"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Red Shirting Your Kindergartner-To-Be

When my sister mentioned she was red-shirting her son who has a July birthday, I thought nothing of it.  She felt he wasn't emotionally ready for kindergarten and waiting would allow him another year of maturity.  Andrea recently sent us this thought provoking email on delaying the start of kindergarten:

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about kindergarten for my kids. My oldest is only 3, so I'm still wrapping my mind around preschool. But a friend of mine is a kindergarten teacher, and she recently told me about a growing trend where parents purposefully hold their kids back from starting kindergarten until they're closer to 6.  It's called "red-shirting", and I guess parents are doing this with the idea that their kids, if a little older, will be better able to handle the academic and physical rigors of kindergarten, and therefore outperform their peers. 

A number of issues around kindergarten are explored in this article from last year's NY Times Magazine.  One of which is the shift in our expectation of what children should achieve in kindergarten.  At one point in our not too distant past, kindergarten was geared mostly around play, and was only half-day to boot.  Now, we expect kids to start learning to read and write in kindergarten.  Play is all but disappearing from their school day.  In this sense, delaying your child's start to kindergarten makes sense.  If kindergarten is now what first grade used to be, it makes sense that kids would do better if they were closer to six when they began.  However, this is difficult if it is not uniformly applied.  One of many challenges with red-shirting is that teachers are forced to accommodate the skill differences reflected in the growing age divide of their students.  Another is that red-shirting is only really an option to those with the means to delay their child's start in school.  If you have the money to pay for another year of preschool, or the opportunity to stay home with them for another year, you can ensure they'll have a leg-up in kindergarten.  If you can't, you have to enroll them in a class where they are learning alongside children more than a year further along in their development. 

In response to red-shirting, and more general ideas about the benefits of delaying the start to kindergarten; a number of state's are contemplating changing their cut-offs, delaying them, so that their kindergarteners will be older, and later test scores more competitive with states with later enrollment dates.  I wonder, why is it that we changed our academic expectations of kindergarteners in the first place?  Only to now work on delaying when they start because they're not ready to meet those new expectations. 

Doesn't this represent a major shift from our previous conversations about this, and from the thinking when we were kids.  Until recently, it seemed more common for parents to fight to enroll their kids earlier than the age cut-off.  Sure that, even at the later end of 4, they were prepared to start school. 

What do you think?  Is there a "right age" for kids to start kindergarten? 

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think that if parents want to delay their child's entry to Kindergarten, the child should have to take an [appropriate and valid] test, just as those who seek early-entry must do.

Another post, this one much longer, but not as long as the 17-page NAEYC report I pulled info from!

"Delaying Kindergarten Has No Benefits"
http://www.usc.edu/uscnews/stories/12716.html

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) makes some very strong and compelling arguments against this practice, also.

"STILL Unacceptable Trends
in Kindergarten Entry and Placement"

http://www.naeyc.org/about/positions/pdf/Psunacc.pdf

When schools/teachers encourage parents to delay entry to an age-eligible child, the report makes some interesting points:

"No matter where the kindergarten entry date is set, there will always be a younger
group of children within a given classroom. It is both unfair and unreasonable to
establish expectations for achievement on what the oldest children can do. Delaying
entry has been shown to contribute to greater variation among children in the same
class—in chronological age, size, motor ability, experiential backgrounds, and other
learning characteristics."

"Curiously, states with quite different entry cutoff dates perceive the same problems. While there is some evidence that older children tend to do better initially, the differences due to age are small and disappear with time."

"The specific entry date is irrelevant and recent legislative action in several states to raise the entry age will not accomplish what is intended. The quality and appropriateness of the kindergarten curriculum should be the focus of the reform. Age is the only non-discriminatory entry criterion."

"Delaying children’s entry into school and/or segregating them into extra-year classes actually labels children as failures at the outset of their school experience."

"The “gift of time” that many parents have been persuaded to give children by delaying
school entry can result instead in denying them opportunities for cognitive
growth through social interaction with their age-mates. It also implies that
children have failed at school even before they begin. By the end of the primary
level, children whose kindergarten entry is delayed do not perform better than
peers who enter on time. Further, children who enter late are disproportionately
represented in referrals to special education. This means their access to special help is also delayed a year."

We're way too young to deal with this, but in general I favor keeping children home longer. I think a lot of people agree that boys, in particular, are hustled into a sit down-sit-still setting much earlier than makes any developmental sense. And when you see the younger boys in their freshman and sophomore years, suffering real disadvantages in sports and socially because their adolescent development - while on schedule for them - is behind the others .... it does seem like society set them up to fail. Kids aren't widgets for processing at an arbitrary age.

