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?