De­lay­ing kin­der­garten can back­fire

‘Red­shirt­ing’ in­volves wait­ing to en­rol a child in school, but they de­velop at dif­fer­ent rates

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS&LIFE - LISA L. LEWIS

If all had gone ac­cord­ing to plan, my son would have been one of the older kids in his grade through­out his school years. Even though he turned five by our state’s kin­der­garten cut-off date, we agreed with his preschool teach­ers’ as­sess­ment that he didn’t seem emo­tion­ally ready and “red­shirted” him by de­lay­ing kin­der­garten for a year.

It worked well for a time, but by Grade 2, his teacher was reg­u­larly send­ing him next door to a Grade 3 class­room for math and read­ing. Just a few weeks into the school year, she told us he re­ally should be in Grade 3.

I re­sisted. While the Grade 2 boys still had small traces of soft­ness, the Grade 3 boys had none. Some were a head taller than my son. They wore Nikes and he still wore Stride Rites. With his emo­tional im­ma­tu­rity and small-kid vul­ner­a­bil­ity, masked by a tart-tongued bravado, I wor­ried he’d floun­der so­cially with the older kids.

But he was al­ready strug­gling, I had to ad­mit, as I con­soled him one af­ter­noon dur­ing a fit of frus­tra­tion. I asked if it was hard go­ing to Grade 3. He said he wasn’t in Grade 3, or Grade 2, re­ally, and he felt like he didn’t fit any­where. He was cry­ing, and it pained me that I’d in­ad­ver­tently cre­ated a sep­a­rate, lonely cat­e­gory for him, mak­ing him feel like an out­sider in both class­rooms.

As we learned, red­shirt­ing — even when done with the best of in­ten­tions and with in­put from ed­u­ca­tional pro­fes­sion­als — may need to be re­con­sid­ered as your child de­vel­ops.

The term “red­shirt­ing” orig­i­nally re­ferred to col­lege ath­letes who sat out their first year to work on their skills with­out af­fect­ing their el­i­gi­bil­ity. The in­tent is sim­i­lar for would-be kinder­gart­ners: By pro­vid­ing younger kids an ex­tra year to de­velop phys­i­cally, so­cially and emo­tion­ally, the ex­pec­ta­tion is that they’ll be bet­ter equipped to succeed.

Re­cently, a sur­vey of data col­lected by

Tru­ven Health Mar­ketS­can Re­search Data­base be­tween 2007 and 2015, which was pub­lished last year in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine, found that older kids are less likely to be di­ag­nosed with at­ten­tion-deficit/hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der (ADHD) than their youngest kin­der­garten class­mates.

That’s in keep­ing with the re­sults of a 2018 re­port in Health Eco­nomics that Thomas S. Dee, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, co-au­thored, based on chil­dren in Den­mark. He found that older kids were bet­ter at self-reg­u­la­tion than their youngest peers, who tended to be less at­ten­tive and had higher lev­els of hy­per­ac­tiv­ity. As Dee ex­plained to me, the ex­tra year “of­ten gives chil­dren more ex­tended ex­po­sure to play-based en­vi­ron­ments, (which are) re­ally crit­i­cal for chil­dren’s ca­pac­ity to de­velop sel­f­reg­u­la­tion.”

On the flip side, oth­ers be­lieve be­ing in the class­room with older peers helps the younger kids de­velop th­ese skills. “The younger kids kind of look up ... to the older kids and model them­selves af­ter that (and) try to keep up,” says Diane Whit­more Schanzen­bach, direc­tor and fac­ulty fel­low at the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Re­search at North­west­ern Univer­sity’s School of Ed­u­ca­tion and So­cial Pol­icy. She ac­knowl­edges that younger kids may ini­tially have a harder time with self-con­trol, but, cit­ing a 2016 Ed­u­ca­tion Fi­nance and Pol­icy study she co-wrote, says “they can learn from the older kids how to sit still dur­ing story time or stay on task. To the ex­tent that they’re less emo­tion­ally ma­ture and phys­i­cally ma­ture, there are small dis­ad­van­tages, but in most cases those dis­ad­van­tages are quickly over­come.”

More­over, in opt­ing to red­shirt, par­ents are pre­dict­ing their child’s fu­ture readi­ness for kin­der­garten, given that en­rol­ment de­ci­sions are made many months be­fore the child would start school. But “kids don’t grow in a lin­ear fash­ion,” Schanzen­bach says. “Some­times, you find your­self … in April or May when you’re try­ing to make this de­ci­sion and you think (your kid) is not go­ing to be ready for kin­der­garten … but then they hit th­ese growth spurts, and they would have done great.”

Part of the chal­lenge is that there isn’t a “magic age at which you should en­ter kin­der­garten,” says Hawaii State Rep.

Roy Takumi, a Demo­crat who served as vice chair of the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of the States from 2015 to 2017. Some U.S. states set the date as late as Jan. 1 of the kin­der­garten school year, mean­ing some kids are four when they start.

“No mat­ter when you set it, you’re al­ways go­ing to have a class­room of kids who have at least 12 months of de­vel­op­men­tal dif­fer­ence,” says Kristie Kauerz, who di­rects the Na­tional P-3 Cen­ter at the School of Ed­u­ca­tion and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment at the Univer­sity of Col­orado, Den­ver.

In our case, red­shirt­ing seemed to be the best op­tion based on the in­for­ma­tion we had at the time. But by Grade 2, his si­t­u­a­tion had changed and be­ing one of the old­est stu­dents in his class was no longer work­ing. We needed to re-eval­u­ate, which meant par­ent-teacher con­fer­ences with my son’s Grade 2 teacher, his po­ten­tial Grade 3 teacher and the prin­ci­pal. Within a few weeks, he was moved ahead to Grade 3.

Kauerz notes that there can be other op­tions be­sides switch­ing grades. Ide­ally, a teacher could ac­com­mo­date a si­t­u­a­tion like ours by pro­vid­ing dif­fer­en­ti­ated in­struc­tion. At a large school, mov­ing a child to a dif­fer­ent class­room at the same grade level is a pos­si­bil­ity, given that a dif­fer­ent mix of stu­dents may be a bet­ter fit. “Th­ese are all con­ver­sa­tions (to have with) the teach­ers and/or the school prin­ci­pal,” Kauerz says. “There re­ally needs to be a team-based ap­proach.”

My son’s teacher was the one who raised the is­sue, but Kauerz says par­ents can and should ini­ti­ate the con­ver­sa­tion if it seems as though the cur­rent grade isn’t a fit.

As for my son, he re­cently headed off to univer­sity, a bit younger than his class­mates, but oth­er­wise no dif­fer­ent.

I wish I could have pre­dicted the tra­jec­tory of his de­vel­op­ment and made a dif­fer­ent choice ini­tially. As with so many other par­ent­ing de­ci­sions, though, it was a judg­ment call and pro­vided a good les­son: Make the best de­ci­sion you can at the time, be will­ing to course-cor­rect as needed and know that, as Kauerz says, it’s prob­a­bly all go­ing to end up OK.


In opt­ing to red­shirt, par­ents es­sen­tially guessti­mate their child’s readi­ness for kin­der­garten long be­fore the child would start school.

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