Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are thinking about keeping our five-year-old son out of kindergarten until he turns six. We have friends who’ve done the same thing and they say that it gave children a lot of advantages. But is it really a good idea?
A: What you’re talking about here is called “redshirting” and it’s all the rage these days. Basically, parents—like your friends—wait an extra year before dropping their kids off at kindergarten. The thinking is that if children start school later, they’ll be bigger, faster, stronger, and more mature than their classmates. Given that in many places kindergarten has morphed from being dominated by building blocks and crayons into a real academic experience, this could be an issue.
There are some benefits to redshirting your son—at least until herd mentality takes over and everyone keeps their kids home until age six. But until then, the extra year that redshirted kids have can boost their cognitive and social skills. As a result, your son will probably grasp academic concepts more quickly. However, some education experts are now saying that being older, bigger, and more mature may make some kids feel alienated from their peers—or may end up causing them to be excluded by their peers. Either one of those scenarios is a recipe for self-esteem problems that could last a lifetime.
As far as the long-term, solid research on the effects of redshirting are hard to come by, but there is some. The Harvard Health Blog has some great information on the topic and Education.com offers a good overview of the pros—and the many cons. For example, keeping your child in daycare an extra year could be expensive. And while kids usually do reap some benefits in the early years, by the time they get to third grade, the playing field is pretty level. And some kids end up needing extra help during first, second, and third grades because they didn’t get as early a start as their peers (the right preschool could offset that in some cases).
The real problems turn up later on in your child’s education. Middle- and high school are both sensitive times for your son, and being the oldest kid in class often carries a stigma: until this whole redshirting thing started, older kids were the ones who’d been held back by teachers. That Education.com article points out that older kids are more likely to misbehave when in a group of younger peers.
Another question you’re going to have to answer for yourselves is whether or not redshirting is fair. In general, it’s more common with boys than with girls, with Caucasians than with minorities, and with the affluent more than with the poor. Given that kids already learn at different speeds, have different aptitudes and different attitudes, is it really a good idea to create even more divisions among students when we really need to be ironing out those differences so that kids can just be kids?
In the end, it really comes down to making a choice that’s best for your son. If, at five, he’s very immature, has social problems, and/or takes a long time to figure things out, that extra year could be just what he needs. But if he’s already advanced in all those areas, redshirting him could very well cause more problems than it solves.