Academic Redshirting: Holding Kids Back from Starting Kindergarten
Would I have benefited from academic redshirting? Academic redshirting is the practice of holding kids back from starting kindergarten (typically those with birthdays close to the cut-off). I entered kindergarten at age 4 in the late 70’s. My earliest school memory was being plucked out of my first grade classroom for special reading instruction. Throughout my academic career, I classified myself not as a “naturally” smart learner but rather a hard worker, crediting good grades to my study skills and determination. Would my learning style have been different had I known the truth? Recently, my mom revealed that, just two years later, I scored in the highest percentile for reading on the entrance exam to a local Catholic school. Perhaps I knew this information at the time but it didn’t stick with me like my feeling of being an inadequate learner.
So when the topic of academic redshirting recently came up on the Bright Horizons School Readiness webinar, I wondered if being held back would have helped with my academic confidence? Or, on the flip side, would I have failed to develop the resilience skills that made me successful in school? The reality is that there are so many variables and factors in making the redshirting decision and the research is not strong enough in either direction. I’ll try to break it down.
The Redshirting Decision: Benefits and Drawbacks
The practice of academic redshirting has its origin in sports – parents holding kids back from starting kindergarten to provide an athletic advantage in later grades. Today, the decision to hold a child back is more typically for child development and social-emotional reasons. The practice is far more common for boys who tend to lag behind girls in their social-emotional development. And it’s not really that common. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 9% of kids start kindergarten at 6 years or older with only 6% being attributed to parents decision to hold their child back. Why are parents choosing to redshirt?
Parents who have chosen to hold their child back from starting kindergarten typically report concerns with their child’s academic readiness (knowing ABC’s and early reading skills), social-emotional readiness (being able to make friends and navigate social relationships), and behavioral readiness (being able to follow classroom rules such as sitting still & paying attention). Like all parents, they are focused on ensuring their kids are confident, happy, and challenged and fear that their child’s development disadvantage could harm these attributes.
Those who argue against redshirting tend to cite concerns with the impact of a wide age gap in classrooms, putting more stress on the teacher to deliver instruction that benefits each child. Or, the concern from non-redshirting parents who now have the youngest child in the class and worried that the overall classroom expectations will shift.
Considerations for the Redshirting Decision
So what should a parent consider when making the decision to hold their child back from starting kindergarten?
- Assess the Child’s Needs: Parents know their child best so should first list their main concerns about his or her school readiness. It’s also helpful to consult with the child’s preschool or pre-kindergarten teacher to compare notes. A child may act and behave very differently in a classroom setting than at home.
- Get a Full Understanding of School Readiness: Some parents falsely think school readiness is knowing how to read, writing letters, or citing the ABC’s. But school readiness is more than that – it’s a child’s ability to learn, solve problems, make decisions, and engage with others.
- Consider Alternative Option: Once the child’s needs are determined, a parent should consider what options they have to address these needs during the “skipped year.” Do you have access to quality early education? Is your child set-up to build those skills? A critical factor in this area is access both physically (are there options near me?) and economically (can I afford those options?).
- Schedule Time with Kindergarten Teacher: Kindergarten teachers are trained to teach kids with a wide variance of early education experiences. Most will have taught children all along the spectrum of school readiness. Having a meeting with the teacher, armed with your questions and concerns, can provide valuable insight for your decision. If possible, ask to observe the classroom in action.
I’m a firm believer that parents generally know what’s best for their child. The redshirting decision should be one about determining what’s best for your child and setting him or her up for success in school. Whether you decide to redshirt or not, just remember that school is going to be challenging academically and socially at different points for all kids. It’s how kids face those obstacles that leads to success in school.