Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Should We Redshirt Kindergarten?

On the bus ride home last night I saw a tweet referencing a 60 Minutes story about how giving would be kindergartners a bonus year, or 'Redshirting' them is on the rise.

 Photo Credit: The Modern Stitch

I didn't have time to read the story right there, but was eager to see what it had to say, and knew that Mrs. LIAYF would also be very interested in the topic.  That's because, unaware of the national debate, we have recently been considering that very course of action for Lukas, who turns 5 around the 4th of July.

The 60 Minutes article was a brief overview of the topic, but from there Mrs. LIAYF found a Huffington Post article by Tom Matlack of The Good Men Project  from last year, which goes into much deeper detail into the reasons many people choose this option, as well as the opinions of educators and parents on both sides of the topic.  This is a terrific article and very informative, and I suggest that if you have a child who is a summer baby and kindergarten is in your future you really need to read it before deciding.

First off, I need to say that Mrs. LIAYF and I have not made a decision on this matter yet.  We have participated in a lot of school visits in the past couple of months, both pubic and private, and are currently waiting to hear in the next couple of weeks from some private schools where we have applied.  Then if we do get in to one, which is by no means a given with most having 10 plus applicants to each available spot, we have a tough choice on our hands regarding public versus private. And an important question to answer.

Would Lukas benefit from an extra year of Pre-K?

The Huffington Post article pointed out how many of the parents who are making this decision are doing it to give their child (overwhelmingly boys) a competitive advantage over their classmates.  The bottom line being that they wanted them to do better at sports, and on tests, compared to their then younger classmates.

There is research, notably as referenced in Malcolm Gladwells book 'Outliers' (the Canadian Hockey players example) that boys who enter school as one of the older children, rather than amongst the youngest, do gain a level of maturity, both emotionally and physically, that gives them an increased opportunity to succeed.

Mrs. LIAYF and I have not at all been considering this under the pretense that it would be a way for Lukas to succeed at his potential classmates expense.  Like most any parents would, we have simply been looking at what would be the best decision for him as an individual. And with that there are some sound reasons to seriously consider the Redshirting decision.  And they are certainly not academic with Lukas.  He is an exceptionally bright boy who had early verbal skills.

Rather, our reasons stem mostly from his size, and emotional maturity level.  Lukas has yet to hit his growth spurt, and thus is much smaller than many of this classmates, even the younger ones.  Additionally, he has always had very strong emotions, which can often lead to not only being very happy (a great thing) but often very hurt by perceived injustices as well, the fact that at 4 1/2 he still naps (without which, having two full time working parents would make his kindergarten day extremely long), and the fact that he doesn't currently do well in a learning environment where he is asked to sit still, and you start to get a picture of why we were independently considering this option even before becoming aware of these national articles.

Lastly, on top of all that, if we were to choose a public option, we would have to add to the fact that his day would be 7:30 - 5:30 and class sizes in many of our local options are going to push 28 to 1, with no teaching assistant.  A huge jump from his current 9 to 1 ratio.  Not out of the question, but certainly not optimal.

Concerns were raised in the Huffington Post article, and in the subsequent string of comments about whether this practice were fair to the younger children who start kindergarten at age 5.  Perhaps not.  But, I would also argue that any class would be much better served from having kids who are physically and emotionally ready to constructively participate in the classroom.

As for our experiences, we were particularly struck at many of our school visits by the number of huge kids, aged 6 or even older in the classroom and also by all the 5 1/2 year olds in the school application pools.  For all intents and purposes, this trend is already happening to a large extent here in Seattle, and that only exacerbates those disadvantages for Lukas were we to make the decision to enroll him this coming Fall.

Like I mentioned, our decision has not been made yet, but you can see which way we are leaning.  Of course that may change if the right private school opportunity fell into our lap.  Either way, it will be a difficult decision tinged with uncertainty.

Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention my own experience in starting elementary school.  I was a boy with a September birthday, and since my brother who was one year older and also a September birthday, entered when he was just turning 6, so did I.  Then, after 1st grade my academic performance merited my skipping straight to 3rd grade....into the same classroom as my older brother.

Many difficult years ensued.

At this point I am fairly certain that had I stayed with my original class I would not have had many of the confidence issues that plagued me well into adulthood. That personal experience alone will serve as a cautionary tale when the time soon comes to make our choice.  Stay tuned.

