This is why redshirting is complicated

We registered Griffin for kindergarten on Friday. Well, we didn’t Nicholas did. I was out of town on a business trip which is probably best since I’ve made my opposition to this latest childhood milestone abundantly clear. (Spoiler: My baby is growing up and I DON’T like it.)

With kindergarten registration begins the inevitable discussion among my friends and online of redshirting. Named after the sports practice of delaying an athlete’s participation to extend eligibility, it has taken over the academic world as parents delay elementary school entrance to allow for additional physical, social, mental, and emotional development.

Not surprisingly, parents, teachers, administrators, and child psychologist hold passionate opinions on both sides of the debate. Both Amos and Griffin are “summer birthday boys” – the youngest group in the class and also the most likely group to be redshirted by concerned parents.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve never even considered holding either of my sons back. First, Nicholas is also a summer birthday boy and never had a single problem academically. In fact, I think it’s more than fair to say he excelled from the beginning. Nicholas’s experience and the fact that we are not exactly anxious to pay for an addition year of preschool were two of the main reasons we haven’t considered redshirting.

We are incredibly blessed by the fact that neither of our children have any developmental delays so we have no extenuating factors to consider. However, I would be lying if the temptation of having children “at the head of the class” never appealed to me. Every parent wants their child to excel and I’m no different. The stories I’ve heard of the younger boys being more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or referred to special education are scary and I would like my sons to be seen as advanced not behavioral problems.

However, when I feel myself being honestly on the fence with no obvious answer based on my individual child’s needs, I try to look to the developmental science. An article I wrote about several years on Salt & Nectar has always stayed with me in regards to this issue. Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, co-authors of the book “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College” used the results of a large scale Canadian study to argue that while redshirted children enjoy a modest boost in performance in grade school, the same children become less motivated in middle school and high school and see a drop in performance. They also miss out on a year of potential salary reducing their lifetime earnings.

Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.

Apparently, most children are able to bridge any developmental gaps by modeling the behavior of their more advanced peers. This seems to reinforce other parenting approaches I use in my own life, such as the concept of growth mindset and the right kind of praise. I want to give my children the chance to excel not by crafting the “perfect” environment for their current abilities but by challenging them to grow and develop new ones.

Of course, the last factor every parent must consider is the actual cutoff date itself. Currently, the cutoff date in Kentucky is October 1, leaving parents of children with birthdays between the first day of school and October 1st to decide if they want to send a four-year-old to kindergarten. Fortunately, the law has been changed and the cutoff date will change to August 1st eliminating the decision for many parents, including us with baby #3 due early September.

However, Kentucky’s cutoff is easy compared to many dates around the country. I have a close friend who lives in New York City where the cutoff date is DECEMBER 31. When she told me this over a text conversation, I was literally so confused I picked up the phone and called her. So, children had to be 5 ½ to attend kindergarten? I asked. No, in fact, you could send your 4 ½ year old to kindergarten! This seems insane to me but is apparently due to the enormous financial pressure many parents face with even one additional year of full-time daycare.

I still can’t imagine the almost two year age range many kindergarten teachers must face with each incoming class. This is to me seems to be an important consideration many parents miss. What if your child is the most advanced in the class if the teacher is so overwhelmed by teaching everything from barely literate four-year-olds to chapter-book-ready six-year-olds? No matter when your child begins school they are part of a group and what is best for the group should at least be a consideration.

Of course, there is also the chance that none of this really matters. I often think that parents that care enough (not to mention have the resources) to worry so much about redshirting wouldn’t let their child fall behind no matter what decision they make. Parents who want the best for their children educationally will go to any lengths to assure their success whether they enter kindergarten at 4 or 5 or 6. 

What are your thoughts or experiences with redshirting?