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Should Redshirting Be Allowed: What Age Should Kids Start Kindergarten?

Updated on June 5, 2012
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Spring is in the air, and parents of soon-to-be 5-year-olds are being asked the question: “Will you hold your child back from kindergarten?” In days gone by, the sign of the smartest kid was that he was the youngest - he had skipped a grade to advance more quickly through school. Nowadays, parents are purposely holding their children back so they will be the oldest. Fears of their kids being the youngest (and smallest) and the desire to give them the best possible chance at success, drive parents to delay their children’s entrance kindergarten.

As the numbers of kids being held back is increasing, people are asking: Should redshirting based on age alone be allowed? Does it really help these younger children? Is it fair?

What is Redshirting and How Did This Trend Start?

The term redshirting originated in college sports: athletes are held back from playing on a team so that they can grow bigger and stronger before entering competitive sports in hopes that they will be stronger athletes.

Redshirting for kindergarten had similar origins, with parents holding back their younger children in hopes that they would become star athletes later on. Malcolm Gladwel’s 2008 Outliers: The Story of Success, claims that the month of someone’s birth can predict how successful they will be. He points to the observation that the majority of Canadian all-star hockey players were born in the first half of the year. Canada’s cutoff for school is January 1, so those students were bigger, perceived as better, and got more attention than their peers. Those children, he asserts, have a slight edge that stays with them throughout their lives.

Nowadays, parents are holding back their 5 year olds from kindergarten so they can be older and bigger when entering school, with the hopes that they will be more physically, emotionally, and intellectually ready for kindergarten. While this practice has been in place for decades, it has risen dramatically and now about 17% of kindergarten students are held back from kindergarten (up from 5 percent in 1970).

Reasons Parents Hold Kids Back

  • Developmental Delays. Some children are held back from kindergarten because they have developmental delays or learning problems. These children may need more time to develop skills to be ready for the kindergarten.
  • Sports and Academics. For the vast majority of redshirted children (predominantly boys), delaying kindergarten is purely optional. While some parents continue to redshirt for sports reasons, many other are simply holding their child back in hopes that their older, bigger, more mature child will have a better chance of success down the road. The idea is that giving them another year to develop emotionally and physically will ease the transition and boost their chances of being ahead of the pack.
  • Kindergarten Too Rigorous. An increasingly cited reason for redshirting is that kindergarten has become too academic and rigorous. Historically, kindergarten has been focused on getting children used to school, learning to follow rules, proper behavior in the classroom, and how to act with their friends and peers. With increased focus on standardized tests, kindergarten has become more focused on preparing students for the academic rigors ahead. Parents, especially of younger children, fear that this new rigor might be too challenging for their children.
  • Social Reasons Down the Road. Some parents hold their child back because they are worried that being the youngest in middle and high school can lead to social pressures too early. They worry that their child will be pushed to date and drink at a younger age than their peers. Or, they worry that the child will feel left out, being the last one to obtain their drivers licence or to develop physically.
  • Peer Pressure. With the increased attention to redshirting, stories and reports about about parents who assumed their child would attend kindergarten in the fall only to find peers questioning their decision. This is especially true of parents of boys born in the summer, where the assumption is starting to be that they will be held back. Many parents in this group seem to be making the decision for no other reason than “it’s what everyone is else doing.”
  • Kids are Only Little Once. Some parents hold their children back simply to allow their children to be “little” a bit longer. The beginning of kindergarten signals the beginning of a new phase in children’s lives, and some parents rather extend that period rather than “rush” their children into the next phase.

Reasons Not to Redshirt

  • Benefits are short-term. Some students who are redshirted do seem to have an edge in the early years of school, but these benefits dissipate quickly, with no demonstrated advantages after third grade.
  • Children who are held back get bored. Studies have also suggested that reshirted students may in fact do better in kindergarten, but that often they are bored, as what is taught is too easy for them. This can lead to behavioral problems.
  • Children with problems may not be identified. Some parents delay entrance to kindergarten with hopes of having a child that is more ready for kindergarten. However, by delaying kindergarten, these parents may be preventing their children with behavioral issues, slight learning disabilities, or other emotional delays from getting needed interventions and services that schools can provide. Redshirting may not cause behavioral problems, but it does not help them either. In fact, research has shown that redshirted kids are more likely to need extra services once in school.
  • Children who extend their preschool years are deprived of opportunities to learn and be challenged. Redshirting also means an extra year of preschool or staying at home. For students who are otherwise ready, this can mean a lack of stimulation and opportunities to learn. Kindergarten is a year of incredible growth and change for most students. Many parents describe their kindergarten children as “transformed” demonstrating a whole new level of maturity. Students who are held back are deprived the opportunity to grow in this important developmental phase.
  • Expectations of the child being smarter or more successful may not be realized. Many parents who redshirt their children assume that their children, being older and bigger, will be among the highest achieving in their classrooms. But, what happens when the child is merely average? These dashed expectations can be difficult for parents, and for the child.
  • Parents may not be qualified to make the decision. Parents, however well-meaning, are often ill-prepared to make this type of decision. Understanding kindergarten readiness is complex, children have strengths and weaknesses (some of which may or may not be important related to kindergarten readiness), and children change quickly. Most schools do not provide this type of assessment, so parents are left to decide on their own (under pressure from their fellow parents), with little formal guidance.

