The debate about red-shirting heats up about this time every year. Parents of kids born from late summer to early winter wring their hands while staring hard at their post-preschooler trying to discern: is this the year to start? Is 4 years old too young for Kindergarten? Is 6 too old? Will the boy sit still? Will the girl be bored? What to do?
The slide toward earlier reading and more academics in Kindergarten doesn’t make the decision any easier. So while a lot of parents who decide to red-shirt are accused of wanting a leg-up in sports years down the road, there are sound reasons to put off Kindergarten enrollment for another year: if your child isn’t ready to settle down, he’ll only learn to dislike school and distract all of his peers in the process.
Pamela Paul wrote about redshirting last week for the New York Times and captured some of the many reasons — and frequent regrets — that underlie decisions to wait a year or go for it at 4. But I think the decision doesn’t have to be so all-or-nothing, so anguishing. After all, if your child winds up indeed being too young, she can always repeat Kindergarten.
That’s right, flunk Kindergarten.
I think “holding students back” has a really bad reputation in the U.S., so laden with stigma and shame as it is. One mother in the Times piece decided her son, who started Kindergarten at 4 and started struggling in first grade, should repeat second grade. But she moved him to a private school to do so — I’m presuming because of the embarrassment and label the boy would suffer once kids realized he was “held back.” As if he couldn’t hack it or wasn’t brilliant. But the boy’s handwriting was bad. He was struggling to keep up. So let him repeat the year — heck, move him in the middle of the school year — and watch him flourish. He likely wasn’t the only one who would have benefited. If Laura Counts is feeling a bit anguished over not putting her daughter on the slow plan, as she wrote in Babble last spring, then give the girl a do-over! No shame. Lead the way!
But we’re all raising gifted genius future sports stars whose self-esteem is so delicate we dare not even hint that something is — at a certain point in time — beyond them. I think a huge problem, too, is that we equate intellect with social and developmental prowess. Just because your 3- or 4-year-old can read, doesn’t mean he/she is ready for the kind of classroom instruction that is expected in Kindergarten. Those are two different skills. As for advanced readers getting bored, that’s where a good teacher comes in, one who gets there’s much variation in those early years.
I live in a state which educates some of the youngest Kindergarteners in the nation. Kids barely 4 and a half years old, who have never set foot inside even a preschool, can go to Kindergarten. I’m all for getting kids into school as soon as you think they’re ready or as soon as you need them to. But I’m also all for helping kids get the best out of the K-12 education, not losing them in Kindergarten, not teaching them that school is where you go to feel stressed out and stupid. I think we need to recognize that kids are individuals, development ranges widely and that Sept. 1, Oct. 22nd, Dec. 6th are nothing more than random cut-off dates.
And that if at first you don’t succeed in Kindergarten (or first grade, or fourth grade, or …), it’s OK to try and try again.