Is redshirting appropriate? No, I’m not talking about college athletes; I’m talking about kindergartners.
The most common use of the term “redshirting” refers to delaying a college athlete's participation in regular season games for one year to give him or her additional time to practice and develop his or her skills. Generally, a college athletes’ eligibility is four seasons; redshirting allows them to enter their first season as stronger players, with a year more growth and experience than those players who begin directly out of high school.
As a mom to two young daughters, however, the common use of the term in my world refers not to college athletes, but to kindergartners. Academic redshirting is the practice of holding children back when they are statutorily eligible to attend kindergarten. These children’s parents believe that they will be more successful if they have an additional year to grow bigger, stronger, and more mature before they start school.
Take, for example, the school district where my daughter attends kindergarten. All children born before September 1, 2005 were eligible to start school this past August. Yet not all children born before the cutoff did so. Every year, some parents worry that their children, born in the summer, will be at a disadvantage as the youngest in their grade. They decide to give their kids an advantage by starting them a year later. Not surprisingly, this practice makes parents whose children were born in the spring question, in turn, whether or not they should send their own children, as they may now be the youngest. It’s a vicious cycle.
A large faction, especially among parents who strongly support redshirting, holds that parents are making this decision in the best interest of their children. They know their particular child best, and their decision should not impact others. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. When I have to decide whether or not to send my youngest daughter — who, by the way, was born in July — to kindergarten, I will need to consider not only the state eligibility deadline, but the percentage of parents holding their children with spring and summer birthdays back a year.
I want my daughter to be in a class of her peers. When you are 5, is a child 12 to 14 months older than you your peer? If I send her as a new 5, how many of her classmates will have already turned 6, or even 6-and-a-half? Is it fair to expect young children with such a large age gap to be in the same class? Further, is it reasonable to expect a teacher to be able to teach to such a wide range?
The kindergarten curriculum today is far from what my cohort and I experienced. Today’s kindergartners are learning to read (fluently), write sentences, do basic math, and recognize “challenge” shapes, such as a rhombus. (As a side note: I think the first time I really learned about a rhombus was in geometry.) Essentially, kindergarten is the new first grade. Is academic redshirting a response to the unfair expectations we put on our youth? Probably, but by sending older kids to kindergarten, we are helping to set those higher standards in the first place.
Keep in mind that some of the parents redshiriting their children will then complain that their child is bored or not challenged enough in class.
At this point, my daughter will start kindergarten when she is eligible, in August 2012. She has been developmentally on par with all of her milestones, and I have no reason to expect this to change — except, of course, if her milestones are suddenly appropriate for someone a year older than she is.
For some children, such as those with significant challenges or who are developmentally delayed, redshirting is necessary. However, state eligibility dates are in place for a reason, and I believe there should be a cut-off date for children too old for kindergarten, as well as too young. Parents can’t decide on their own to advance their child a grade once they’ve begun their education, and I believe the same principle should apply to redshirting kindergartners.
We should focus on removing some of the unrealistic demands we place on our children, in favor of more developmentally appropriate expectations. Let’s send 5-year-olds to kindergarten to build social skills and to learn letters and numbers, and send our 6-years-olds to first grade for the current kindergarten curriculum. That’s the kindergarten my colleagues and I experienced. We all turned out OK.