Other Effects of Redshirting

  • Redshirting gives an unfair advantage to the wealthy. In most cases, redshirting is a luxury available primarily to the wealthy who can afford to pay for an additional year of preschool. Their children entering school older, with more advanced cognitive abilities that come with age, may worsen the already existing achievement gap (at least in the short term).
  • Redshirting increases challenges for Kindergarten teachers. With more students arriving at kindergarten at age 6, kindergarten teachers are having to teach to students with a wider range of skills and abilities. With their 6 year olds in the classroom, some parents can demand more rigorous curricula to meet the needs and abilities of their older children, feeding into a vicious cycle whereby kindergarten is being changed to meet the needs of older children.
  • Redshirting creates a vicious cycle. As more parents redshirt their children, the date at which children are considered the "youngest" is moving earlier and earlier. Because increasing numbers of summer kids are being held back, parents of late spring children are now starting to question whether they should also wait a year. These kids may be a full year and half younger than others they will be starting school with.

Should Redshirting be Allowed?

All parents want what is best for their children. And most will do whatever it takes to help their child succeed. Redshirting may be popular because it promises a path to giving a child the best start possible in school. But the evidence is stacked against this idea, showing that for an otherwise ready child, redshirting has more drawbacks than advantages.

The increase in redshirting is also creating a wider span of ages of children entering kindergarten. Children mature at different speeds, but redshirting is artificially expanding the gap between the oldest and youngest students in the classroom, further exaggerating the disadvantage to the youngest and creating new demands on teachers to accommodate this larger age range.

Unless there is a solid, developmental reason to hold a child back, delaying a child from kindergarten does not appear to achieve its promise. What’s more, redshirting does not allow children the opportunity to live up to their full potential. For those who can’t, identifying and addressing the root causes of the problem early can help prevent problems down the road.

Perhaps as more parents redshirt their kids and research becomes more established, this trend will reverse. Until then, parents should carefully consider the impact of redshirting and seek out professional guidance on their decisions.

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    • AdT70 profile image

      AdT70 5 years ago

      this is crazy that people do this: first 6 years of a child's life represent greatest concentration of brain development. why would anyone deprive their child of that?

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      This is an excellent comprehensive article on the pros and cons of redshirting. Until quite recently I did not know that there was an actual name for this practice and did not realize that so many parents were doing this.

      My sister actually kept my nephew from beginning kindergarten the year that he was supposed to start and I actually supported her in her decision. In Michigan, the cut off date to enter kindergarten is December 1st of the year that you enter school. My nephew's birthday is in November which would have meant that he would be four in kindergarten for the first 3 months of school. As a teacher, we find that those who have Oct/Nov birthdays are often less academically and socially prepared to begin school. I think that it would help greatly if there were a national start date for all schools nation wide. Now that our state has moved to all day kindergarten, I feel that it is even more important that a child must be five to start kindergarten.

      There are always going to be kids who are older and kids who are younger in classrooms. I do not think that it is fair to go to such extremes in holding your child back until they are six for kdg, but I also don't think that it is right for a child to spend the first few months of kdg as a four year old when the child sitting next to them will be six in just a couple of weeks. Great hub!

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Cardelean, thanks for reading and commenting. Interesting idea about a national cutoff date. I think especially as we've moved to a more standards based curriculum, this could make a lot of sense. 5 year olds are the same in whichever state they happen to live! The issue of full day kindergarten is an interesting one as well, and obviously contributes to the issue of age of starting K.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      AdT70: Thanks for your comment. It is interesting that the very parents who are trying to give their children the best chances of success may actually be limiting their opportunity to grow at a crucial time. It would be interesting to learn more about brain development and what path best takes advantage of children at this time to help propel them forward.

    • profile image

      TXmom 5 years ago

      Why do schools allow this? They don't let kids start early, so why is it ok to start them later? Doesn't make sense

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      TXmom: great point! I agree, it seems odd to me that schools are so strict about the cutoff in one direction (most won't even consider taking a student if they miss the cutoff even by 1 day), but are making no effort to control it in the other direction. I wish schools could do more to help parents determine kindergarten readiness, especially for kids who are so close to the cutoff.

    • breathe2travel profile image

      breathe2travel 5 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      Our local school system does not offer naptime for kindergartners. I "redshirted" my 5 year old, only after giving kindergarten a trial run. He was physically and emotionally exhausted by the end of each day - falling asleep on the bus and having a miserable attitude the little bit of time he was awake in the evenings for supper and homework.

      Prior to registering him for kindergarten, I had discussed my thoughts with the principal. She shared that of her four sons, she held two back & understood. This does not mean that he is not being taught at home. I had taught him phonics, letter formation, basic math skills before he was five. He reads now, and adds 3 digits in his head - quickly.

