My View: Kindergarten redshirting different for each child
November 12th, 2012
03:51 AM ET

My View: Kindergarten redshirting different for each child

Courtesy Barbara McClintockBy Donna McClintock, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Donna McClintock is the chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. She has served in a leadership role in early childhood education for more than 29 years and has been in a senior executive leadership role for more than a decade. She has authored several books on the topic of early childhood education, including “The Heart Connector Series.”

I often read materials that approach a subject as if there were only one solution. Such is the case of “redshirting” children for kindergarten, which is the practice of holding a child back from school until he turns six. There is certainly a best answer for each child, and parents and educators must determine what that answer is by considering his individual needs and development and not by blindly following a trend.

No matter WHAT you decide to do, we know for sure that parents must understand that a child’s brain cannot be redshirted or held back. The child’s experiences during the fifth and sixth year of life are extremely important because the brain continues to develop and form synapses, and learning is at an all-time high.

It is the responsibility of parents and educators to challenge, nurture, inspire and ignite in our children a love of learning and exploration during this critical time. How do you do this when formal education in a school system begins as an individual choice for each child? There are several key factors to consider, but the child’s individual needs are the trump card in this decision.

Most research clearly shows that any gaps in levels of success between younger and older children are usually bridged by the third grade. This leaves parents to wonder if there is an advantage to holding their child back. I offer the position that the type of program your child is in during the first year of formal school is really the key to success.

Each child deserves a developmentally appropriate setting that understands how children 5 to 6 years of age learn, whether that is a formalized kindergarten program, the home environment provided by parents, or another alternative.

I have studied how children learn and develop and have been in the field of early care and education for more than 30 years. The greatest part of my knowledge comes from my own children, my grandchildren, and the children I have the honor of serving each day. They are incredible teachers.

Without a doubt, parenting my own three children has been one of the most surprising experiences of my life. As a little 1, my son was loud, funny, and never stopped. My daughter was quiet, reserved, and graceful. Then, child No. 3 broke ALL the rules. I was naïve to think that what worked for one child would automatically work for another, and it took me months to figure out that I had to parent each one in completely different ways as they passed through phases that I thought I knew how to handle. Each child is unique.

There simply isn’t a manual on how to make critical decisions for children. Just when you think you have it figured out, your child will completely confuse you.

Therefore, with everything that has been written about kindergarten redshirting, it can be extremely difficult for parents to find clear guidelines for making an informed decision.

Here are some questions to consider:

1. First and foremost, you must answer this: If you hold your child back, what will she do during this time of rapid growth and learning? You cannot redshirt the brain. If not formal kindergarten, what do you intend to do for her that will inspire, excite, and motivate her during this time of rapid growth and learning?

2. Is it your need or your child’s need to wait to enter kindergarten? Ask yourself if you are holding your child back for any of these reasons:

• Are you feeling pressure from family and friends because it is the current trend? If your friends were sending their child to kindergarten, would you send yours? If your answer is “yes,” perhaps the answer should be “yes” for your child regardless of what your friends do.
• Are you holding your child back because of sports? If so, is the sport the child’s passion or yours? You may be attempting to live out your unfulfilled sports dream vicariously through your child.
• Are you holding your child back to protect him from normal childhood behaviors of other children? For example, are you afraid he will be teased because he is small in size? If he is ready in all other areas, shielding him is probably not the answer. Equipping him to cope with other children might be a much better solution and will also teach him skills he will need for the rest of his life.
• Are you worried about how you will handle the separation? Remember, the decision should be about the child.

3. Are there resources available within the school that he could benefit from or do you feel that the program is simply too structured? We know how children learn before the age of 6. If the program is not a true hands-on, positive, developmentally appropriate program, then perhaps redshirting is a good choice or choosing a different school might be an even better one. Kindergarten programs vary, and it is important that your child is prepared for first grade. If you choose a kindergarten program outside of the school where he will attend first grade, you will need to work with the school to ensure readiness. This is not allowed in some private schools—children must be accepted into the kindergarten program in order to move into the first-grade program. Make sure you are informed when you make your decision.

