"Redshirting" Your Kindergarten-Age Child May Have Detrimental Academic Effects

The best way to give your kids an academic edge is to get them in school as soon as they are eligible.

The practice of holding back kindergarten-age children so they can enter school more “advanced” physically and mentally than their peers is called “redshirting,” a term born from athletic coaches holding back college freshman players to prolong their eligibility.

With one in eleven kindergarten-eligible U.S. children not attending class this fall, it appears that is has become almost commonplace for parents to hold back (or consider holding back) their children with birthdays bordering kindergarten deadline dates. Many parents do so believing that the boost in age will give their kids an edge, but according to an op-ed piece in the NY Times, the practice may actually end up hurting their child in the long run.

The article, by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, co-authors of the book “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College,” states that redshirted children enjoy a modest boost in performance throughout grade school, on average moving from 13th in their classes to 11th. Unfortunately, much less desirable effects start to kick in by the time they reach high school when the students become less motivated and perform less well. In fact, the article points out, once they reach adulthood, not only do they not show any increase in wages or educational attainment over their peers, “their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.”

So, why doesn’t the athletic edge translate to the academic one?

Well, it turns out that because learning is largely social, it is an huge advantage to get your child into school as soon as you can. Unless your child is significantly delayed, the challenge of school will bring out their best. Even for boys, who are slower to mature emotionally, interacting with older peers will help them develop more quickly through modeling the older children’s behavior.

A large-scale study in Canada showed that first-graders who are the youngest in their class performed considerably better in tests than their similarly aged counterparts who were the oldest in their kindergarten classes. In another study, while the youngest children “scored a little lower than their classmates,” they scored 5 I.Q points higher, on average, than the oldest fourth-graders. As they astutely point out, “School makes children smarter.”

I have a son whose birthday fell just four days after the cut-off date for kindergarten and thought long and hard about whether to fight for him to start kindergarten “early,” wondering if the early start would give him an edge academically. I opted in the end to let the deadline stand, but had him attend Montessori kindergarten and then repeat it in the public school when he started a year later.  We took into account the fact that the kids in our families are historically late-bloomers, that his fine-motor skills were still fairly undeveloped, and he was still not interested in reading on his own as he approached five. Our son is now twelve and looking at the boys in the grade beyond his, we couldn’t be happier that he is only starting 6th grade.

Is redshirting a problem at your school? Did you decide to hold back a child and do you still agree with your decision or do you regret it?

Read the whole article in the NY Times here.

Photo Credit: Amy Windsor @Bitchin’ Wives Club

Read more from Amy Windsor:
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More on redshirting: Is your child ready for kindergarten?