If you have a four-year-old, you’re probably all too aware: you’ve got a big decision coming. Is your child ready for kindergarten?
Chances are, this wasn't a big deal when you were small. For decades, a child who turned five within a calendar year was generally accepted into kindergarten in September. As long as you turned five by around December 1, you started school along with everyone else. But that was also when kindergarten was not the academic place it is now. While a successful year in 1978 may have meant mastering blocks and paint, today it includes handling pencil, paper, books, and playground rules, too.
Not surprisingly, some parents are turning to “redshirting” when it’s time for kindergarten: delaying their children’s entrance by a year, a practice once reserved for college athletes seeking a competitive advantage. Some schools have even supported such an approach by moving their “cut-off” dates to September, or even to June.
So if you have a child on the verge of kindergarten, what should you do? Recent research from the Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that nearly 10% of all kindergarten-age children are now redshirted, with the incidence highest for boys who were born late in the year. While there is no one answer, research on short and long-term effects does suggest these pros and cons:
SHORT TERM EFFECTS: As a group, redshirted kids do appear to have advantages in motor skills and size, and they are more confident than peers who began school young. However, when they are much bigger than classmates, they may feel somewhat alienated. Large spans in age and ability may also make it harder for teachers to manage a class.
GRADES 1-3: Redshirted children generally maintain their early gains, but one study has shown that there is a greater use of special education services at this age, perhaps because these children did not receive early intervention.
LONG TERM: There is no direct evidence that redshirting causes either harm or benefit in the teen years. One study did find, however, that when adolescents were old for their grade due to redshirting, they misbehaved more.
So what should you do? This is a good time for an honest, loving look at your child. If you have reason to think that kindergarten will be overwhelming, and especially if his or her birthday is after the start of the school year, you may have good reason to wait. But if you’re just looking for competitive advantage, redshirting probably isn’t the right path; early successes can give way to boredom. If your child is generally on track, you’re probably best off taking a traditional path: send your kid to school with a hug, a kiss and a loving wish for a healthy, happy year.