I had winter babies that were always "on track" for their development. I moved recently however, from Atlanta, where red-shirting was a common widespread practice. It can be very frustrating as a mom to see your kids measured both physically and academically against kids who are literally a year ahead of them, but in the same class. These red-shirted kids were always the class leaders and in some cases, the class bullies. We dealt with it, but we weren't happy sometimes. Just my two cents!

My daughter's birthday is a week after the PPS September 1 cut-off. When I moved back to Portland (from Atlanta--hi Philomom!) during June, six years ago, I enrolled her in a private Pre-K, that happened to have a K-2nd program as well. By the end of summer, her Pre-K teachers, the K teacher and the director of the school set up a meeting and approached ME about starting my daughter in Kindergarten a year early (just as she was turning 5, rather than waiting until she was just turning 6). We all agreed she was ready, and she started that fall in Kindergarten, rather than doing another year of Pre-K. Great decision at the time. Perfect. She was ready, she did great.

I enrolled her in PPS for second grade. That was okay, not stellar. The being-the-youngest thing started to catch up. Now, out of 100 5th graders in her PPS school, she is the very youngest. She's an average student, which I think she's be regardless of what grade she's in. But socially, she's suffered. At school she is the polar-opposite of the confident, outgoing leader she is at home and in her extracurriculars. Her very few friends at school are the other "younger" 5th graders. On the playground, those younger girls still "play", while the older girls tend to hang out and talk about boys, clothes, the latest installment of America's Next Top Model, and who wears a bra already.

This is rambling, but I do have a point--when making the readiness decision about your own child(ren), don't just look at "are they ready today"--look at the big picture, look forward. If you're in a family/economic place that you can wait another year, certainly consider it. And if your kid has a "borderline" b-day like mine does, think really hard before starting them early, even if waiting a year is going to make them the oldest in their class.

I have a boy with a late summer birthday who is currently enrolled in kindergarten and doing wonderfully. He keeps up with his peers and is right on target socially and academically.

Before he started kindergarten many people assumed we would hold him back because of his late summer birthday but he was ready for kindergarten. I often volunteer in his class and have noticed that a few of the older kids (several who were red-shirted) appear bored and one is quite a bully. In the case of the bully he is far in advance of his peers academically and socially (he is 1 1/2 years older than my son) and he seems much more advanced than my first-grade neighbors.

I agree with a previous commentor about age-appropriate testing to determine whether or not a child should be red-shirted.

My kids go to Portland Village School. (My 4 1/2 yr. old will start kindergarten this fall.) In Waldorf schools, they prefer that children with summer b'days (like my sons) wait an extra year. They have very specific theories around development related to ages. Their grades are organized around that development. So, they prefer that kids are all closer to those ages. My kids are young in their classes but I'm not waiting an extra year, either. As far as performance goes, my 2nd grader is doing well even though some kids are as much as 9 months or so older.

It's not always about being able to compete better and beat out other kids. Some little ones, boys especially, are not mature enough to handle the new style of kindergarten with its heavy emphasis on academics. And the problems arising from that immaturity do not always show up right away -- sometimes those problems show up around 5 or 6th grade when the little guy is just not as emotionally mature as his peers. He becomes a follower rather than a leader and that can lead to all srots of problems. I think it can be a very healthy thing to let a little one spend another year developing before they head off to school.

I'm with Sheryl on this one. I also have one that started kindergarten early. It doesn't seem to impact socially until 4th or 5th grade. Academically, my daughter is fine but she continues to struggle socially with her grade-mates. She seems to have less conflict when hanging with girls who are a grade behind her but her same age. She,however, would deny this.

I was skipped so I should've know better. Had been able to keep her in challenging, private preschool I may not have started her early. But she was dying on the vine in public preschool.

I say if you can hold them back and they don't seem like they'd be climbing the walls, do it.

My daughter is only 20 months old, and I am already thinking about this. Her birthday is August 31, so she'll be BARELY five, or fully 6, when she starts kindergarten.

I must admit it makes me nervous thinking of my barely-5 daughter competing with 6+ kids - esp. if the structure of the classroom and teaching styles aren't geared to take this into account. This is why I am leaning toward Montessori, where mixed age classrooms are intentional, specifically understood, and guided as such.

Saying this, I realize that, as always, the teacher is the key to the happy classroom!

Seems it would make sense for states to have some consistency with the age cut-off dates--although kids do mature at different rates, it might help to level things out a bit perhaps? Many states have a December (end of the year) cut-off date that seems to make sense as it's really just about in the middle of the traditional school year. My son, who is extremely tall for his age and has a December birthday is going to be almost 6 when he starts kindergarten and I do worry about it...but we really don't have any other choice. We would never consider "red-shirting" him to make him "get ahead" (this is the first I have heard of this)...but he will possibly be one of the tallest and will have had 2 full years of preschool prior to kindergarten.

