Redshirting: To Enter Kindergarten or Not… That is the Question – By Dr. Elizabeth Reitz, Child Clinical Psychologist
Two years ago I was at a cocktail party making friendly conversation with a group of women. We exchanged basic information about each other — where we live, how many kids we have, what we do for a living.
When I reveal to other mothers that I am child psychologist, I often get one of two reactions: heightened interest followed up by stories about their kids and requests for advice or withdrawal out of fear of judgment.
This particular group of women fell into the interested camp. The topic quickly changed to kindergarten entrance, which was charged with palatable anxiety over whether their children should start this coming year or wait a year.
Each mother was sharing their respective observations of their kids and explaining how they came to their decision. Then one mother interrupted, turned to me, pointed, and said, “I want to know what you would do. I want to know when you are going to send your son to kindergarten!” The emotion behind her statements threw me off a bit, but since that time I’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought, since it is clearly a topic about which many parents feel strongly and are looking for direction.
How prevalent is redshirting anyway? A new, and sound, study referenced in Science Daily revealed that it is a lot less common than people perceive. Only about 4-5% of kids start kindergarten a year after their birth date allows.
So, does delaying kindergarten give kids a head start? Perhaps – at least for the first few years of elementary school, and this is especially true for kids who are already at risk for school difficulties due to many factors including socio-economic. However, evidence also indicates that age at school entry is a poor predictor of school success, with younger children performing just as well or better than their older peers in some cases. And, some studies indicate that children who are redshirted also have higher use of special education services in elementary school and higher rates of behavioral problems in adolescence. This may be because children who were initially thought to be immature and in need of an additional year, were actually exhibiting early symptoms of a larger problem and could have benefited from early intervention.
Although I am a big fan of examining data to inform parenting, the results often do not reveal a clear path, and although group level statistics are useful, they do not tell parents what their individual child’s trajectory will be. What is clear, however, is that given that redshirting is much less common than originally thought, parents should worry less about how their child’s age relative to his/her peers and more about the signals their own child is giving them.
The big areas to consider are: social skills (ability to initiate and maintain play, sharing, understanding of their own emotions and the emotions of others), academic skills (knowledge of content areas such as letter/number recognition and phonics), ability to regulate impulses (staying on task, following directions), and fine motor skills (fine motor skills have been linked with academic success above and beyond content knowledge and the ability to pay attention. Interestingly, teachers rate enthusiasm to learn, ability to follow directions, and attention span as more important factors for kindergarten success than actual academic knowledge, which parents tend to perceive as most important to a child due to concerns about his/her behavior. Consider whether your child may benefit from behavioral intervention, if not immediately then perhaps as they progress through their early years of schooling.
So what is the answer to the question originally asked of me at that cocktail party? What will I do for my son? Well, he will be 5 1/2 at the time of kindergarten. That February birthday excuses me from much of this anxiety. But even beyond that, I see him being very enthusiastic about learning and I want to give him as many opportunities as I can to foster that curiosity. Socially, I do wonder if being older would be helpful for him, especially since in adolescence it is socially advantageous for boys to hit puberty early (not so for girls – it tends to be more of a risk factor).
At this point my son keeps up well with friends who are a year or more older and prefers their company to kids who are a few months younger. In some ways being surrounded by older kids is much easier because they tend to be more pro-social and they model social skills from which my son can benefit. Taken together, the risk of him becoming bored outweighs any concerns I have about him socially. This coming year of preschool instead of being in a traditional 3′s classroom, he will be in a young 4′s room that ranges from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2. I plan to see how that age assortment goes for him as it may mirror what we will encounter in kindergarten.
Dr. Elizabeth Reitz has a PhD in clinical psychology, with a specialty in children and families. After spending 13 years becoming an expert in child development, her 2-year-old son showed her that anyone could feel like they have no idea what they are doing. She writes through the lens of a child clinical psychologist grappling with the task of parenting, both the struggles and the joys, at From Practice to Parenting, and her stories are embedded within psychological theory and research. Elizabeth and her husband, Alexander, live with their son and daughter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Note: This article was reprinted with permission (and with minor edits). It originally appeared on Dr. Reitz’s website: From Practice to Parenting .
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