Should You Wait To Send Your Child To Kindergarten? {Academic Redshirting}

Sam Van Ooven and his twin sister Anna were newborns when their parents began discussing  kindergarten placement.

Should you Wait a Year To Send Your Child To Kindergarten

Should you wait to send your child to kindergarten?

Like many well-educated couples, Steven and Laurie Van Ooven knew that their kids ™ late July birthday would likely make them some of the youngest children in their class–and perhaps put them at a disadvantage academically and socially when competing with chronologically older peers.

So by the time their twins were five, the decision was almost a no-brainer: Following an additional readiness assessment, the siblings would do an encore  year of preschool before moving on to kindergarten. This would give the siblings time to mature before taking on the rigors of an elementary-school curriculum.

I think we almost decided at birth,  Mr. Van Ooven said. They were summer babies. And since we had a boy coming, well, it was something that was pretty straightforward. 

Sam and Anna have plenty of company.

Six percent of all children eligible for kindergarten under state statutes in the Lewisville Independent School District are held back by their parents–a practice nicknamed academic redshirting  by educators.

Academic Redshirting

While that number is comparable to those in other communities nationwide, it is noteworthy that more than half of all children redshirted in that district  live in the affluent communities, said Kathy Haule, the district's Early Childhood Supervisor.

This means that on average, every kindergarten in these communities has at least one or two children who might be upwards of six and a half years old–a whole 18 months older than his or her classmates.

National experts are at odds over whether or not such practices help or hinder individuals.

The research is mixed,  said Donald Easton-Brooks, an assistant professor of Teacher Education and Administration at the University of North Texas in Denton who has studied redshirting. If you're an impoverished community where parents can't provide meals, then schooling ¦would be beneficial. If you're a child in an affluent community, I don't know how delaying a child would be a benefit. 

Moreover, Easton-Brooks worried about the societal impact on ethnic minorities, who are far less likely to be redshirted than their white peers and thus are competing with significantly older children. “Pitting such children against one another is simply unfair,” he said.

He also said one thing is clear: The trend will continue–and escalate. Especially in communities where parents have the money to make choices.

Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

While the district does not currently keep track of redshirting trends, it seems as though more families become more concerned about kindergarten readiness when the district moved from half-day to full-day kindergarten in the 1990s, said Dean Tackett, a public information officer for LISD who served as an elementary school principal for 17 years.

Parents began worrying about the demands and the endurance needed,  Mr. Tackett said. When you're in the suburbs, parents want kids to be stronger, faster, brighter. 

Despite interest in the topic, the district's policy is in line with state laws and thus administrators encourage those with children who turn five years old by September 1 to enroll them in kindergarten, Ms. Haule said.

Our official position is that any child legally of the age has a right to be education,  she said.

Still, many practitioners throughout the district including Ms. Haule encourage families to assess their children themselves for signs of readiness, consult with preschool teachers, day care providers and pediatricians before making any decisions.

Brandi Valor of Flower Mound talked to her daughter's preschool teacher then opted to redshirt Isabelle, who was born August 13, based on the belief that she needed time to master academic fundamentals.

Our daughter has always excelled socially, with her vocabulary, her conversation skills and the like,  Ms. Valor said. We felt the extra time to master her letters and numbers would be time well spent. We want school to be a fun, exciting experience for our kids, not something they have to struggle with. 

Marion Greer of Lewisville was sure her sweet, sensitive son  was ready academically for kindergarten even though he had a late August birthday, yet she was concerned he didn't quite have the social skills necessary. Thus, she held him back.

It was the best decision we ™ve ever made–he bloomed in that extra year,  the former kindergarten teacher said. I truly believe allowing students to have maturity when starting school is the greatest gift we can give. 

She added that the benefits have been long-lasting: Not only did he have a positive kindergarten experience, but he also excelled in first and second grades and is performing well now as a third grader.

While parents like Ms. Greer often make such observations, early childhood education advocates aren't so sure children who are redshirted gain anything from it.

There is no research to support the idea that holding a child back helps them in school–even if the kid is young,  said Jerlean E. Daniel, the deputy executive director at the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Ms. Haule, of LISD, countered that even if there is an advantage early on, the bottom line is that any gain the child seems to have socially or emotionally going in seems to diminish by middle or high school. 