I worry that sometimes some adults are not honest w/themselves about their real reasons for pushing a path for a kid. Kudos to the parents and schl staff who are brave enough to figure out what might truly be great for each individual young being.

Multi-age classrooms or sister classrooms w/different-aged kids rock, my run-of-the-mill public school did that. Kids were w/age peers in one classroom mostly, and then in mixed-age groups (w/diff teachers) for specific academic topics or for social/fun stuff. Sure, that was yrs before high-stakes testing; but after declining public school enrollmt & Calif's Prop 13's dreadful financial burden forced schools to be creative--in this case, being open to more fluid arrangements

Thank you, Gee, for your calm, reasoned post about one aspect of red-shirting (for competitive advantage), since I can't be calm or reasoned about that topic: it makes my blood boil, stomach hurt, and eyes water. It's (to me--value statement ahead!) disgusting & very sad, this completely fanatic concern about academics, testing, and the like for young children. I'm as horrified by the parents who smile smugly (perhaps just to each other) that they are "beating the system" as I am at school administrators who stack the decks re: testing. ***Please know, I am NOT referring to parents, teachers, or counselors who see a legitimate social AND emotional AND cognitive benefit for a SPECIFIC child to bump up or wait a year. And, as many people have written, for some parents there is no choice & this whole thing is moot: public education is what you get, when you get it. We're in that situation, so, like every parent!, we'll make sure our kid gets the best possible experience from whatever school he's assigned to.

fwiw, I was born late fall, made the cutoff by a week, and, yeah, sure, suffered in some ways socially & in PE for being young; I'm sure I would have suffered in some other way (probably being bored) had the adults around me insisted on keeping me back a year.

I have a mid-september birthday, and was in kindergarten here in portland before the cutoff was moved back to sept. 1st. for me, it was awesome: I thrived and always enjoyed being one of the youngest people in class, all through business school where I started classes well before my 25th birthday. such a prodigy! ;)

my son everett is a mid-july birthday and we didn't even consider red-shirting him. academically, he was more than ready. socially, he was starved for that type of interaction, and he's a natural leader despite his relative youth. emotionally is a whole separate ballgame and he's really suffered -- but at the same time he's smart and longs for the school work.

I'm glad I didn't consider holding him back, and I hate the idea of redshirting for competitive advantage (I hope I never have to "compete" against other parents' kids! one reason I'll never move to northern virginia or new york, where the company I work for is located and where many business school friends live), but I did wish I'd acted on my gut instinct and gotten everett evaluated by the MESD for his emotional issues so we could have had him treated more consciously, instead of reacting to his behavior once we were faced with it.

I think that, if a parent is worried but uncertain, getting a MESD evaluation makes sense to see where the child ends up compared to his or her peers. for 4-year-olds, they evaluate them on a wide set of criteria and even if the child doesn't qualify for services, it might highlight your child's strengths and weaknesses to help you make a more informed decision.

thanks for all that data, gee, it confirms my gut instinct. and it's a good point about montessori classrooms -- in a perfect world i'd have my kids in public montessori with a waldorf sense of play :)

It depends on the child. My oldest has a February birthday, so all this was a non-issue for us. My two youngest both miss the deadline, one by a month and the other by 12 days. As a result, my second son will be almost six as will my daughter when they enter kindergarten. For the boy, I would say the extra time was needed. My daughter, however, seems near ready at 2.5 years. Seriously, she can count, recognize letters, etc, and she loves being socially. However, I am a late August birthday and frankly, I don't think it helped me any being in high school at 14 with boys as old as 19. I was tall for my age and when male attention came, I was intimidated. I grew up faster than I should have just trying to cope.

Another point to consider, Oregon does not--as has been discussed--require or even fully fund kindergarten, so it is almost inappropriate to make academics an expectation of the curriculum. Those who read at five and younger show no substantial benefit long term. Why push it? Kids would benefit long-term more from nature walks and play than from some of what seems to go on now.

As others have stated I really think it depends on the child and only you as the parent can probably determine this.

My oldest turned 5 two weeks before the cut-off, so he is pretty much the youngest in his kindergarten class. He is also the tallest, strangely enough. He was ready for kindergarten at 5, even though he is about a year younger than some of his classmates. His teacher has said he is a natural leader, and socially he needed to be in kindergarten at 5. Academically, he is performing a little above average. His handwriting is not as neat as the other kids, he tends to rush through projects, but he has an amazing overall understanding of what they are learning. (From what I understand, he tends to rush so he can say he's done and check on the other kids' progress.)