      Also - our school does not offer recess. I believe younger children simply need the break during the day. Research supports the idea that recess benefits both the student and teacher.

      My son will turn 6 just before the beginning of next school year. He will be in kindergarten. And I do not regret it one bit.

      I have one girl and four boys. My five year old is second from youngest, and he is my first child I felt was not ready for kindergarten at his given "cut-off" date. Each child is different. The parents I know who have "redshirted" their child are glad they did, and I know a few who wish they would have.

    • breathe2travel profile image

      breathe2travel 5 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      I am absolutely opposed to the federal government setting a national cut-off date. I think the government needs to step back and allow the local systems regulate education. It worked a hell a lot better 100 years ago than it does today. Have you seen what a third grade learned back in the late 1800s/early 1900s versus today? A huge difference. Overregulation stifles learning, IMO.

      You write, "Parents, however well-meaning, are often ill-prepared to make this type of decision." I disagree, strongly - except for the parents who continuously pawn their children on the government and other entities to raise their children, I think parents know their kids better than anyone. It's this line of thought that empowers the nanny state.

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Breathe2travel: I appreciate you sharing your story and thoughts. I agree that recess is an absolutely necessary part of the school day, not just for kindergarten kids but for all kids in elementary.

      I also appreciate your comments about parent decision-making on this issue. I do agree that parents know their children best and should be highly involved in the decision. But, I also think that schools/educators are not doing a good job of informing parents about what kindergarten readiness means and how to determine what factors indicate whether their child is ready, so parents are being left to try to navigate this complicated territory on their own. And, it seems like many parents are making the decision not based on their child's needs, but on what the norm is in their communities.

    • profile image

      chloelozano 4 years ago

      I think parents know their children best and if a child is just shy of the cut off date they have every right to hold that child back. My daughter is only 3 right now but she is a November baby. Our districts cutoff date is December 1st. When the time comes for me to choose to send her to kindergarten at 4 going on 5, or keep her in preschool an extra year I will be keeping her in preschool.

    • Mandy M S profile image

      Mandy M S 4 years ago

      My state (Iowa) has a program called "Transitional Kindergarten" (TK) to address this specific trend. Our cutoff here is September 15 and school starts around August 15th.

      My daughter was born July 10. She started preschool shortly after she turned 4. There were 22 kids in her preschool. 9 went on to TK and 13 on to Kindergarten. Two who went to TK had mental/emotional challenges and the other 7 were all born between May 1st and Sept 15th.

      TK is three days a week (what kindergarten was when I was little) and Kindergarten is every day, all day. TK was wonderful for my daugher. I'm certain she was not emotionally or socially ready for kindergarten last year. Even now, she's 6 and one of the oldest in her class, but she often comes home from school tired, crabby and falls asleep before supper. Getting her to wake up to eat is hard. She is crabby pretty much whenever she's at home during the week, and she cries in the mornings that she doesn't want to go to school and she tells me she's sick and asks not to go. She's overwhelmed by it even at 6.

      My decision to "redshirt" her was made with her Preschool teacher and was not to make her one of the brightest in the class (both of her older sisters are in the gifted program without redshirting) nor to make her an athletic star, but to allow her more time to develop emotionally so she can thrive in such a demanding environment. It's not the kindergarten of crackers and milk and paste and dress-up that I had three days a week.... nope, that's preschool.

    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 4 years ago from MA

      Mandy MS. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective. It's disturbing how much more is being expected from Kindergarten students. I live in a town that has a hybrid model, with some short and some long days. People are constantly pushing for full day and higher standards at the completion of the first year, as if their ability to get into Harvard is going going to be impacted by how well they can read at the end of Kindergarten.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      All three of our children were born in the fall. Our oldest started school when he was four. All I heard from teachers, he's to young even though his grades were good. I got sick of being told how young he was. I was a young mother I started him to school because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

      The next two we held back a year to make sure they weren't such babies (like teachers claim) when starting school. This was not my decision. The teachers that taught my oldest son convinced me they needed to be held back. Actually it didn't hurt them. My daughter later complained she was the oldest in her class. Voted uP!

    • breathe2travel profile image

      breathe2travel 4 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      MandyMS - your experience is similar to mine, as are your reasons for redshirting. We do not have TK here. Kindergarten here does not have blocks, painting or the "play" time that traditional kindergarten did.

      Interesting comments. :) BTW, my son whom I redshirted is excelling this year and loves going to school. Totally different from when we tested the waters last year. He definitely needed that extra year at home.

    • Mandy M S profile image

      Mandy M S 4 years ago

      breathe2travel - Our school principal told me, "I've never had a parent say they regretted putting their child in TK (redshirting) but I've had several tell me they regretted NOT putting their child in TK. If you are on the fence, go for TK."

      I'm not advocating redshirting, but you know if your child is ready for 7 hours a day at a desk every single day. If they are not ready, why invite the problems of pushing them into something they are not mature enough to handle when they could have such a better experience a year later?

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