Research thus far does not support that holding children back has long-term, positive outcomes. A 2008 report by Harvard University’s Susan Dynarski and David Deming indicates that little evidence supports that children who have been allowed to mature for another year will benefit more. In fact, as the report states, being the oldest among classmates really has no lasting, positive effect on how a child succeeds in life. Their self-concept and acceptance by peers are about the same, as are teacher ratings of behavior for oldest (redshirted) and youngest (not redshirted) children.

In previous research retrospective and cross-sectional analyses show redshirts do not do as well as their peers when it comes to behavior problems. Although redshirting does not seem to cause increased rates of social and emotional difficulty, it does not appear to solve them either. And none of the studies that have ever been done prove that redshirting solves societal issues.

Finally, the most important point yet, once the decision is made, do not hesitate to amend it if you feel that your child is not thriving. Remember that wonderful slogan, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste”? While it may be too late to get him into the original kindergarten program you wanted to, do not allow him to waste this critical year of opportunity.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna McClintock.

soundoff (279 Responses)
  1. SeattleMama

    My older son, entered public kindergarten this year at the age of 5-1/2. He is enjoys school and his friends. Due in part to federal mandates related to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the newly adopted Common Core standards, he had three assessments (reading, math and a state mandated one) in the first 5 weeks of school. His teacher also had the class in for weekly test prep in the computer lab - they don't use computers for any other purpose evidently that testing the kids.

    While he has known the full alphabet since he was two years old, his fine motor skills have been slower to develop, particularly since he is bilaterally-abled (left-handed but uses both hands). There is a huge emphasis on reading and writing skills development in kindergarten, work that used to be in first grade. There is also a lot of sitting down doing worksheets. From what I've read this is not based on brain development research but on politics and educational fads.

    I can see how a child born closer to the cut-off date might not be ready for the work, particularly a very active child. My younger son is two and is super bright and athletic, it's too soon to know if he will be able to handle being in such a passive learning environment. I wish public schools really employed differentiated learning.

    November 17, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  2. Bettycrocker

    This is a wonderful article. I have a 6yr old 1st grader, who is an Oct born and went to school early because of a Jan cutoff in CT.She loves school and I can see that it was a right decision because she would have clearly been bored if I let her stay in preschool. She is keeping up very well and does not seem pressured at the same time sufficiently challenged.
    But like others have said it depends on the child. I come from India where no matter what, kids are sent off to Lower Kindergarten at age 4. Again the kids who can cope do well but those who have issues continue to have problems throughout. It definitely hurts their confidence and before we know it they have a very hard time keeping up.
    Personally I think its a parents choice, you know your child best.

    But in my opinion the education system here in the US is not as tough as in India. Though it seems like the kids are really pressured, I think its better to learn to study hard from a young age than being unable to cope later and drop out. Better to learn as much when we are younger and specialize in subjects we love later. My Bacherlor's degree concentrated on the 3 subjects I wanted to do most rather than all the topics under the sun. I did learn all the subjects rigorously until 10th grade.
    As much as I love elementary education in the US ,it feels like as we go into higher education the system used in India/UK are more efficient and cost effective. I am digressing here so I will stop talking 🙂

    November 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  3. Dona La Corriere

    What about the children who are properly ready and follow school recommendation for enrollment? Will these five
    year olds in class with 6 plus year olds feel bullied? shouldn't school districts and principals have a strict policy.Some districts have decided when six year olds show up for kindergarten they should properly be placed in first grade.

    November 14, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Kay

      Dona, here is part of the issue, too many parents don't or can't work with their children before school and they go to sub par child care (ie a family member or friend) so their kids don't get any type of learning before Kindergarten. I am a January baby as is my daughter since in our district you have to be 5 on August 1st before school starts she will be almost 6 before she will attend school, she is 22 months old and I already work with her on numbers, letters, colors, reading, counting and the like. Because she is home with me, but many people don't have this option, they are forced to work outside of the home sometimes more than one job if they are single and have no time to nurture their children. I saw the difference it made when my sister did hit that cut off and went to school at barely 5, she has been and is still stunted from that experience, she was very immature and even at 30 she is still immature and has a problem learning in a structured environment. She has a hard time staying at jobs and focusing on the task at hand, I don't believe she has a learning disability but because she didn't "fit" with the other kids in her class the school labeled her as that, she was simply too immature for the material.