I don't feel like this kid would have tolerated another year home. He thrives on social interactions, and academically, he needs a bit of a challenge to keep him interested.

Our second son (now 3) will turn 5 at the end of Sept, missing the cutoff that year. I am a little disappointed he won't be able to start kindergarten that year--he loves going to pick his brother up at school, and is constantly asking when he gets to go to "Room 2" (the kindergarten room). I am not going to push for him to start early though, as our neighborhood school does have full-day pre-K (which he will be in as a 5 y/o).

We'll see how it works out, because once the second one starts school, I'll have boys on both sides of the age-spectrum.

Keep in mind, though, that full day kindergarten may not be an option for *anyone* in Oregon after this year--but that's a whole other issue, isn't it? :)

Someone has told me that in Austrailia children start school when they turn 5, regardless of when it is. There isn't this arbitrary "deadline" and start date is more fluid. Seems to me that this whole system of starting in September with a specific "5 by" date (regardless of when it is)is going to create a system of differently shaped pegs needing to fit into round holes.

Or, parents who are so concerned about their children besting everyone else went to kindergartens where the focus was on learning your letters and numbers instead of how to play nicely with everyone.

You know, my son will enter kindergarten without years of full-time "school" under his belt and I know he's going to struggle. I often consider keeping him out another year just to equalize, never mind getting a leg up. I guess I still believe in the idea of kids slowly entering the school world, having some time dedicated to play and learning to socialize. I feel more and more in the minority on this every day. My guess is that the schools will move to the full-day kindergarten very soon and then what's left of early childhood? And this only serves to broaden the gap for kids whose parents can't afford to give them the pre-school experiences, whether it's because they can't afford to work after paying for childcare, or they just can't afford preschool, or they don't want to send their 4 year old to the free, ALL DAY option that seems to be all the rage. These kids will be forced into a full-day structure of kindergarten, with strict academic demands. You bet I'll consider waiting a bit.

Before we moved to Oregon, my son attended a snooty private school in LA, where he was the youngest kid in the class. (His birthday is July 31.) There were several "red-shirted" boys in his class and yep, they were the bullies. As were their smuggy mcsmug parents. Naturally, the "big kids" were the ones my son wanted to hang out with...

Kim: Oh, that's so true for me, as well. I'm very sad about this ever-earlier, ever-more intense shift out of early childhood, and the ever-widening gap (& therefore tracking) by income and socioecon status. I have only one child; my heart breaks to think of not being able to give him a few more great years of play & gentle immersion into School-with-a-Cap-S. No WAY will he go to full-time school for his next (too few) early years.

The bully aspect (of both kid & parent) of red-shirting I hadn't considered until reading these posts; yucko!!!

I have a big problem with the very frist comment: testing...? To get into Kindergarten?! You have to be KIDDING me.

Yet another FAILED Bush administration idea for the "Every Child Left Behind" program (yes, pun intended). I, for one, am going to make CERTAIN that learning and education is a fun and enjoyable endeavor, and hopefully keep them interested in the process... not start their schooling career by pitting them against a test. What a bad idea.

That was meant to say "Very FIRST comment...".

Please keep in mind that there will be some kids that just miss the cut-off simply because of what it is in Oregon (Sept. 1)--not because their parents have decided to do this to help their kids get ahead. My son has a December 30 birthday and my daughter's is October 2. I hope that kids who are "older" are also not judged by other parents & teachers b/c some families somewhere apparently have decided to "red shirt" them as stated above. It is what it is, for most of us, I suspect just an age cut-off date, nothing more than that. I wish the cut-off date were different in Oregon (but it isn't), especially for my daughter who will likely be older than almost all of the kids, but instead we will continue to teach our kids ways to get along with kids of all ages and hopefully they will thrive and contribute to such an environment with support from us, their teachers, and also the parents of their fellow students. As a public school teacher myself, I can say that most classes usually contain a wide range of abilities and differences, even if all of the kids are the "same" age.

Jen, yeah, I think NCLB really has been a horrible thing for schools, teachers, and children.

I didn't mean that all kindergartens should necessarily be assessed. I was suggesting appropriate assessment/observation for ONLY for children whose parents want to hold them back even though they are age-eligble for kindergarten. I suggest it because it seems like sooo many people are automatically thinking (even years in advance), for instance, that their late-summer-birthday child (usually son, as this seems to be applied more for boys) will in no way be ready for kindergarten.

