When I was a kid, my mother put me into kindergarten at four-years-old. She needed to get back to work for her career, so I was a latchkey kid who started school a year ahead of the rest. The kindergarten would keep me all morning, my father would pick me up during his lunch hour and my live-in grandfather would tell me an Indian fairytale about some unique animal friendships (things like The Mongoose and The Crow) everyday before I took a long nap. Times were different then. The competitive beast wasn’t unchained in infancy, so there was no forethought.
I think being younger affected me profoundly. For years, I was more immature than my peers. Back then, the schools didn’t do extensive evaluations and didn’t advise what may be in the child’s best interests. A lot of children didn’t even go to preschool, which was fine depending on their surroundings. Today, there is more awareness. Questions are asked before a decision is made.
Questions like, are all of the other kids within the district or school boundaries starting preschool at two or three for social adjustment? Are all of the other kids starting to read and learning to write before they attend kindergarten? If they are, then your child may be at a disadvantage. Your child will compete against kids whose parents are pushing them at an early age. Where do we draw the line on carving an academic and/or athletic path for our children that will prepare them and offer them the best possible outcome?
Today, parents are applying for preschool when their babies are still in the womb. I’m not only referring to cities like New York City, Chicago or San Francisco, either. It happens in the suburbs as well. There are questions that I often toss and turn over. My daughter is on the cusp of the age cut-off for kindergarten next year and I’m not sure whether I want to hold her back. I’m not sure whether I want to “redshirt” her.
Per dictionary.com, a redshirt (noun) is a high school or college athlete kept out of varsity competition for one year to develop skills and extend eligibility. Redshirting (verb) is the withdrawal of an athlete from competition. In reference to education, it’s the act of holding a child back from kindergarten for one year to give them an academic and athletic (skills and size) advantage.
States have cut-off dates for students to attend kindergarten. They range from September 1st to January 1st. Many kid’s birthdays are only a few days or weeks away from the cut-off and they aren’t socially ready to attend elementary school. Their parents hold them back, as recommended by their preschool or the elementary school itself. This occurs with many boys, who often develop social skills later than girls.
In some areas, most often affluent, redshirting is going from “necessary for a child’s social development” to “a way to give a child a leg up on the rest”. Since my daughter is on the young end at her preschool, I see many differences in how she deals with social situations. Playdates are especially beneficial for observation.
When she plays with children her own age or younger, she tends to either play along well with them or lead them. When she plays with children a few months older or more, she tends to follow them. She is very impressionable. In one hypothetical scenario, she would be standing at the edge of a bridge discussing with her friend, whether they should jump together. In the other hypothetical scenario, she would be jumping off a bridge because another kid told her to. This is an extreme example, of course.
Is this a valid reason for me to redshirt her? I’m still undecided. Is she a follower by nature or would she be a leader in a group where kids are her own age or younger?
Where we live, parents are holding their kids back who are born in June and July, which is already older than my daughter. If I don’t hold her back, then she may be younger than the others by a few months, regardless. Parents are refusing to follow state cut-off guidelines, so I may be forced to go along, just to keep my daughter from suffering.
She’s a very young at heart four-year-old. She’s not into pink lace and doing make-up and hair, yet. In a few months she may change her outlook, but I don’t want her to be forced into it, based on her birthdate and older peer pressure. I want her to stay a little girl as long as she can. I want her to mature at her own pace, not at the rate of kids nine months older than her because of a cut-off date.
Several months ago, 60 minutes aired a segment on redshirting. There was an interview with a mother in Chicago. She was told by the elementary school that since parents were abusing the system and holding back kids several months ahead of the cut-off, they were leaning towards making the cut-off a hard and definitive date for entry. Parents would no longer have the choice. Elementary school entry would be decided solely by the age of the child. The mother said she didn’t feel her child was ready and that she would be required to explore private schools.
A recent article in Time Magazine states a study by Economic Letters and supports the idea that babies born close to school cut-off dates are less likely to become bosses. It states, “As a result of being intellectually or physically less mature, the theory goes, such kids are less likely to excel from the outset, which makes it less likely that they’ll get the particular kind of attention and feedback that tends to flow towards high achievers. Similarly, they’re less likely to be chosen for leadership roles, such as speaking at assemblies or captaining a team.”
Where we live, parents are even sending their kids to tutoring programs outside of school for an advantage, regardless of their grades. Kids are overscheduled with extracurricular activities to help them get into good colleges, starting at preschool or kindergarten. Do I follow the rules and possibly let my daughter fall behind and not have the confidence to keep up with her older peers? Do I take a chance and hope that it will all work out? Or, do I hold her back and hope that it doesn’t affect her negatively? I can have “conversations” with her and encourage her, but I’m not physically able to watch and protect her at school. My only ability is to make the decisions that will, hopefully, pave an easier path for her.
Multiple publications state that by third grade, the age difference equalizes. My worry is that between kindergarten and third grade, if my daughter loses her confidence in a sea of students born to Tiger Moms, she’ll suffer. She’ll have already fallen behind. After all, it’s easier to have a child skip a grade, if they’re too smart, then to hold them back later. Holding her back would be much more detrimental to her psyche, right? There are exceptions to all of these situations, but do I want to play the lottery with my daughter’s well being?
Is redshirting for anything other than social readiness abuse of the system? Is it fair to younger kids whose parents don’t want to or can’t afford to redshirt their children? Should the cut-off date become a hard rule, even if the child isn’t socially ready? If there are exceptions to the rule, what should they be?