How about you readers?  Were you faced with this choice?  How did it turn out? Other thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Great article. I did not have the option of placing my boys in Kindergarden because they turned 5 in the first week of December. Red shirting, just to give your kid a "leg up" doesn't seem right. For any child to succeed, they must be challenged. If children who are capable of performing well in Kindergarden are held back, just to show off, it can give a false sense of accomplishment, or even worse, boredom. When kids are bored in a classroom setting, you can run the risk of getting into trouble, or they can losing interest in school all together. I can't see how either would be great for a red-shirted child.

But, to your point, the child has to be ready. The difference between a 1/2 day and a full day kindergarten are huge. And, ultimately only a parent knows what is best for the child.

Thomas Matlack said...

James thanks for finding my article! Yes, it is a tough issue but I find the whole notion of holding kids back for sports or advancement later on competitively to be hard to take. Having 6 footers wandering around pre-k can't be good for anyone.

Unknown said...

My son has a late November birthday and the questions about redshirting him began within a month after he was born. He just turned 25, by the way, so it's not new.

Juli said...

I have an October birthday, so I started school when I was still four. For me, I did well academically, but the challenge came when all of my friends were older than me, so it became more of an emotional hindrance.

Oldest is a November birthday, so he started closer to six. WHAT A HUGE DIFFERENCE THIS MAKES! Mainly for his maturity, but academically it helps as well. As far as sports, yes my son does excel, they both do, but I'd never hold them back to give them that advantage.

Youngest is a March birthday, he does well and is on target with his class. But looking back, if I could have held him back a year I think he'd have an easier time academically as well as emotionally.

Bonus Brother is a August Birthday. He started right at 5 years old. He's 17 now, and looking back my husband wishes they had held him back for maturity reasons. He was simply too young, and that rears it's head more so in high school situations.

Bottom line, it depends on the kid. If he's socially and academically ready then start him. If not then wait. Good Luck!

Hey Monkey Butt said...

All the tough decisions in regards to our children and their education. I wish you good luck in your decisions and Im sure they will be very good ones no matter which you go with :))

danielpelfrey said...

First - I never heard of "redshirting" and the only Red Shirt term I am familiar with is the law of Star Trek.

We held back my 8 year old, did a 3rd year of preschool, and didn't regret it. my daughter did 2 years of preschool, and is doing alright. We just decided to hold our 4 year old back for a 3rd year of preschool. He has a summer birthday, so he would be on the younger side in kindergarten next year, and academically he's where he should be, but his motor skills and social skills could use work. Rather give them the success of kindergarten rather than the struggle. It sets the tone for the rest of their academic career.

Mrs. LIAYF said...

I was a late October birthday, and started Kindergarten when I was 4 years old. That meant I was 16 when I was a senior in high school, and 17 when I started college.

I was at the top of my class in high school and college, but feel could have definitely used an extra year for maturity reasons. Middle school and high school would not have been nearly so difficult had I started at age 5, and turned 6 in kindergarten, and I might have had a few more good friends. Girls are bullies too and can be very mean to their littler and younger classmates. I simply didn't understand then why I didn't fit in, but now I understand that I was just too young compared to my classmates.

I'm fine now, but don't want my son to go through that if he doesn't need to.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@funonadimewa - Boredom is a concern, but if he were that far ahead of his peers we would certainly look into advanced learning options. Thanks for the comment and insight.

@Tom - Yeah, that would not be good. But with Lukas we won't have to worry about that for a while. Even several of the pre schoolers are taller than he is right now. Lots of tall parents in this city!

@Jo - I'm sure it's been around forever, but how prevalent was it back then. Part of what raised concerns for us, as I mentioned, was the number who are already doing this.

@Julliana - Encouraging words, thanks so much. Most of what we have heard so far are of folks who have had good experiences with doing that, or wished they had.

@Monkey Butt - Thanks so much for the sentiment.

@Daniel - That's hilarious, but hey we all know what happens to the guy in the red shirt. Anyway, sounds like you are in the exact same situation as we are and have made a similar decision as I am writing about. Thanks for the comment.

@Mrs. LIAYF - of course, you still turned out perfect.

Anonymous said...

