Redshirting in Kindergarten

Redshirting your kid for kindergarten. What does this mean? In case you missed 60 minutes last night, it means holding your child back a year from entering kindergarten. Rather than starting kindergarten at 5, your child starts at 6. The entire idea has sprung from the research presented by Malcom Gladwell in his book The Outliers. Gladwell provides lots of statistics showing the advantages of being an older child in academics as well as sports. He calls it a “cumulative advantage.”  If kids start out with being just a bit ahead of the rest of the game, over time, this small advantage build into a bigger advantage. Some parents are choosing to hold their kids back just so they have this advantage.

Gus has a November 5th birthday and if I put him in public school, the cut-off is November 1st whereas if I put him in private school, the cut-off is December 1st.  So, in one scenario he is the oldest child and in the other scenario he is the youngest.  And since LAUSD has horrible public schools, he will most likely be going to private school so I am going to be faced with a dilemma in the not so distant future. Do I keep him in pre-school an extra year? Or do I send him on to kindergarten?

I am really conflicted. First, I completely get the advantage of being older when it comes to sports. I’ve already seen this played out in his life. For example, Gus just started Tae Kwon Do. However, the martial arts school doesn’t start taking kids until they are 4. I asked if they would make an exception and they said that he could have a trial run. He did great and was allowed to take classes. Honestly, I think they just really wanted to make sure he was potty trained. So, he’s in a class with boys who are four to six years old. And he’s always the little dude bringing up the rear. The oldest boys are the ones that win all the races and all the challenges. Not because they are necessarily better, but that they are bigger. When it comes to sports, I totally get it.

But then there’s the academic part. I have to admit I am more afraid of him being ahead of the rest of his class than being a year behind. Mostly because he’ll get bored. He already has a ton of energy and if he’s bored, he’ll get into trouble. I want him to be excited about learning and if he enters kindergarten ahead of the class, chances are he will lose interest.

In case you’re keeping track, that’s 1 for hold him back and 1 for send him. Then, there’s the emotional maturity part which is an entirely different issue. I’ve seen this being played out in his life too. Most of his closest friends are at least a year older than he is and Gus is the only one throwing tantrums. It gets difficult because I find myself getting upset with him for not behaving like his friends behave when they get upset when really he is just acting his age. How do I gauge if he’s ready emotionally?

I’m glad I don’t have to decide tonight because I’m not any closer to an answer. I want to know what you think. Any new ideas? Anyone see the show? Anyone read the book?

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24 Responses to Redshirting in Kindergarten

  1. Erin says:

    I love that book. And I took Kindergarten twice, because I started a year early at a private school, then switched to public. My parents were told I wasn’t old enough for first grade, so I went back to Kindergarten. Here’s my two cents: attending a school that doesn’t challenge you is a waste of your time, your parents’ time and the teacher’s time and resources. As a parent, you can help your child keep up. There’s nothing to do when they’re a mile ahead and decide its not really worth running anymore.

  2. I would send him–but I think each family’s answer will be different. My son has a 7/31 birthday, which made him one of the younger kids in the class. But he was also pretty big, and I didn’t want him later on to end up being the only fourth grader with 5 o’clock shadow.

    Also, sports weren’t important to me, I was more worried about the “bored” issue.

    Finally, when I was a kid my parents had to deal with the “skip ahead” issue–they let me do it a couple of times (in kindergarten and in 10th grade) and said no a couple of times (5th and 6th grade) for “social” reasons. I ended up bored and, frankly, I probably would have been a better student if I had been a little bit less socially adjusted, if you know what I mean.

    It is interesting that “redshirting” is something that in my totally anecdotal experience, seems to be an issue primarily for parents of boys. There were several redshirted boys in my son’s kindergarten (a private school in Hollywood, which turned out not so well but that’s another story). Is it a sports thing or a maturity thing?

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Jadzia,
      You brought up a really great point in that almost all of the conversation around redshirting centers on boys. Even the key studies cited by Gladwell in relation to hockey are only made up of boys as the sample. Statistics do show that boys are held back at a much greater frequency than girls. However, if these ideas about a cumulative advantage were true, wouldn’t we see the same effects with girls? Hmmm….