My impressions from the research that I read from NAEYC is that teachers (okay, and schools/curriculum, etc.) should reach out to all age-eligible children and meet them where they are. Of course, we know this doesn't happen, and curriculum design in early childhood and addressing different learning styles and gender differences in the classroom are all entire whole topics unto themself.

Fundamentally, I agree that the increasingly common trend of holding back young 5-year olds just creates more of an age (and likely, developmental) chasm in the classroom. There is *always* going to be someone 365 days older (or younger, if your child has an early fall birthday) in the class. With so many parents talking of holding their child back, in my opinion, it creates more gaps.

Whew. School isn't even compulsory in Oregon until the age of seven!

Kindergarten used to be like what we now consider preschool. But now preschool is so academic, and kindergarten is full day in many places and people seem to want it that way(not me!) and many people want school to be year-round to boot!

And if you have a kid that you feel isn't ready and you wait a year, people now are going to accuse you of red-shirting to gain an advantage....? Which apparently a lot of people are doing for competitive reasons.

And no way do I think you should have to test to either enter or NOT enter kindergarten.

I feel for kids these days.

I'm not on the bus. I think its all too much, if a kid wants/needs more they can read, etc at home with family. That's my two cents.

I stumbled upon this discussion and have to admit I am shocked at the responses to "red-shirting". I clearly see now that I live in a bubble because it would not even occur to me to be upset with a parent for keeping a kid who has a summer birthday "back". I don't even think of it as being held back. It should come down to if that individual child is ready for that peer group.
I have a very bright five year old, who has a summer birthday, and he will not be starting first grade this year. I know this is the right choice for him. He started out in Waldorf and now is in Montessori - where he will stay. Both groups believe in keeping children in their kindergarten programs through the age of 6. Waldorf directly relates this to brain development. I never thought of my son as having an advantage over other kids. In our case he will not have an "advantage" anyway because he is in mixed -age classes. There is a huge difference between him and the children who turned 6 earlier this year (in his class). After observing this difference I would not put him in a public school where he is one year "behind".
Luckily , we don't have angst with this issue because we are in an educational system that supports this and encourages it. I am not,by the way wealthy. I happen to be a person who wants my kid to have a Montessori education and I am willing to give up a lot to give this to my child.
By the way, what is the big rush in this country to push our kids and make them "grow up" so quickly. They have a whole lifetime to be an adult- let them play more, explore more etc.

This is not about the red shirting although I will be dealing with a child a month off of the cutoff deadline when my oldest hits school age.

A long time ago...talking 1979-1980 here. I was a kindergartener in a full day program here in Portland at Sabin. Not only was it all day but also split K and 1st, I had the option to be involved in advanced classes as I needed both math and reading and the rest of the time I was a singing napping kindergartener. I am sure things look much different in todays full day K classes but I know it was great for me and I hope I can find and fund an all day K class for my kids if they need the stimulation that I thrived on.

Just to throw another perspective in the mix. My sister started her formal education at the age of 9, not knowing a word of English. When she graduated from high school, she was in the top 10 out of a class of nearly 500 kids. She turned out just fine by starting school in 4th grade. My entire family with the exception of my youngest sister enrolled in school without knowing a word of English and so did most of my extended family. We're not exceptional, but a reflection of many immigrant families who start their education later than most and who happen to also turn out o.k. Some do not but that's for a different discussion.

This is my own personal reality check when I start agonizing over what school to send my children or at what age to start them in school. I have to remind myself that I turned out o.k. despite the challenges I faced (e.g., growing up being the youngest in my class, not knowing English, growing up feeling conflicted and torn between two very different cultures, etc.).

I started kindergarten when I was 4 (English immersion, ha!), while my husband started when he was 5. However, he had to repeat kindergarten. I would think that would be more traumatic than if his parents would have waited. But I guess my point is, 4, 5, or 6...does it really matter if a child is emotionally ready? So I started kindergarten when I was 4, and then took an extra year to get my college degree. It all works out in the end.

I just have to say that while there must be some negative effects of "red-shirting" for classrooms, I really doubt that "smug" parents are doing it because they want their kid to do better than your kid. This does bring up interesting ideas about competition, and what place it has in our educational system. Since my boy hasn't started school at all yet, I don't have much first hand information. If classrooms are competitive, and I guess they must be, that is the source of the problem -- not parents who are trying their best to make good decisions for their individual children.

