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In Defense of Not Redshirting

Photograph by Twenty20

In the past few weeks I've read a number of articles claiming that "studies show" children should wait to start kindergarten until they're six years old. If you have a child with a summer birthday you should "redshirt" them until the next year, meaning you should hold them back for an extra year of preschool or being home with mom until they begin kindergarten.

My sister and I both have late birthdays, hers even later than mine as she was born in late August, and my parents never even thought about holding us back. We began school as soon as it was time. Neither one of us ever had a problem, we actually excelled at school.

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Now I have a little boy who is four and I thought about redshirting him for about a hot second before quickly discarding the idea. You see, he has an August birthday and turned four just days before beginning the K4 program at his school. He's also a boy, which for some reason people see as a negative in terms of maturity and behavior. But when I look at my son, I see a child who is bright and eager to learn. And his progress reports don't lie, he is doing incredibly well at school. His teacher consistently praises him for being a good example to the other students and absorbing the lessons quickly and accurately. He's really thriving. What if I had listened to popular opinion and held him back?

I'm a big believer in helping our children rise to the occasion. Maybe I have a little bit of tiger mom in me, but I expect the best from my kids—at least the very best that they can be. I understand some kids may have different maturity levels or have different learning styles and for that I'm glad that there are a variety of options for parents out there: public school, Montessori-method, homeschooling.

There are no definitive answers at this time, but it's my sneaking suspicion that the advantages are grossly overstated.

I believe if parents do the proper research they'll be able to find the best learning environment for their child. But is "redshirting" really the answer? Perhaps for some it is, but I don't think it's the best option for most children. If parents continue to hold their kids back, soon we'll have kindergarten classes filled with almost seven year olds! What are teachers to do with such a wide gap in their classrooms?

When I looked at most of the studies regarding the benefits of redshirting, the results were mixed. Many studies found that kids who had been held back showed no real advantage against their younger counterparts. And then there were some studies that stated redshirted children showed improved math and reading scores. There are no definitive answers at this time, but it's my sneaking suspicion that the advantages are grossly overstated.

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Again, all I can do is look at my own children. I'm not an expert in early childhood education, I am only an expert in my own kids. I don't see redshirting as being beneficial for them at all. At home we have practiced letters, numbers, shapes, colors and everything else we can. I see them ready and able to start school as soon as eligibility allows. That's all I can encourage other parents to do as well. Take a look at your own child, not at the trends.

I don't see anything wrong with giving our kids a little push to be the best they can be, not be the best because they're a little older and bigger than the other children in the class. I firmly believe that, if given the opportunity, our children will be able to figure school out just fine and rise above. They will succeed without us trying to cushion every blow along the way. When it comes to my own kids, redshirting just isn't an option I'm willing to entertain.

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