I know about red-shirting. According to the Free Dictionary, red·shirt means to keep a college or school athlete out of varsity competition for one year in order to extend the athlete’s period of eligibility [from the red jerseys worn by such athletes to distinguish them for the regular players.] Academic red-shirting is the “practice of postponing an age-eligible child’s kindergarten entry by a year, typically one whose birthday is very close to the cut-off date. This is often done in order to provide some extra time for social, intellectual or physical maturation.” In some cases, a child may be academically redshirted in order to give him the advantage of an extra year’s development when playing sports in high school. In fact, I knew a family (i.e. dad) who moved from one town to another and kept his 2 boys back (in middle school) so that they would be bigger and have physical advantage (in sports) over the other kids in class. But kindergarten red-shirting? This term is new to me. (Note that I was a kindergarten teacher for many years.)
Evidently, Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers:The story of success, set off this firestorm of kindergarten redshirting. Gladwell writes about a study of Canadian hockey players. He determined that the most successful players had an advantage – they were born in the months of January, February and March, giving these players an age advantage (beginning at age 7 when they started playing), a maturity advantage, and, therefore, a leadership advantage over their peers who were younger. Gladwell’s book is fodder for parents wanting their kindergarten-age children to have every advantage possible. This has, in turn, led to an increase in kindergarten redshirting.
It used to be that parents might hold their child back a year before entering kindergarten if the child was immature, small in stature, had a late birthday, or just not ready to sit all day in a school setting (more often than not, boys). This became more pronounced when kindergarten became all day and when academics begin to take priority over socialization skills and readiness skills. Of course, it also was more common in middle class neighborhoods where parents were concerned about giving their children every advantage possible so they would be successful as adults.
CBS’s 60 Minutes recently repeated a segment, Redshirting:Holding kids back from kindergarten, that exposed the attitudes of parents about this practice, the pros and the cons of redshirting, and the prevalence of this practice. CBS noted that it used to be that almost all kids started kindergarten at age 5. They report that today nearly a quarter of some kindergarten classrooms are populated by 6-year-olds, that kindergarten redshirting has more than tripled since the 1970s, that boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls, that whites more than minorities and rich more than poor. But it this the best for kids? Does redshirting really give kids an advantage?
Some pros and cons. Research from the National Center on Learning Disabilities suggests that in the short term, redshirting has largely positive effects. The pros include:
- the child’s academic achievement and conduct on par with or above that of younger classmates
- the child’s confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates increases
- redshirting adds to the normal mix of ages and abilities in the classroom.
However other studies suggest that redshirted children feel alienated from their younger classmates. Additionally, the presence of children with wide-ranging ages may make it more difficult for a teacher to manage well. The cons may include:
- only short term advantages because as the child goes into upper elementary, middle school s/he grows taller, is more mature than peers and feels ‘out of place’
- more behavioral and self-image problems
- the child is academically ahead of his peers and feels bored
- teachers’ ability to meet the needs of the child who is academically advanced.
I remember years ago when I taught kindergarten and many of the children learned to read. Most parents were very happy to have their child “ahead of the game when they went to first grade”. However, some parents told me that the first grade teachers said to them, “Well, now I don’t know what to teach them!” Consequently, those children were bored!!! Teachers are supposed to teach all children from where they are academically, but this is not always the case. This can be a major problem that can occur when redshirted kindergarteners can read when they enter kindergarten, while the majority of the class cannot -boredom! It can have untold repercussions.
What is the take-away from this rage of kindergarten red-shirting? First, read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, in it’s entirety. Second, talk to your neighborhood school’s kindergarten teachers to get their take, talk to parents who are/have grappled with this same issue, make sure you do what’s best for your child! And, whenever possible, some argue, have your kids in the winter!!!!
This is my rant today.