Redshirting, in its most straight-forward definition, is the act of holding a student back a year to give them a competitive edge. A practice, once only used in college sports to give players an extra year of eligibility and growth, has now become a common discussion when it comes to kindergarten. Kindergarten redshirting is a somewhat recent social phenomenon, that has become a hot button topic among researchers, parents, and educators. It is also is a common question that comes up when you have a summer baby. (I should know, as my oldest was born on August 21st.)
Age cuts-offs to begin kindergarten range from July 31st to January 1st depending on the state. The TX deadline is Sept. 1st. My son’s 5th birthday will be a week before the 1st day of kindergarten come this August. Redshirting has been deeply discussed around here.
The opinions and research out there run the gamut (and are more than a little heated at times).
As a former kindergarten teacher and a mom of the above named summer baby, I have a little perspective to throw in the mix about kindergarten redshirting:
Check their readiness
Let’s start with some practical academic skills that incoming kindergartners are assessed on- Can they recite their ABCs? Do they know some letters and sounds? (knowing all of them is not necessary, we cover those pretty in-depth) Can they (sort of) write their name? (um, my 4.5 year old can’t, we are working on it, but it’s not a deal-breaker.) Can they count and recognize some numerals? Can they rhyme sometimes? Contrary to the rumors- they do not need to be reading, nor do they need to be doing multiplication tables or writing sonnets. This is kindergarten. I promise, we cover the basics, and we always strive to meet each child where they are at.
Kindergarten teachers are ready for whatever your little one wants to throw our way. We are ready for your wigglers, your interrupters, your tattlers, and your scribblers. There is a lot of talk about how kindergarten is the new first grade, and truth is, it is a lot more than it used to be. However, please know that most (like 99.9%) kindergarten students need practice in all of the above.
Still worried? Observe your child at story time at the library, at circle time at preschool, or any other time when they are in a group and someone is trying to tell them something. Are they engaging in what’s going on? Do they seem to be enjoying it? And remember, we are not looking for stone children that can sit perfectly still for 30 minutes. Just a general feeling like they are not completely miserable is a good sign they might be ready.
Check their maturity
So again, kindergarten teachers are not expecting mini Chip or Joanna Gaines to waltz in, ready to make friends with everyone, crack a great joke, and solve every conflict with poise and understanding, but how your kiddo handles both new and comfortable social interactions is a factor to consider. You know their personality best. Some kids are shy and will have a hard time with transitions no matter if you wait or don’t. Others are social butterflies as soon as they can talk and might blurt out a lot. You have to go with your gut on this one. I do want to emphasize in kinder we spend a. l-o-t. of time on feelings, appropriate behavior, dealing with conflicts, etc… It’s really the whole point of kindergarten!
Development is HUGE, and what’s tricky is that they all go at their own speed. What is true for your friend’s kid, or your sister’s kid, or even another one of your kids, does not mean it is right for the kid in question. You know your unique child, so think long and hard about how you think their little personalities will handle all the social aspects and pressures of school. But keep in mind they will grow so much while there (whether at 5 or 6).
Check the future
The debate really heats up and gets more philosophical when the long term effects of redshirting are being discussed. If a child does start young, there is a chance they may struggle academically, could possibly be behind their peers in growth spurts, will be the last to drive, and might struggle to keep up in sports. On the other hand, if they are redshirted, they have a whole year of development ahead of their classmates. They’ll be the first drive out of their friends (pro or con? I’m not sure). They could shoot up and be taller than everyone else (giving them confidence or awkwardness, we don’t know bc #teenagers). If we are talking girls they might get their period before everyone else (cool or not? I feel like most girls would say definitely not.). And if you are the competitive type, it could give them an edge in sports.
One study concluded that boys who were redshirted had a higher social satisfaction score over those who were not. Emphasizing that it is about more than competitive edge is certainly a compelling argument. Another interesting article I came across cited a study that found the salary earning potential lost of a Ph.D. student who is redshirted vs one who isn’t could be a discrepancy of $138,000. Read the whole study here, but it is a thought provoking point. This debate is tricky, winding, and really depends on your philosophies on these issues. In the end, you must always default to the context of your kid.
Check your heart
One of the biggest decisions we, as parents, make about our children’s futures is the path for their education. The choices we make for our families are exciting, important, and often riddled with uncertainty. We want to do what is best for our most precious ones and give them all the tools they need to succeed, which frankly, is a lot of pressure! Here’s my little plea — don’t let that pressure go to your head (talking to myself here too). If the only reason you are considering holding your child back for a year is coming from a purely competitive place — either academically or physically- it may be time for a heart check.
My experience in the classroom opened my eyes to just how much pressure parents (trickling down to their kids) are putting on themselves these days. On a brighter note, I have been noticing a subtle shift (that I am praying becomes more pronounced), moving towards more play and less pressure. Less homework, less competition, more cooperation, and more time to be kids. All this to say- check your motivation and heart in these decisions. Be your child’s advocate, make decisions based on their unique talents and personalities, but don’t let pressure from society dictate too much.
We have ultimately decided that our son is going to go to kindergarten come August. He has shown interest and has some of the basic academic stuff down. His fine motor skills are probably my biggest concern. (My inner kinder teacher can’t stop noticing his pencil grip. It ain’t pretty, but it’s going to be alright.) He adores preschool and has learned a lot about following rules, making friends, and conflict resolution there. I am not really worrying about the teenage stuff because: a) I truly have no control over all the puberty drama, b) sports are not really a factor because he is probably going to be a theater kid (just have a feeling, ok?), and c) I only know him as he is now, and at this point, I believe he’s going to be ready.
Here’s the heart of the matter — whatever side of the debate you fall on — if you love your children and continually strive to do what’s best for them, then you’re probably doing just fine. Don’t take too much credit and don’t judge yourself too harshly either. Parenting is hard work! The long hours, thoughtful decisions, prayers, tears, and love have a profound effect on these little humans we’re raising. The choices we make for their education matter, but what they will remember most is the love and support you show them along the way.
You can also follow me at flyingthyme.com, where I mostly share yummy recipes and less heated debate topics. 😉