She added that research shows that academic gains ¦begin to even out by third grade. 

Furthermore, Ms. Daniel contends that some of the very children who parents aim to help are actually hurt by redshirting.

Families have to ask themselves, is my six-year-old going to be bored (academically) or really far ahead in terms of life experience?  she said. “If so, hanging out with five-year-olds is going to be a drag,” Ms. Daniel added.

“Furthermore, children who are bored often become behavior problems,” she said.

Assessment Is Key

The best thing to do, then, is to assess the individual child and remember that kindergartens include a diverse group of students, said BeLinda Nickel, who has served as principal of Heritage Elementary School in Highland Village for 11 years. Some kids come very, very prepared and others don't know letters or have number recognition. 

This is expected, she said, and addressed by kindergarten teachers who aim to help all children gain the knowledge an skills needed to move on to first grade.
Moreover, a child who has a strength in one area will likely have a weakness in another, added Robin Macke, the principal of Wellington Elementary School in Flower Mound. Thus, a student who has mastered the alphabet can work on learning to sit quietly during story time, she said.

Remember, too, that age won't change a child's personality, she said. Those who are shy might always be shy–and they ™ll gravitate towards others who are quiet, too.

If you can rule out possible learning issues ¦and everything else is intact, bring ˜em to me,  Ms. Macke said.

As a mother of six children, she admits this is easier said than done.

The hardest thing,  Ms. Macke said, is to stand back and say ˜It's going to be fine. ™ 

11 Comments

  1. My son has an October birthday and tested into kindergarten at 4 years and 10 months. He experienced a lot of challenges during his school years (he’s now an adult), and I often wondered if he would have been better served by waiting an additional year.

    The assessments made by Ms. Haule that any “red shirt” advantage gained was diminished by middle school has helped me to put it all into perspective.

  2. As a former LISD kindergarten teacher with a child who turns 4 on June 1 of this year, I know that it is time for me to start thinking about this. In some ways it really seems like a good idea, because it would give her the opportunity to be the oldest in the class, she would have the extra knowledge that went with another year of preschool, etc.

    I am so torn about this issue though. Part of me thinks it would be selfish to hold her back, and part of me thinks it would be a great idea. I have been looking into that school that does homeschooling half the week, and then you bring them in for school the other half (Coram Deo Academy), and I have looked at maybe doing a private kindergarten program the first year, and then if she needed it, I would start her in regular kindergarten the next year instead of just putting her straight into first grade.

    This is such a complicated issue, because I am not just worried about what happens when she is 8 or 9, but also when she is 15 or 16 as well. It means she will start her sophomore year with a driver’s license… and it means she will be old enough to go clubbing with college kids when she is a senior in high school… is this age gap worth worrying about? I mean, I was an early October birthday, so I had pretty much all these same thing, right?

  3. This was a very interesting article to read. Four of my kids have September/October birthdays, so the decision is made for us anyway. Those four will always be the older ones in their classes. Having my kids so close in age as well, I can really see how it is an individual thing. My second daughter, who is in kindergarten this year, was definitely ready to start when her big sister started, both academically and socially. However, my son, who is 5 1/2 and not in school yet, is definitely benefiting from this extra year at home. I have an August birthday and so was always the youngest one in my classes. It didn’t hurt me at all, but the expectations in the early grades have changed quite a bit, academically speaking, and I only went to half-day kindergarten. Like the article states, I think it has to be decided on an individual basis. Holding a child back because they truly aren’t ready for school, because of academics or behavior, is a good thing, I think. However, the idea that it is done just to give those kids an advantage is a little over-the-top. Really? What kid needs an advantage in kindergarten?

  4. Great article Julie! I think you really hit the nail on the head with the 1/2 day vs. full. 8 – 3 is a very long day for a little one. I can appreciate the reasons why LISD extended the day, but I often wonder how the younger kiddos make it through. As you know, Oldest is a late September birthday and went to three years of preschool, and still has cranky issues by Thursday. I would have loved to put him in private 1/2 day kindergarten, but at his age, I felt I would be holding him back.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The curse of a caring parent?