I finally had a chance to read the NYT article cited above, and it does cast some light on the "differences due to age are small and tend to disappear" argument. Here's what it said:

"For years, education scholars have pointed out that most studies have found that the benefits of being relatively older than one’s classmates disappear after the first few years of school. In a literature review published in 2002, Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford school of education, found studies in which children who are older than their classmates not only do not learn more per grade but also tend to have more behavior problems. However, more recent research by labor economists takes advantage of new, very large data sets and has produced different results. A few labor economists do concur with the education scholarship, but most have found that while absolute age (how many days a child has been alive) is not so important, relative age (how old that child is in comparison to his classmates) shapes performance long after those few months of maturity should have ceased to matter. The relative-age effect has been found in schools around the world and also in sports. In one study published in the June 2005 Journal of Sport Sciences, researchers from Leuven, Belgium, and Liverpool, England, found that a disproportionate number of World Cup soccer players are born in January, February and March, meaning they were old relative to peers on youth soccer teams."

This is a big issue in our house this spring. My son turns 5 in late August and we had been thinking of enrolling him in kindergarten this fall... until he had some serious problems in his daycare/pre-school classroom the last couple months. It looks like waiting may be the best option for him, because he really isn't ready for the sit-still/pay-attention-for-longer-stretches that kindergarten includes. For me the overriding concern is a good overall education, including a good start in kindergarten, and if waiting is best for him, then we'll wait.

I have a son and a daughter with fall birthdays. My son will enter kindergarten as an almost-6-yr-old, which I think is great. My daughter is 23 months behind him, with a September 30 birthday, and I've often thought, maybe I'll get her tested for early-entry into kindergarten because she'll be so BORED that last year when she is 5 the whole school year. But after reading all of this, I think I'll just have to be a creative parent and try to stimulate her with parks and rec classes and academics at home with me (since we can't afford a private preschool).
We've talked a lot about boys developing later, as a reason to hold them back. I also wonder about my daughter developing earlier (as a Sept. b-day) than her peers, a social issue with its own set of problems.

As a long-time teacher of kids in K through 3rd grade I find this so interesting. I believe that this too will pass and K will get back to where it SHOULD be, teaching kids how to enjoy school and help them to develop habits that will make their school years productive.
In considering when to enroll a child in K I would look most at is maturity level, not age. I also think that it is most important to remember that by the end of second grade it all pretty much evens out and you would not be able to tell who did well academically in K and who did not.
If this trend of a heavy push of academics in K through the next presidential election, I will be opting for not enrolling my daughter in a public school kindergarten program, I see no benefit in pushing kids so hard at such a young age. They will do what they are ready for when they are ready and to expect more will just frustrate them.
Thanks for the thought provoking discussion!

This is a little off-track, but I felt the need to add my two (or four) cents, following up on a few of the comments. I once read an article on white privilege that made a point which really resonated with me. If you are a member of an advantaged group (white, rich, whatever), your advantage depends on the disadvantage of others. Your SAT score is higher than average not because you are just that fabulous, but because others have low scores. You have a better-than-average job because others have worse-than-average jobs. Your relative success DEPENDS on the failure of others. Making decisions that others don't have the luxury of making (due to lack of education, financial situation, emotional stress, etc.), and that in the end allow you to benefit from the fact that others do not have the luxury of making those decisions, is fraught with ethical pitfalls.

In our society, most parents have no choice to red-shirt, because of the lack of good high-quality affordable daycare. If every child in this country could attend a good free-or-cheap full-day preschool, our schools would look very different. Many of the kids would be a little older, and they would ALL be socially and academically better off. (Even given that study indicating that red-shirting doesn't make an academic difference!)

I am not suggesting that red-shirting is a bad thing at all, and I completely agree that holding your child back is an individual choice that should be made based on what's best for the child and the family. But I think if a child is being red-shirted with the goal of increasing his or her chances of academic and social success, the family has an ethical obligation to work to improve the chances of others. We all want The Best for our kids, but everyone will be better off if The Best does not ride on the shoulders of other children. So, my feeling is that anyone should red-shirt your kid, absolutely, if that's what's best for your kid. But please at least also write letters to all your legislative representatives and tell them how you think the education and childcare systems should serve us better.

I think it may make sense for some kids, not for others, depending upon a variety of factors. I do not like the idea of it being a uniform practice or an assumption for kids born during the summer. There are always going to be a few kids who would benefit from delay, and a few who would benefit from being skipped (or from early entrance).

I think I was an average student during kindergarten. I leaped ahead during second grade, and we had to deal with related issues at that point. In other words, any evaluation at 5-6 years old may need adjustment later on.