    • Kacie says:

      Same with me; I started school at 4, but would have graduated college at 17 if my dad had skipped me all the times the school wanted. And I’m glad he didn’t for the most part, but I was often very, very bored – for second and third grade I would finish the entire day’s worth of work in two hours and go read books and do extra work in the library. Also, your comment about redshirting being an issue about boys is very true! It must be more about sports.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        Thanks for your comments, Kacie. It’s the boredom that scares me as well. I think sports plays a factor with boys, but I also think their emotional maturity plays a role as well.

        • Interestingly, since this post went up we’ve been confronted with exactly the opposite issue, with the school wanting to skip our boys ahead. (We live in France, sports are not part of school here.) Basically the rationale is that the younger one knows how to read, so the final year of maternelle would be a waste and he would end up bored. The older one has a similar issue.

          What I like about the way they want to do it is that they’re going to do it a bit at a time — put the kids in the “older” class part-time, see how it goes in terms of the social issues and if they can really keep up (we just moved here 9 months ago and their French isn’t perfect), so it’s not all-or-nothing. So we’ll see how it goes.

          • Mommy Psychologist says:

            Thanks for your comments, Jadzia. Keep me updated on how it goes. I’d really be curious to see how the boys do in the “big kids” class.

  3. Kat says:

    OK, my thoughts…..

    No, I’ve not read the book but maybe I should as we now have another toddler.

    For our daughter we wanted to go with private school. At 4 she was already at a kindergarten level academically speaking and no private school would take her because you must be five by September 1st. OK, for the schools we wanted. So, we put her in public school and she was 5 the first day of school. There turned out to be a small EXCELLENT one right by us with high API scores, small classes, and we never had to buy supplies because how much money the families put in yearly. It was like private school. She thrived in academics but we are seeing now that if we waited a year she would have been the oldest or one of the oldest but she’d be intellectually with the other students. I feel now the children she’s in middle school with are mentally older than her. She is still so much a 11 year old and they are all 12 some turning 13 right when she will turn 12. I wish I would have found out more from the Waldorf school when she was younger. I think it will be easier with our second who is only 1 now but will be five the June before school starts. Good luck on your adventures and thanks for a great blog. I’m really enjoying it (:

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Kat,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. You brought up a great point about the social development part as well, especially once the middle school and high school years are reached. There is a pretty big difference in an 11 year old versus a 12 year old for sure, especially in relation to the things they are interested in.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Keep coming back!

      • Kat says:

        Thanks, If I had to do it over, she’d be in 5th grade right now.

      • Ann says:

        Sorry, realize this conversation happened in March (just found this blog now), and decisions are probably all made by now, but just had to say… I have to agree with thinking farther down the road than just the younger years. I started K when I was 4 (Dec. b.day). I was a 13 yr. old freshman in high school dating a 15 yr. old boy. All my friends in HS were 1-2 yrs. older than me, and driving. Fun for me then (really did have a good time), but now as a parent, not where I’d want my daughter to be (or son competing with all the older boys socially). You can always add challenging academics in the earlier years. By high school, just getting through adolescence is consuming enough, not sure they really need more challenges :)

  4. Nikki says:

    I’ve never read the book, but I just watched the 60 minutes show. I’m in the process of making the “redshirt” decision for my son. I had no idea it was such a big deal until today.

    I’ve personally seen positive results from family members and friends for both scenarios. I know that parenting plays a key role in the child’s success (in all areas) regardless of where they fall in school. Someone will always be the oldest, and someone will always be the youngest.

    Here in Florida we have TK1 which is a transitional kindergarten/first grade class. It’s a way of holding children back if they are not socially prepared for first grade, but are academically prepared to advance (decided by a test). After completing TK1, the child enters first grade with the children a year younger then them. I would rather spend an extra year teaching my child instead of putting him in school “on time” just to have him “held back” after kindergarten.

    It’s impossible to know for sure what the end result will be for the child. It’s actually been difficult for me to try and decide what to do for sure, but it’s definitely very important for me to be allowed to make these kinds of decisions for my family based on what I feel is best.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Nikki,
      I had no idea that parents were intentionally holding their kids back who had birthdays where they clearly could start kindergarten on time. For example, kids who have January or February birthdays. They were doing it purposefully to try to gain an advantage. I’m really not too keen on that idea.