From the '70s: I'm a Sept baby and Tim's a November. We both started kindergarten as 4 yr olds for a few months. As for now, we have one of each: Zeke's birthday is Oct 1st, the cutoff date where we live, so he started kindergarten at age 5, but turned 6 about 6 weeks into the school year. Luke is a July baby, and he started kindergarten the month after his 5th birthday. Academically, the July baby is doing better than the Oct baby, who supposedly had all the advantages of starting later. Socially, I think it's a toss up, they're both fine. Size-wise, neither child had an issue. Zeke clearly went through puberty a grade earlier than most of his classmates, and was very tall by comparison for a while, but nothing says that any child will start puberty at the same age anyway, so that could have been a toss up, even though he *is* chronologically older than most of his class. Neither was small at age 5, and we thought nothing of it then. Neither of them still napped, they both gave it up around age 3, 3 1/2, and I had been spending the extra $$ a few days a week to have them stay at preschool for the after lunch play sessions, because they both needed and enjoyed the extra time at school, so they were totally ready for full-day kindergarten, which is what public school has here. I think, as you have discovered, this has to be a case by case decision. And I'm just curious if the insecurities you mentioned were due to having your actual big brother in your class, rather than just being in a class of older kids. I know if my two had been close enough in age for that to have happened, Zeke's treatment and resentment of his younger sibling would have been brutal. I don't think my age necessarily caused me any difficulties making friends; I tend to think I'm just somewhat socially introverted by personality, and wouldn't have run in a big pack of popular kids even if I'd been older. I'm *really* old now, and still seem to be quite selective, with a small circle. ;-) But Good Luck in the decision making process, it's hard to feel absolutely certain about any choice, with so many variables. Can't wait to hear how it all turns out! Give Mrs. LIAYF these for me: xoxo, Missy

Diplo_Daddy said...

Gee, that’s a very difficult decision for any parent to have to make. Being that you and your wife know your child better than anyone else, go with what you think is most advantageous for Lucas.

Our son started school (a London public school) at the tender age of 4 ½. He’s excelled far beyond our wildest imaginations, from that day forward. And he continues to prosper and flourish. As parents, we have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about putting our son in school at such a young age.

I personally think he’s a little more advanced compared to kids his age back in the States. But I’m horrible biased when it comes to my child and his academic abilities!

Good luck to you!

Nicole Leigh Shaw said...

I've been here, having to wonder if I should hold back my children. A year ago, I might have held them back. Not today. I've got twin girls who turn 5 on August 24. Our school cutoff is August 1. This means they will be four when they begin school mid-August. I should add, they are little girls, in terms of stature.

But they are capable, normal girls, too. They have tantrums, they try to zip their own coats, they enjoy learning new things, and sometimes, when it interferes with something else they are doing, they refuse to count to ten. Normal, all normal.

It is also true, having witnessed it in my older child, that children grow and mature and acquire life and academic skills very quickly at this age. They are not the same people they were 6 months ago—not by a long shot. I imagine, for my girls, they will be vastly more confident, capable, and learned in 6 more months.

I began school early. I was 17 when I graduated high school and remained 17 until December. That's an entire semester of college as a 17-year-old. Was I a bit immature, a bit challenged in terms if being well-organized and disciplined? You bet. As were a whole bunch of my older peers. Some of us went studiously along to classes, some of us had a hard time ha doing our relative freedom and may have skipped a few (ahem).

Further, I think we have a social responsibility to let our kids enter when they are eligible. For many parents, holding younger kids back is not an option. They have little money and few resources to let their child stay home or enroll in an extra year of paid pre-school. Those children, in fact, may be going to school for the very first time as kindergarteners.

This is not an east decision, made less so by the fact that our youngish, but appropriately aged kids are competing with older children now in the kindergarten classroom. And, certainly, some students will not be ready for kindergarten—your son may well be among them—and that decision is best made by parents, like yourselves, who have sought the input of professional educators and counsellors. I imagine, however, that for the vast majority of "redshirted" kindergarteners, they did not need to be held back.

All of these descioins which feel so heavy and life-changing now are the stuff growing to adulthood and becoming a fully realized person are made of. I wonder, if I were to hold them back a year, what opportunities might they miss out on? And, more importantly, in a lifetime of choices and opportunities, does it matter?

Mrs. M said...

I have friends that are choosing to red shirt. I think the parents can make the best choice and you are giving it lots of great thought!

Mrs. LIAYF said...