Sara says "if every child in this country could attend a good free-or-cheap full-day preschool..." I don't think I'm alone in saying this really isn't a goal of mine. For me, keeping kindergarten at half-day with a focus on social skills would take this community so much further than forcing the alphabet on 5 year olds. The money and resources already going into the PPS preschool programs could be much better utilized on K-12 education. There's a reason compulsory education doesn't begin that early. In my opinion, most 4 year olds don't need to be in a grade school all day. Don't take this to mean I'm against kids being in childcare, because that's a whole other topic and not what I'm saying. I'm talking specifically about putting 4 year olds in a traditional grade school, all day, and thinking they're going to get what they're little brains and bodies really need. I worry that my 5 year old isn't ready for it. I know for a fact my 4 year old isn't.

This whole issue makes me chuckle, because when I grew up, the trend was the opposite...parents fudged birth certificates to get their kids in Kindergarden early. I had a number of friends that found out much later that they were born in March, not December, or even a whole year younger than they thought they were. It truly is a problem of the privileged (and by privileged, I mean all of us that have both the where-with-all and the time to discuss these things as options) to debate whether to keep a child out of public school for a whole year. I guarantee that my single working mother had no such qualms about sending her four year-old daughter off to full-day Kindergarden 26 years ago!

Kindergarten really is different these days. I always thought I would just go with the standard dates, and then I got a kid with some sensory and behavioral issues who could probably have handled old-style kindergarten. Academic kindergarten that requires constant assessment and switching activities three times an hour, with barely any free play time in the day? Not so much. Kindergarten roundup was a little scary. And there's no longer any half-day option at our local: "There's too much to get done," the teachers said. The special ed classrooms don't seem to be much less work-focused.

People are more obsessed with "readiness" because a lot more readiness is required.

Just a few words to play devil's advocate for the full-day kindergarten / more academic kindergarten thing...
As a teacher of underprivileged school, we start "reading" in kindergarten. Ours is a full-day program with, sadly, not very much play time. However, most of the kindergarteners who come to my school have few to no books in their houses and have never been read to in English, if at all. In order for them to be up to speed, we have to do many years of preschool-type work. While many preschoolers who have parents that read to them absorb letter recognition slowly over time and through fun activities, we have to rush through "drilling" them so they get it. You're right - kindergarten (and I should really say all grades) is drastically underfunded and I don't care which public school you're in - your kinders are tested...often. Teachers are reprimanded for "underperforming" kiddos and the ones in those situations who have red-shirted are just that much further behind.

Just something to think about. Keeping your kid home from school to read to them - great. Keeping your kid home from school just to play and not learn anything (happens a lot when there are no parents around) if they haven't had any learning experiences, not as good.

Teachermom, I'm curious about what you think about one part of this NYT article, basically talking about two systems, Denmark and Finland, where age differences didn't result in as many problems. I'm wondering if maybe the difference is that Finnish society is pretty heterogenous, and everybody is getting a stimulating home environment? Or maybe that you can nullify age differences if you put academics off til later, but only if you put it off for everybody?
In any case, it sounds like they're doing something right.


"Bedard found that different education systems produce varying age effects. For instance, Finland, whose students recently came out on top in an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of math, reading and science skills, experiences smaller age effects; Finnish children also start school later, at age 7, and even then the first few years are largely devoted to social development and play. Denmark, too, produces little difference between relatively older and younger kids; the Danish education system prohibits differentiating by ability until students are 16. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, Bedard notes that she found age effects everywhere, from “the Japanese system of automatic promotion, to the accomplishment-oriented French system, to the supposedly more flexible skill-based program models used in Canada and the United States.”

I don't think we can really compare other educational systems to the US school system. The impacts of our less-than-family friendly policies makes it a matter of apples and oranges. We don't have universal access to safe, quality childcare, preschools, kindergarten or regular school for everyone. Child A, so as been in full-time childcare/preschool since infancy that has been all over the map (educational philosophy, ratios, you name it) based on what the family can afford is going to be differently prepared for school than Child B, who hasn't been in school but has just been learning from daily interaction and unschooling with mama and papa.

Regardless of "red-shirting" which as Sara pointed out isn't really an option for many kids.

My daughter went to what was then the best preschool in San Francisco. For a myriad of reasons (financial, commute) I had to move her to the public preschool in the East Bay where we lived. At the private preschool, they learned through play and creating. The teaching style was a merge of different philosophies. So she was stimulated and always learning. At the public preschool, it was really like group childcare with poorly trained staff and more crowd control than learning. She was regressing, and using her talents for evil. So I petitioned the District and had her tested for kindergarten readiness early. It was half-day kindergarten, her teacher was hand picked and a classroom mom was an afterschool childcare provider. It was her best school year. Her teacher, who remains the best she ever had, was very much against full-day kinder. The way she explained was that even for the kids that need extra help, spending that much time in a classroom was unhelpful. But because the childcare issue was driving the full-day kinder movement, it was happening in that District.

