When I was in school, there was always the random older kid. You know, the one that turned sixteen in the summer before sophomore year when some of us were still waiting on a fifteenth birthday. The kid on the opposing team that was somehow taller and more muscular than all the other juniors on the basketball court. Typically, the kid was held back during elementary school — maybe first grade didn’t quite “click” or maybe he/she failed fourth grade. But there was always a reason that involved repeating a grade.
In the past few months, as my child enters Pre-K, I’ve become more familiar with the term “redshirting” in regards to preschoolers and rising kindergartners. The idea is to “hold back” your preschooler for one more year in preschool, so that your child enters kindergarten as one of the oldest students. (Redshirting traditionally refers to college sports, when a freshman’s participation is delayed so he/she is eligible to play a fifth year.)
The advantages of kindergarten redshirting are numerous — your child is older, therefore his brain is more mature. He more readily grasps the concepts of math and writing and has better fine motor control to excel. He is more emotionally and socially mature. And in the years to come, he is more physically mature to compete as a high school or college athlete.
We must also look at the socio-economic standpoint of delaying entry to kindergarten. Most redshirted children are white, from higher income families that don’t mind the burden of an extra year in private daycare or preschool. In contrast, lower income families seek the tax-supported public school system, sending age-qualified children regardless of emotional or academic readiness.
Unfortunately, this practice creates problems within the classroom. Teachers are teaching a wide range of ages — from the fresh four year old to the six-and-a-half year old. I personally cannot fathom tailoring material that reaches both sets of ages equally in one classroom. It also creates a situation of unfair advantage with bigger, older, faster kids sharing the same learning space with children fresh out of toddlerhood. And once again, it’s creating an educational gap between the privileged students and lower income students.
I’m lucky in that the decision is made for me — my son’s birthday is a full two months after the kindergarten cutoff, so he will be one of the oldest in his class without the decision to hold him back. But I admit that as a parent to a boy, the idea of redshirting would be tempting if he did not meet that cutoff to give him any advantage possible in life. I think it’s important for parents to fully weigh all the aspects of holding a child back — is it for short-term gain or is it because he/she is truly not ready for full academics?
Talk to me: Would you redshirt your toddler?
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