      I like the idea of having a transitional kindergarten/first grade that you described. It seems Florida might be on to something. Gladwell also talks about separating kids according to birth months in separate classrooms, but I don’t think this idea would go over too well. A bit too controversial.

  5. Yep, we’re living this to. My boy will likely be the youngest in his class. But, like yours, I’m more worried about boredom. He’s extremely verbal and focused. And he acts up when he’s bored.

    I’m just accepting that he’s not going to be a professional athlete. And that’s okay with me.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Lol about the professional athlete! Gus acts up whenever he is bored too. I think this is probably what worries me most.

  6. Rene says:

    I don’t have kids but I’m weighing in based on my experience. I am a mid September baby. My mom decided to put me in a private school at 4 and at the time it was slightly cheaper than having two kids in daycare plus I’d be learning more. Move ahead to junior high and high school, I always felt two steps behind the other girls in my grade. I went away to college at 17 and honestly wasn’t ready. But what 17 y/o is going to admit that when freedom was ahead of me? In hindsight and my mother agrees, i should have repeated kindergarten at the public school I went to the following year but academically I was good to go so off to 1st grade I went.
    I think parents need to realistically look at their children and if necessary get some outside help to determine if the kid is mature enough to move up or if they need to repeat a grade. I also think its easier to repeat K or 1st than it is to repeat 10th.
    Found your blog earlier tonight and love it!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Glad you found my blog! Keep coming back. You brought up a really interesting point that we have overlooked so far in regard to repeating a grade. There are less social consequences in kindergarten versus high school. And in the earlier grades, a child may indicate they are struggling whereas in later grades the child might be embarrassed and not want to admit they are having a hard time.

  7. Kacie says:

    I started school at 4 because my birthday is November 29th, and in CT you have to be 5 by January 1st, and I and all the fellow younger kids were definitely smaller but were also all in the “gifted” and AP tracks. Starting kindergarten at six is crazy.

  8. Kacie says:

    Oh, same goes for my stepdaughter.

  9. Ssm says:

    My birthday is Sept 29, so my folks started me a year ‘late’ rather than a year ‘early.’ Academically I was way ahead so the school let me take 2nd and 3rd grade in one year. Looking back I really wish that I had not ‘skipped’ ahead. I was socially way behind in middle school, but my grades were great. It was even harder on a male friend who did the same thing- if you read about it, boys tend to develop physically about a year behind girls. This makes middle school a place where the girls are more physically mature than the boys- add in a situation where the girls are also a year older and the poor ‘boys’ are dealing with ‘women’ in their classes.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      The boy/girl situation is another variable I hadn’t considered. Thanks for adding another variable to the mix and sharing your experience.

  10. ~VA~ says:

    This probably isn’t helpful advice but could be food for thought: I have an early October birthday making me one of the oldest people in my class. Because I was closer in age (and therefore maturity) to the kids in the grade ahead of me I ended up mostly getting to know kids in the grade above me. Then I hit fifth grade and my friends moved on to middle school. Understandably, they weren’t interested in hanging out with an elementary schooler anymore. I kind of found friends in my own grade that year but when I got to middle school without my new friends (my elementary school fed into two middle schools) those friendships dissolved. Long story short, since then I’ve never really had friends, and am now a college student who goes to counseling every week to try to gain social skills and learn how to make friends because without friendships through middle and high school I was kind of lost socially when I got to college.

    On the other side of the coin it could work out differently socially. There was a girl who started in my class when I was young, but because she was very shy her parents decided to hold her back a year in kindergarten. She graduated high school as one of the popular girls. I’m not really sure, but it may have helped that being a year older than her classmates she was a lot taller as an elementary schooler and she like basketball, so she had a definite advantage there, because even once everyone else had grown as well she was still one of the taller girls, and she continued to play basketball.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, VA. There’s so many different experiences. It looks like the school district is going to be making a rule that applies to public and private schools about cut-off dates so it will take the decision out of my hands and honestly, I’m kinda glad that the decision will be made for me.

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