Academic Redshirting: should you hold your kid back?
I’ve been thinking about the practice of redshirting: postponing your child’s entrance into kindergarten to give him or her an academic or social edge. I’m not considering it for my son, mind you: we were spared that decision, because Henry just missed the cut-off date in New Jersey; we’re paying for another year of preschool and that’s why we can’t afford food or socks. I’m thinking about it because whenever I complain about all this tuition we’re forced to pay and all the great socks we’re missing out on, everyone congratulates me—because giving your child an extra year—especially if your child is a boy child—is seen as the smartest way to go. Usually when people tell me it’s for the best, boys need that extra year, I like to respond by shouting, YOU CALLING MY BOY AN IDIOT? And I wonder why people run from me at the playground.
Now, If we had stayed in Brooklyn, he would have been well within the cut-off date and he would have attended kindergarten. Am I disappointed that he had an extra year of preschool? A little. Financially, I’m disappointed, of course. But also I’m not sure the extra year has done him a service. He’s expressed a great deal of impatience with preschool. It is, according to Henry, a baby school with baby activities. For the first time, he doesn’t want to go to school because it’s boring. I was excited for him to be the oldest– he was the youngest for two years in preschool, and I watched the older kids leaving him out of their games and it broke my heart—but he doesn’t actually get that much out of it. The thrill of having all the younger kids look up to him has worn off, and now he just thinks they’re, well, boring. (Sorry for being redundant, but it’s a word I hear all too frequently.)
On the other hand, I wonder whether the extra year will pay off in the long run. I must admit that I’m glad Henry won’t be the smallest boy in the class when he enters public school. I mean, he’ll be able to handle his switchblade so much better next year. (Ha! Heeerrgh. Ahem.)
Let’s face it, kindergarten isn’t what it was when we were youngsters. Here’s what I remember from kindergarten: we ate paste while the teacher wasn’t looking. I got into trouble for blowing bubbles in my milk. We played follow the leader, and I got distracted and wandered off. Is it any wonder I almost failed? My kindergarten report card is still a topic of amusement in my family. Knows full name and number? NOPE. Can tie shoes? NUH-UH. Follows directions? ALMOST NEVER. Calls the teacher Mommy? WHY, SURE! If kindergarten were still like that, hell, Henry could have entered at age 3 and blown my record right out of the water.
But these days the children are expected to learn, you know, things. They’re learning how to read and write, they’re getting started on foreign languages, they’re expected to sit at desks, and I’m fairly certain that they learn how to drive. Henry’s getting an extra year of running around, and given his energy level, that’s a good thing. I’m especially glad we switched him to a preschool that’s a little more sedate and rigid (and, well, boring) than his last one, which was an action-figure-strewn free-for-all. Had we not had this extra year, kindergarten might have come as a terrible shock. What do you mean, there are no Power Rangers here? What circle of hell have I descended to?
So yeah, the extra year might do him good. And I know plenty of parents whose kids just made the cut-off date, but were smaller statured or shy or just needed more time to mature, and in that case waiting does make more sense. But it’s when parents use redshirting as some kind of strategic move for their child’s future greatness that I start to wonder where they’re coming from. Your kid was ready, but you want him to be readier? Or you just want him to win? Why don’t you wait four years? Five? THEN he’ll have the real advantage. He’ll kick those five-year-olds to the curb! Literally!
And according to some experts, leaving your kid behind a year doesn’t put them at a long-term advantage. Beth Graue, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Curriculum and Instruction, says that the advantages the older children enjoy disappear after a couple of years. “Meanwhile, ‘redshirts’ have higher-than-expected placement in special education and more social, emotional, and disciplinary problems.” In other words, they become the understimulated, oversized bullies.
Then there are the larger ramifications, which are summed up neatly on this site. First of all, people who hold their children back are more like to be well-off. What does that mean for the poorer families, who can’t afford not to send their kids to public school for an entire year? It means that children who are already at risk face a further disadvantage. Also, the older the children entering kindergarten become, the more the curriculum will alter to serve them, leaving five-year-olds in the dust. The long-term result: “The kindergarten program will become developmentally inappropriate for the very young children it is meant to serve.”
But then, it’s hard to factor in what’s good for Society when your child’s well-being is at stake. So what did you do think? Do you leave your kid back, or throw him in when the district says he’s ready?