My kids were born in late July and early August.
You might be thinking, Wow, that must have been a miserable pregnancy, to be super-pregnant in the summer! (Actually, I enjoy being warm, so I rather enjoyed my summer pregnancies. But I digress).
If you’ve got school-age kids, you might have looked and those dates and cringed a little: “Uh-oh. She’s got to decide when to send her kids to school.”
If you’re pre-kid, this probably seems like NBD. You send your kid the year they turn five, as long as it’s before September 15th. If it’s after the cut-off, you send them the next year. Right?
Not anymore. Not since we entered the Age of Redshirting.
Redshirting is the practice of delaying your child’s Kindergarten year if they have a birthday anytime from May to September 14th. Technically, they should start kindergarten, but the parent can decide if the child is not ready and should wait another year. The child therefore is already six on the first day of Kindergarten.
Growing up, there were kids in my class who were “early” birthdays and those with “late” birthdays. The early kids had birthdays at the end of September. The late kids were mid-July and one or two August birthdays.
If there were kids older than everyone else, it wasn’t because their parents kept them home an extra year—they had to be held back for developmental reasons.
Is this really a thing?
These days, redshirting is very common. The Newsweek blog Nurtureshock reports that redshirting has doubled since 1980, from 10% to 20%.
You’ll find peer-reviewed research that’s staunchly against redshirting, and an equal amount of research that’s pro-redshirt. Malcolm Gladwell talked about it at length in his book Outliers.
But the lack of clarity leaves parents like me in a crappy position.
I’m a Type A, research-driven gal. When I’m unsure, I research the hell out of it. I read expert’s opinions, empirical studies, and ask other moms and my friends/family.
I’ve been weighing both sides of the redshirt issue for four years. It seemed that nobody could agree on one right course of action. I was pulled in one direction, then the other.
Finally I said, “F**k it. I’m tired of stressing about this. I’m making a decision and that will be it.”
I’m the decider, dammit
I decided to redshirt both kids. The relief I felt was immediate; such a huge weight off my shoulders. I justified it with info from an Atlantic article I’d read about the fact that Kindergarten is harder than ever, and the kids are learning in K what they used to learn in Grade 1. Therefore, I’m doing my kids a favor: one less year of academic pressure.
I defended redshirting anytime the subject came up. (Which it did, often, especially in moms’ groups online.)
I was redshirting, dammit, and nobody could convince me otherwise.
Kind of. 😉
Upon cross-examination, my defense falls apart
One night, I went to dinner with three mom friends, including two with school-age kids. We got to talking about redshirting and I told them what I planned to do with my kids. They asked me why, and I explained the whole “Kindergarten is harder these days” theory.
They looked at me, a little perplexed.
One friend prodded gently. “Okay, but what about your kids? Are they ready socially? Do they know how to share, how to ask for help? Academically are they showing signs of being behind, of needing more time to get the basics?”
I paused. “Well…no, they aren’t. In fact, Squeak knows his entire alphabet and can identify the letters on sight, and knows the sounds they make.” (Squeak was just short of his second birthday at this point.)
The friend continued. “What about Peanut?”
“She’s great, too. Knows her letters, all the uppercase and most of the lowercase, and can count to 15. Socially she’s right on target, or so her daycare teachers say,” I explained.
The two friends shared stories about their own children’s Kindergarten experiences. How they’d come home elated, bursting with pride at the new skills they’d learned each day. The excitement they had for what they were learning in art, gym class, reading, and math. How amazing it was to see their kids thrive, and their knowledge skyrocket.
I’m totally screwing this up, aren’t I?
It began to slowly dawn on me. I had made the decision to redshirt based not on what was best for my kids, but on what I thought was best for the average kid.
Peanut and Squeak are individuals. I don’t think it’s fair to call them above-average (yet, lol), but there’s no evidence that what the average kid needs is what they need, too.
It’s a parenting ball-drop for me to decide something as huge as when they would start school based on an article I had read in The Atlantic, rather than what my two lovely, unique little humans need.
I left that night 80% convinced that I had made the wrong decision.
A few months later, as Squeak began showing major love for letters, letter sounds, and numbers, I became even more convinced. If I held my kids back a year, they’d spend that year on the ‘learning sidelines,’ so to speak. Kids who are bored act out. And kids forced to learn things they already know get bored. I did more reading, and more reading. And that 80% convinced went to 100%.
I’ve made my decision again, dammit
It was settled: Peanut for sure, and maybe Squeak later on, would start Kindergarten right on time.
They’d be young for their class, maybe the youngest in there, but so what? Being the youngest never doomed anyone to a negative fate—and if it did, they were doomed anyway for other reasons.
My kids are bright. They love learning (their favorite things to watch on TV are PBS shows: Super Why, Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger, Wild Kratts—as well as the LeapFrog videos Letter Factory and Talking Words Factory) and they love to read. This week I discovered just-barely-four-years-old Peanut trying to sound out words around the house. (Her first sounded-out word may or may not have been Hostess… hey, I love those little powdered donuts!)
How smart they are doesn’t actually matter
Most Kindergarten teachers will tell you academic readiness isn’t a great reason to send your kid to Kindergarten on time. Much more important than reading and writing are their social and physical skills.
When I was still really conflicted over this decision, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I knew a Kindergarten teacher who could weigh in on this, and give me some guidance?”
Stupid me. I DO know a Kindergarten teacher, and she chimed in on a Facebook post about redshirting:
“Much more important is how she handles when things don’t go her way or she doesn’t get something [she wants]. Can she sit for an ‘extended’ amount of time for a story, does she answer questions, [is she] not overly shy, etc.?”
