it’s happening A LOT.

I don’t really care if one day, my 17-year-old son loses out on a college scholarship or a state record because some 19-year-old classmate bested him. (Although, if that actually ever happens, check back with me.) Right now, I’m more concerned about the possibility of my child getting injured because he’s playing teams of boys that are one or two or even three years older than he is. The thought of my son breaking a bone or getting a concussion because some other parent wanted to give their son a sports “advantage” makes me SEE RED.

Those are my thoughts on the matter… and this is your opportunity to make your thoughts on the matter known, too. Let me say right now that I hold no grudges against anyone who’s held out their child for an extra year- I know TONS of people who’ve done it, I realize that it’s commonplace, and your individual reasons when you’ve given them to me have all made sense. The problem is that when a large group of people are doing it, I start to worry that my son is suddenly being set up for failure simply by starting school on time.

What do you think?