By Loren Walsh, MA, Child Therapy Services
When you think back on your kindergarten experience, you probably have fond memories of playing dress up, digging in the rice box, and building structures out of large blocks. Childhood was once a carefree time when kids came home with skinned knees and imaginary friends.
Today, we are seeing far less imaginary play and a stronger demand for academics at an early age. Children are also being pushed to advance developmentally and socially. What ever happened to the days of allowing children just to be children and kindergarten just to be kindergarten? We naturally want our children to succeed, but does that translate into putting constant pressure on them? Many parents today are not content with success, but really want their children to excel.
The practice used to be that a child who excelled was often advanced or “skipped” to the next grade. In the past decade, the reverse has begun to happen. The new trend on the rise is the controversial practice of “redshirting” a child from going into kindergarten.* A recent segment on “60 Minutes” examined this practice. Parents who typically are faced with this decision have children born during the spring and summer months. Since the kindergarten cutoff date is typically September 1, children born during the spring and summer end up being among the youngest in their class. As a result, some parents have been postponing their child’s entrance into kindergarten until the following year to give their child a competitive edge in school, whether physically, socially, and/or academically. For some, starting kindergarten a year later means they have an extra year of physical, developmental and intellectual growth.
If you are contemplating “redshirting” your child to kindergarten, I highly recommend that you weigh the pros and cons of your decision.
Let’s consider the core principles of kindergarten. As a mental health clinician, I believe that kindergarten is a significant milestone and an important stage of development for all children. It’s a transitional step that is essential for growth. This is often the first time the child leaves home for a significant amount of time on a regular basis, without the parents present. Kindergarten is a place where children learn skills that they don’t learn at home or in day care, such as how to self soothe and deal with anxiety, and it’s a place where they start to become self-reliant. Kindergarten teaches children an entire new variety of skills and routines that can set the foundation for the rest of their school career.
Here are some questions to consider if you are a parent contemplating “redshirting” your child.
- What do you believe are some of the advantages to postponing your child’s entrance into kindergarten? Being among the youngest in the class does not equate to being the least intelligent or being at a physical disadvantage. Yes, “redshirting” your child might give her an advantage physically because older children are generally more developed, which means possibly excelling in sports, but it might not be academically appropriate.
- What are your child’s academic needs and strengths?
- Aside from being among the oldest in the class, do you have any concerns about your child’s readiness to enter kindergarten? If you believe that your child is not ready, how can you help strengthen those skills that may be lacking so that he will become better prepared for entering this new phase in his life?
- What are some of the disadvantages you see to postponing the beginning of kindergarten? Do you want your child to be appropriately challenged? If she has already mastered skills that are developmentally appropriate for kindergarten, such as reading, then “redshirting” her could potentially lead to academic boredom and behavioral issues.
- Think about what he would be doing if you decided not to send him to school for a year. If you believe that your child is not ready, how can you help strengthen those skills that may be lacking so that he will become better prepared for entering this new phase in his life?
I urge parents to set aside their expectations and put their children’s needs ahead of their own when making this decision. Remember that what might be appropriate decision for one child might not be for another, even in the same family. Parents can feel plenty of pressure from other parents on this topic. If you are unsure, solicit advice from your child’s pediatrician and pre-school teacher or day care provider about his or her readiness. Remember, you ultimately know what is best for your child!
By Loren Walsh, MA, Child Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
*”The term “redshirting originally referred to postponing a college athlete’s participation in regular season games for one year to give him an extra year of further growth and practice with the team in the hope of improving the player’s skills for future seasons.”
Lilian G. Katz, “Academic Redshirting and Young Children,” Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
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