    Em

  5. I know all to well the fustrations of this decision. I was 100% against redshirting my son, whose birthday is the end of May. His preschool teacher said he needed another year. Nope he was way to bright. I really tought I had a genius on my hands. He was reading at 3 1/2 no way was he going to stay back..So off to Kindergarten he goes.. His kindergarten teacher says he needs to stay another year, he is not mature enough. By this time he has had a horriable year and he hates school. He never gets to play at recess and really dosent have a lot of friends. But he’s so smart. NO!! Off to first Grade..
    Same thing.. He never gets his work done , he is always in trouble. Makes straight A’s but his teacher says I think he needs to stay with me… NO!!! Yep off to 2nd grade… His second grade teacher was awesome.. She put him on a behavior plan, he actually started to play at recess. But he still was having huge meltdowns and spending time in the prinicpals office. She suggested at the end of the year she keep him for another year. Being that 3rd grade starts TAKS and they are way more serious and strick. Ok .. This is his 2nd year in 2 Grade and he has blossomed.. He is the leader of the class. He has had the best year ever. I only wish I could take him back to preschool and start over. May have made those 3 years go so much smoother.

  6. Melissa–your situation is a perfect example of eventually holding a child back because they need it, not to give them some kind of head start on his/her peers. I’m so glad this year is going well for your son.

    Regardless of what we do with our kids, we will always ask ourselves if we could have done better.

  7. I have a real problem with a lot of the subjective information in this article. I was a 1st grade teacher for many years and I am also a mom of boys who have summer birthdays. I think we place a lot of pressure on the academic readiness and not enough focus on the emotional and developmental readiness of these children. The example I always would share with the parents of my young students who were struggling in either area and were clearly not in need of any special testing or diagnosis was this one. You take a child who was born on Sept. 3rd and one who was born on aug.30. The Sept. baby was walking and had completed so mmany develomental milestones before the other child could even hold his head up.

    I do not believe that all children with summer birthdays should automatically be considered for an extra year, but I do believe that if there are concerns or indications that youngness is an issue that may hinder their success in the classroom it should be a positive experience to gift that child with an axtra year to grow and mature. The classroom is not the only place that it will affect them in the future.

    The biggest shame in LISD was getting rid of the D-1 (Developmental first grade) The whole objective of this grade was to create an environment for children who were identified as”young” to grow and mature academically and socially before heading into the academic pressure of first grade and all the years that follow.

    I thought it was interesting that it was written that these kids all tend to equalize around what…3rd grade or junior high?. In my experience, the younger students who exhibit young tendencies tend to be the followers rather than the leaders and seem to show lower self esteem. This scares me when we are looking at these kids in high school and facing peer pressure and enironmental influences.

    I am a huge fan of waiting an extra year if there is a concern about maturity despite a child’s academic aptitude. My oldest son, for example , has a May b’day and has always been exceptionally bright. We asked for the D-1 testing for him in Kinder. and his K teacher was reluctant because he was so successful academically. We pushed a bit and he showed to be a perfect candidate for the program because his maturity was testing about 6 months behind his actual age. That extra year was the best thing ever for him.

    My other son is now in Kinder. We weren’t sure about his readiness, but decided that we would see since we thought his issues were more in the academic realm than the developmental. Well, he has been quite academically successful and after speaking with his teacher (often) she confided that if we should choose to repeat Kinder. it would be more for the developmental/ maturity reasons than academic. This just reaffirmed my opinion that we really need to take good long look at our spring and summer babies and talk with our teachers to try to make sure that we are adressing these emotional needs early in the game.

  8. I am the mother of a 6 year old girl with a August 9th BD. She went to Kinder and half way through we considered T-1 but by the end of the year were given the option to go to 1st. We did 1st believing in our daughter. She has since shown to be ADD and not able to handle meds. She has made better than average grades the entire year. She is very close to her friends in 1st, due to school and dance classes they share. We have been given the option to retain her to give her time, but she is very upset at the mention of the idea. She says she will be embarrassed and cries as if it would be the end of the world in her mind. She questions her own self estem but these friends lift her up as do we, but they seem to make such a difference. IF anyone has advice please post it to me!

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