@Anonymous - Hello Missy! You are correct, it's hard to know what the "right" choice is with so many variables. I think as parents we are all trying to make the right choice. Ultimately, I think it's based on the child's needs, and we all want to do right by our children. :)

@Diplo Daddy - We do have some concerns that waiting a year will slow his academic advancement (we are also biased about our son's academic abilities - his teachers believe he is very advanced). However, I think our concerns are primarily focused on his size, the size of his classmates (many of whom have waited a year), and the size of the public school class for Kindergarten - 26 to 30 students for one teacher. If we were certain he would get into a private school, which has better child/teacher ratios, that would make us feel more comfortable starting this coming year. However, there has been a baby boom in our area and there are 10 applicants for every private school spot.

@Nicole - I agree with all of your points, and am so glad your girls are doing well. However, it's hard to follow our social responsibilities to enroll him when so many other parents are waiting a year in our area. My tours of local kindergartens shows that waiting a year for summer babies has been the norm, not the exception. So, he would be in a classroom with kids at least a year, if not more, older than he is. If everyone followed the rule of enrolling based on the school cut-off, and if kindergarten classes weren't so huge with so many academic expectations, then we likely wouldn't even be considering this. I swear, some of the kids I saw were at least 8 inches taller than he is and 30 pounds heavier - clearly much older. As it is, if he needs the extra year based on his personality, we are lucky we are in a position to give it to him.

Bruce Sallan said...

Boys are ALWAYS better off with another year...

J-Tony said...

We decided to "hold back" our son one extra year before starting school for the same exact reasons you mention. Size/confidence/social skills. I'm a firm believer in the fact that it will only help him later in life.
Good post, and good luck.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@Missy @Diplo_Daddy @Nicole I fully second what Mrs. LIAYF wrote.

@Teri Thanks. It really is a personal decision. One that may affect others, but certainly within our rights as parents to make.

@Bruce That seems to be the prevailing sentiment. It makes a lot of sense. Your experience in raising boys lends credence to what you say. Thanks.

@j-tony - Thanks. Real stories from parents such as you reinforce what we think would be a sound decision.

MamaT said...

I have a son going in this August. He is a June bday and I would be a fool not to send him based on his ability and our family dynamics. He will have 3 younger siblings come October. My only worry is how many parents are going to do this and put my kid, who is intelligent and ready for the challenge at a disadvantage simply because an older kid will inevitably be able to do things he cannot.

I was an Oct baby and I went at 4, graduated at 17, and did a few months of school at age 17. It did not seem to cause me issues. I dated older guys and there was not a huge problem. If anything they were surprised at how mature I was for my age. I am 27, 3.5 kids (and yes I get the glares at the store probably b/c I look about 18) and have a bachelor degree in elementary education, excelled in sports in HS and was on the varsity team. I think it has little merit in the grand scheme of things.

I can understand why SOME might need this, but most of those posting here and other forums seem to do it for the wrong reasons. Not to mention the research is inconclusive and there is not enough solid research either way. I am willing to take the chance that he might be a younger kid more because he needs the challenge and space from mom. It is absolutely a personal decision and a tough one at that.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@MamaT - Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. You mention that most of those posting here, who held their kids back were doing it for the wrong reasons. Skimming back through, those mentioning this as a course of action here cited overwhelmingly size or social reasons. Are those the wrong reasons? I would argue no.

This is a personal decision based on your knowledge of your child. It is wonderful that you have a bright 4yo. We feel exactly the same way about Lukas. However, being 'ready' is in effect being ready to effectively deal with the whole dynamic of the class he/she would be attending, including academics as well as the physical makeup of the kids in the class. It's a fact that there will be kids in those classes who have been redshirted. It's within the rules, and parents shouldn't at all be vilified for making that choice for their child. And in the end, the concept of a 4 1/2 or newly 5 year old being 'ready' has to take that fact into account too. If one is worried about it, then perhaps they are not 100 percent certain that their kids are ready to succeed in a classroom as one of the youngest, with kids who are a year or more older than them. Because that will be the case.

That's how we are approaching our decision. Again, which we have not made.

MamaT said...

My frustration with this whole concept is the fact that kids are a lot more ready than we give them credit for. I absolutely agree that it is the parent's choice and it is not breaking the rules, however we are definitely in an age of over parenting where we worry so much about all the small details of the success of our children, worried that they will not succeed or worried they will get that expensive outfit filthy, worried they are too small or a social misfit. The fact is that we cannot expect them to be well rounded in every aspect of the kindergarten classroom. Holding them back for size or so they get an edge really is not a good reason. Many people in this world succeed despite physical attributes that may make them a little different. There is a fabulous article addressing this very issue I bring up about overparenting: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/the_age_of_overparenting/

My philosophy is let's let kids be kids and not be so involved in all the details of their lives. I respect a parent's decision to choose what is best for their child, but I think we need to educate ourselves a little more before making a decision like this one.

