To Redshirt Or Not

Dear Parents,

Kindergarten registration starts soon. Some parents are nervous about this because their child has a birthday near the cutoff lines. This leads to thoughts of “redshirting,” which is holding the child back from kindergarten a year with the expectation that this will give their child an advantage, or at least give him another year to be more kindergarten-ready. Parents may do this because they believe that the extra year will allow the child to grow physically, cognitively, and/or emotionally. There are times when redshirting works as the parents hope and times when it doesn’t.

The results seen from the few studies that have looked at redshirted children over time show more negative results than positive ones. If parents decided to redshirt due to their child’s spring readiness level, by fall that same child is often caught up, but forever placed behind their peers. Some children are redshirted so they will forever be at the head of their class. However, by late grade school their grade mates have caught up and often have surpassed them.

It appears that redshirting takes an emotional toll on some children. Some of them feel that they have forever flunked out because they weren’t moved forward with their peers. Others, do fine—they are the biggest, brightest, most cognitively advanced of their class so everything comes relatively easy for them. But later in grade school many peers, who have had to work harder to learn catch up, start to surpass the redshirted child. The redshirted child has never learned to apply himself to learning, so begins to think of himself as a failure. Soon too, puberty takes over, further separating the older child from his same grade peers. Unfortunately, a number of bright, shining redshirted kindergarten stars end up dropping out of high school.

Some children are redshirted due to delays in their speech and language, or suspected high-functioning autism, or poor motor abilities. These children should absolutely be enrolled in kindergarten where they will get the therapeutic services they need. Few children outgrow these challenges without help.

There are times when redshirting works well, not for academic advancement, but for social and emotional development. If there is a child who is apt to have a slower rate of development, both socially and emotionally, based on his parents’ growth and development rates, then redshirting may make sense. If Mom and Dad looked and acted like middle schoolers while in their junior year of high school, then redshirting their children whose birthdays are close to the cutoff date might be something to consider.

Yes, consider redshirting if you must. However, know that the youngest in the class often ends up to be the hardest worker and tends to do well through their school career. Redshirting for the wrong reasons may backfire.

Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.

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