So I don't know about y'all (general not specific) but the lack of affordable childcare continues to drive education policy. Because I have many friends who have struggled to maintain employment with kids in half-day kinder, I support full-day, even though I KNOW it's not optimal.

I'm just a mom, not a professional so . . . .

Catmom, I think you mean to say that Finnish society is fairly HOMOgeneous, meaning relatively UNdiverse. This is definitely true and no matter what group (socioeconomic group, that is) you are teaching, it is easier (I didn't say better, just easier on the teacher) to teach all to the same level. If the Finnish kids in question come from similar SE groups, and similar cultural backgrounds, it takes less time to get them "school ready".

I agree with those who suggest we should be looking at the bigger issue - why are we demanding so much of our kindergarteners? I know we want them to excel and there are some who are capable of more but when we challenge at the expense of those who are average - especially at this crucial stage where our children are making decisions as to whether they like or dislike school and hence learning in general - we as a society tend to lose out. What they teach in Kinder today is the first grade curriculum of 30 yrs ago. Boys especially are not ready for the reading and writing aspect of kindergarten - there are those who are but as a rule they lag in this area.
I would love to see a bigger discussion about curriculum in our schools esp. the early years. As for my son I wish we had held him back a year - it would have given him time to master the skills asked of him. As it is, he feels failure most days and hates school. I work with his teachers at school and at home to keep a spark alive for learning and have for science and math - but it has not been easy. You know your child best look at his skills and go from there.

You're right, teachermom, I did mean homo. Thanks for your thoughts.
And TC, that is so awful for your son ... I pray your school is working as hard to stoke that fire as you are.

My 2nd son is a fall birthday and so now is one of the oldest in his K class. And he goes half day to a PPS program. This is such a great situation for him. He has lots of exciting times in the classroom where he is competent in many things, social mature, engaged and active; then quiet afternoons of open-ended play at home before the older son comes home. I feel really lucky to be able to give this opportunity to him but feel awful that you have to fight for these opportunities now, particularly half-day K.

personally, I don't like red-shirting. I think it is unfair to the child, and the other children. Who needs a big old 7 year-old in kindergarten?! And then people complain about how kindergarten is the new 1st grade... well, yeah, if all the kids are 7 and developmentally 1st graders...

Plus the kids are going to know that they are in the wrong grade... it isn't like they won't realize that they should be in 1st, but they're in the "baby" class....

My son has an August 1st birthday. He was absolutely prepared academically to enter kindergarten this past fall but I found him to be a bit socially immature (he was bullied easily at his montessori preschool). I found a GREAT pre-K program for him and he has flourished. He is the oldest in his class, a "friend to everyone" according to his teachers and excelling. It's the best decision I could have made. Kindergarten entry shouldn't be based on age as stated above. It's about maturity and not every red shirted boy turns into a bully. I suspect most don't. In addition, when you take into account how NOT well boys are doing in our schools today, it just compounds the problem (I'm sure many of you have read "The Trouble with Boys.") In addition, he has a younger brother who is right on the other side of the cut off and I wanted them to stay four years apart in school like they are in age vs. widening that to a five year academic gap. I will say one thing - I don't take kindly to another parent telling when my children are or aren't ready to start school. That's a very personal decision.

I'm a mother to two elementary school boys and one daughter in high school and I'm just getting so tired of being told how immature boys are. Kindergarten is not the end of school, it is the beginning, and it is ok if the kids are at different developmental stages in these early years.

I'd like to see how all the parents of young K girls who think boys should wait a year so they are "calmer" feel when their teen daughters are in class with boys a year older then them. And their freshman daughters are in school with 19 year old male seniors. I see it happening already and frankly I think it was better when the teen girls had that slight maturity edge.

Think Ahead, I TOTALLY agree with you! I'm getting really sick of being told how immature boys are as well. That's just not the case in my family, so let's end that stereotype now. And your point about freshmen girls in school with 19-year-olds is brilliant.

Anon and Think Ahead. I agree with you both. Also, I will add that as a mother of a girl, I am sick of being told boys are just immature because they are boys. The discussion should really be around individual personality and social skills, not about gender. Personally I know boys who at 5 years of age had great social skills and were more mature than many 5 year old girls. I am against general statements regarding boys and girls at a school environment.

I don't think this is necessarily all about boys being immature/mature. It's about how boys are taught vs. how girls are taught in our schools. The bottom 25% of any class (elementary, high school college...you name it) is 90% boys statistically. Numbers don't lie. It's worth some personal research. Facts aren't general. They are what they are until we change them. PPS is no exception.

"Numbers don't lie."
Neither do they tell the truth.

The comments to this entry are closed.