Jamie K said...

I just had this same conversation with my brother very recently. He has a boy who will turn 5 in August, and I have a daughter who just missed the December 1st cutoff and who will be 5 years, 9 months when she enters kindergarten in the fall. The kids are so different socially, emotionally and academically, that when we got to talking, it really shocked us to realize they would be entering kindergarten at the same time. My nephew is ALL BOY... tons of energy, very little focus and has a hard time sitting still. My daughter is the complete opposite and loves sitting and listening to her pre-k teacher and is very excited about school in general.
My brother has been toying with the possibility of send his son to a private/catholic kindergarten in the fall, then sending him to public school in kindergarten so he repeats the next year, but gets a new experience with new kids, to hopefully avoid any stigma of "repeating" kindergarten.

Mrs. LIAYF said...

@Jamie K - it's amazing what 9 months can do for a child, and what a difference in personality can make between two children!!

@MamaT - I hear you about your concerns of overparenting. It's definitely a problem when parents don't letting their children experience things merely because they think they will fail, or don't let their children make hard choices. It sets up a pattern that can be work out to the child's detriment later in life. My husband works at a university and sees the results - when parents are trying to convince a professor that their child should be given extra opportunities to turn in work, or that their grade should be changed.

HOWEVER, I would caution that there is a difference between overzealous overparenting and what we are trying to do for our son, who is small for his age, very emotionally sensitive, and will be the youngest in the class at least by 10 months, if not more, if we enroll him next year. He's had 2 years of preschool and pre-K, so plenty of teachers have had the opportunity to observe him in the classroom and make recommendations, and we also know what kind of kid he is. We don't want to prevent him from succeeding, but we also don't want his "everyone is my friend" attitude to be crushed his first year in school. So, it's a conversation we are having . . . and should have . . . before we decide to enroll him next year.

Portland Dad said...

We have a summer birthday for Finn but felt he was ready for school. From what I heard the difference becomes most evident as the kids get older and a younger sophomore has a harder time than the bigger older kids in high school.

DGB said...

With a kid with a December birthday, we didn't have to face this issue. I'll be really curious to see how it resolves.

Anonymous said...

For MamaT. You say, "My frustration with this whole concept is the fact that kids are a lot more ready than we give them credit for." That may be so, but if the teachers can't take them where they are at, there is a problem.

We are absolutely redshirting our very verbal, able to read 4 year old who was born 15 days prior to the cut off. She has low muscle tone for her birth month. Put her in a room with kids a year older than her, and her gross motor skills seem really delayed. So when she can't sit still for long periods of time, she's poorly behaved. Teachers don't notice that her body just can't support her for that long yet--or if they do, it's a character flaw. "Sitting still is very important in kindergarten," they are already saying. She'll get there. She's just not there yet.

She still scribbles--her fine motor isn't great either. "We just want her to try to draw people," they say. They interpret her inability as not trying instead of recognizing that she is not as physically able as the older kids.

No matter what 60 minute says, these kids are being branded as unable to succeed, not smart, and in need of ADHD medicine just because they are too young for the tasks being asked of them in kindergarten.

In my zone, kids are expected to be ready to read, sit still, write all of the letters of the alphabet, count to 100, do basic math, use scissors properly and navigate the playground in order to be successful in kindergarten. The range of skills needed to do all that is extreme.

I think we require to much, and I think teachers don't have enough time to take individual children where they are today. Regardless,of the reason, a lot of four year olds and young five year olds simply aren't ready for all that. Thus the redshirting. When I talk to parents, that is what it is about. Not a leg up, not being a star...just not being forced to see themselves as lazy or an outcast or bad or misbehaved before they've really had a chance to develop certain basic skills that only come with time.

w w said...

Don't do this. You don't know what the future holds. My nephew was very bright, eager to learn. Sister missed deadlines to put him in private/public schools. Already year late.
Middle of 8th grade, moved across country, didn't meet standards and held back. 10th grade, moved back, held back again. Had to fake age and residency to get a school to accept him as an over-age senior. Summer schools weren't enough, he was denied graduation and now has to pay for GED at 20.
Please prioritize education enough to keep kids on their normal age and grade track.