She sent me a link to a blog post that she said exemplified what a kid should know before they start Kindergarten. The article listed these things:
- Natural curiosity
- Fine motor skills
- Self-care (wiping your own butt, basically)
There was some academic stuff in there too, at the very bottom of the list, with a big disclaimer:
“You’ll notice I haven’t listed any academic skills here. I really don’t agree with all the checklists floating around that say children need to practically be reading prior to kindergarten. Yes, in some cases this is true, and that’s great, but it is not necessary! Upcoming kindergartners should have some basic knowledge of the alphabet, especially when it comes to the letters in their names. Being able to count and identify numerals up to 10 is a great start, as well. A good foundation for mathematical concepts like shapes, colors, and sorting is also helpful.”
I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was on the right track.
Peanut is in preschool right now, and while she isn’t a crackerjack butt-wiper, she’s getting better. She’s independent and confident (just ask my poor neighbor, who is regaled with Peanut singing at top volume every Saturday morning at 7am in our backyard… she claims, “I’m just singing a song I like!” but we all know she’s trying to get her 7-year-old playmate next door to come outside). She can sit still and focus for long periods of time, loves learning new things, and can string beads pretty darn well.
She’s fine. She’s ready.
Peanut the Beanstalk
There’s one more reason I’m totally comfortable sending Peanut to K on time: her height. Since birth, she’s been very, very tall. She’s consistently at the 97th percentile for height. Poor thing is going to struggle to find long pants her entire life.
If I held her back a year, she’d tower over her peers. And when you hit middle school, being physically different from your friends is a disaster. The girl in my class who hit puberty years before the rest of us spent middle school hunched over, trying to hide how tall she was. I’m not sure if she stands up straight to this day.
Perhaps you’re thinking that height is a shallow reason, and something I shouldn’t consider. It’s no different than parents who redshirt their kids so they can have an athletic advantage (which is suuuuuper common, sadly). In fact, if I gave two shits about athletic advantage, I’d redshirt her for sure, so she could tower over everyone else and be an unstoppable force on the basketball or volleyball court. But I don’t care about sports. My kid probably won’t be a D-1 athlete.
Perhaps embarrassment wouldn’t be Peanut’s fate. Maybe tall is getting cooler every day, and she’d stand tall and proud (thanks, Taylor Swift!).
There are no guarantees. Therefore I won’t make a decision that could easily make her feel ashamed of her body; as if us women need any help in that department, amirite?
Defending my decision
I struggle with making decisions that fly in the face of what my family deems to be right. This is one of those.
My mother is a retired school administrator, who taught for decades in public schools. She knows a thing or two about school readiness. She’s also a major proponent of redshirting my kids. When I changed my mind and decided to send Peanut on time, she was disappointed.
“Oh Lydia,” she sighed. “I just really think you’re going to regret it.”
My blood boiled. It came up again a few weeks later; this time, I was ready to respond: “Mom, could you please just support my decision? This isn’t easy and your disapproval makes a hard decision even harder.”
She didn’t doubt me again after that—at least not out loud.
I’m sure she’s coming from a place of concern for Peanut. My niece was redshirted and did great… but she is lucky to live in one of the few school districts in the state with Developmental Kindergarten—a program for kids not quite mature enough for K but too advanced for preschool. She didn’t have to repeat Preschool, like my kids would.
Today, the decision is made—at least for Peanut. She’s heading to Kindergarten next year, just a few days after she turns five. She’ll be young for her class. Maybe the youngest. But she’ll do great. She can wipe her own butt pretty well and is getting better every day. 😉
Squeak remains to be seen. I’ll make the decision closer to his fourth birthday. He will be the boss of showing us if he’s ready.
Update, February 2023:
Okay, guys. I am back to update this post like a million years after I wrote it because I need to admit something: I WAS SO WRONG. MY MOTHER WAS RIGHT. I do regret it.
Worse yet, I can’t undo it. *sob*
I sent both my kids to Kindergarten shortly after they turned five. In other words, without redshirting them.
I wrote about my reasons for sending Peanut up above, but my reasons for sending Squeak were purely academic: the kid could read (and comprehend!) at age 3, and despite being a bit ornery, I thought he would be hopelessly bored (and more disruptive) if I redshirted him.
Big mistake. Big. HUGE.
Both kids were later diagnosed with ADHD, meaning that their Executive Function Age is about 3 years behind where their neurotypical peers are.
This meant behavior issues for my son (like, daily calls from the Principal, him bolting out the front doors of the school, etc., until his meds got stabilized), and academic issues for my daughter.
My daughter leveled out quickly and did well, and I had no regrets…. until she began participating in team sports.
Despite being 80th percentile for height, and reasonably coordinated, she was rejected from every club volleyball team she tried out for this past fall.
Why? Because she’s competing against kids in her grade, not kids her age. She’s a young fifth grader, just turned 10 before the school year started, and she’s competing against girls who turned 11 five months ago.
She’s also cursed with my family’s extremely late-onset puberty genes. She’s standing next to girls who got their periods a year ago, that look more like women, and are towering over her. She’s YEARS away from that point, unfortunately.
Now hear me out: I’m not wanting to give her an advantage over her peers in sports. .
But if I had redshirted her, I’d have leveled the playing field a bit, and she’d be closer to the middle of the pack, size-wise, instead of the bottom.
My son has struggled like crazy behaviorally. He still does. School has been a STRUGGLE, you guys. He’s way behind his peers in fine motor, ability to focus, impulse control, and all that. The ADHD makes it worse, but honestly, I heaped it on even more by making him very young for his grade.
So please, listen to me on this one… Just redshirt the kid. If you have the luxury of affording another year of daycare, just do it.
Because you cannot undo it, and you need to get this right. Err on the side of caution, like I wish I had.