There is an increasingly common, and in my opinion concerning, trend toward delaying kindergarten for children. This movement has become known as academic red shirting, a term that was coined in the world of athletics where young athletes remained on the bench an extra year to give them time to develop. Parents of boys have been stealthily doing this for sometime now in an effort to give their kid an edge when it came to sports. The older the boy is, the bigger and presumably more skilled as an athlete he becomes, or at least this is the idea behind the practice. This notion has now proliferated into academics and parents are starting to keep their 5 year old in preschool one more year to, as the rhetoric goes, “give them the gift of time.”
There is no doubt that there are some kids who would truly benefit from being a bit older at the start of grade school - but not all kids. In fact, in 2006 the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California looked at national data collected from 15,000, 26 year olds. They wanted to see what had become of these redshirted kids compared to their younger classmates. Those kids who were held back were 2 times as likely to drop out of school, performed worse on 10th grade tests and were less likely to graduate from college. The only area these kids excelled, and even then only slightly, were in specific sports.
What are the real world consequences of holding your child back from kindergarten for an extra year? Socioeconomic inequity is one major problem. As of now, those kids who have been arbitrarily held back may suffer the negative consequences but over time, as this trend catches on, the curriculum for kindergarten will have to change. Teachers will no longer be teaching to a room full of mostly 5 year olds but instead the majority of their audience will already be 6. Any child development specialist will tell you that the year between 5 and 6 is a time of major growth. Not surprisingly, it is those who can afford to keep their child in preschool, which typically costs money, who are making this choice. Those who, for financial reasons need to start their child in school at the typical age of 5 will continue to do so as long as it is permitted. As private schools move their cut-off date back ever further so do the public elementary schools. After all, it is all about test scores, isn’t it? That is the sad reality. In the early years the older kids may do better on some of the standardized tests, especially as they change and gear towards an older demographic but as time goes on those skills begin to equalize.
Here are some more things we know about redshirted kids, as they get older. They are less motivated and engaged in high school and some reports even show that they have lower IQ's and earn less money than their younger peers. Keep in mind that they are entering the workforce 1 year later and this year may count in some cases. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists and the National Association for the Education of Young Children are vehemently against the practice and have gone as far as to say that holding kids back “labels children as failures at the outset of their school experience.” This is obviously not the desired effect.
Clearly, I have an opinion about this new practice but that doesn’t mean that I think holding your child back a year is never warranted. In fact, there are a number of very good reasons to wait an extra year to send your child to kindergarten. If they have any developmental delays, if they struggle with focus or the ability to sit still at 5, if there are any social, emotional, or developmental issues that would make it difficult to participate in classroom activities then giving your child that extra year may be just what it takes to set them on a path to success.
What I am opposed to is the slow creep earlier and earlier into the summer for the kindergarten cut off date and the competitive trend towards holding kids back so they will score higher on early tests or get more playing time on the field. I don’t consider these reasons in the best interest of our children or of the next generation of children in general. Most kids are ready to go to kindergarten at age 5. This has always been the case until, and unless, we completely change what kindergarten is supposed to be about – play, making friends, learning to learn in a group environment and fun, then it will continue to be a place that a five year old, who is ready for elementary school, should be able to thrive.
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