      November 14, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  4. Donna

    I was born Dec 29th. My parents did not hold me back even though I was small for my age. My dad was afraid that our relatives would think that there was something mentally 'wrong' with me. My mother wanted to hold me back a year- I think that she could see the handwriting on the wall. However, he won out. In kindergarten, I wet my pants 1 day during school; my dad had to leave work to come take me home. (At the time, my mother worked, too, & we only had 1 car). In addition to being the youngest & smallest child in the class, I was emotionally immature as well. My 1st grade teacher recommended that I repeat first grade, even tho I'd passed everything academically. But again, I was sent on. My 2nd grade report card said, " 1. Donna talks when others are talking 2. hits other children 3. stays close to tears." I passed all my classes, tho, & was promoted. The rest of elementary school, my teachers constantly complained that I daydreamed in class. I was always the last one chosen for dodgeball, kickball, etc. at recess. My growth started to catch up & normalize in h.s., but the damage was done. I never was comfortable when trying to socialize. Had a terrible self-image. Even now, decades later, I'm not spontaneous when conversing. I run the sentences thru my head before I speak. By then, the subject has likely changed. I was, of course, the last one to get a driver's license. I never went to any dances in the gym Fri. nights after f'ball games. Athletics for girls were frowned on in our house; it wasn't considered 'lady-like' by my mother. Looking back, I think there were just too many things I had to overcome.
    A friend of mine had a sister who was a teacher. She had a son with a borderline birthday. She & her husband sent him on to kindergarten as soon as they could. At the end of the school-year, his teacher said she could not in good conscience send him onto 1st grade. So he spent another year in k'garten.
    My brother-in-law, long since grown, has a Dec. birthday. He still wishes his parents had held him back a year. He hated being the last kid in his grade to get his D.L. plus being younger than all the girls.
    After I had my 1st son, my husband & I talked often about when he should start kindergarten. He had a mid-July birthday. ( Nowadays, a child has to be 5 by the 1st day of school). Where I live, that's in early August now. We pretty much have year -round school. I asked my husband what would be the worst thing that could happen if we sent him to k'garten when he was barely 5. He said he could fail. I said no. The worst thing is that he could PASS. Why? He would spend his entire school 'career' STRUGGLING to keep up! And I KNEW what that was like! And, because he was a boy, he'd most likely be slower to mature than a girl would.
    On the other hand, if after he were held back, he proved to be a GENIUS, he could always 'skip' a grade, & be placed in a class with kids born the same year. We ended up keeping him in pre-school an extra year. This is MUCH easier than holding a child back once he is in regular school. His education worked out well. He liked being the oldest in his grade. He was the 1st to get his driver's license. He wasn't younger than all the girls in his class, when the time came to think about dating.
    I'm glad we made the decision to hold him back. We did the same with his brother 3 years later. It's been great both times.
    I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  5. LindaR

    Holding back a child that is not ready.....a child that at age 5 will notice she/he is not keeping up with the others....cannot write letters......may not color as well, does not change their shoes at the same speed. Feels a little behind and starts to feel well not good enough. The other children notice this too and there you have it....a trend beginning to form. Year after year, their confidence wains and it is starting to show in their work. If holding your child back until they can handle the environment and thrive at a much better level will boost their confidence and thereby boost their capacity for learning. just ask a child who is the oldest and biggest....with great confidence they will stand up. These children know who are fastest and the smartest. Who gets picked on? The weak ones. Its normal human behaviour...a kind of survival of the fittest in these early years of life. If you see your child not performing at the same levels as their peers and you can make a difference, why on earth wouldnt you? Seems pretty simple to me. Be your child's best advocate.

    November 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  6. Anna

    Testimony: My son, now 25, was held back by going to Transitional first grade (T1). Not sure how it would have turned out if we'd sent him straight through, but I can attest that he is a leader in all things he does – athletically, professionally, and socially. He was awarded a full athletic college scholarship; voted captain of his team by his teammates for three years, and earned another scholarship to get his masters; and had several generous job offers to choose from upon graduating. I believe that his going the T1 route was a part of what worked for us. I know it's a tough decision to make – best of luck to those trying to make the decision, I know its tough and is different for each child.

    November 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  7. Jerome Horowitz

    Here's a fun trick I used with my kids –
    When you go to the store, see if they can figure out the change without looking.
    If they can, give them the coins.
    It worked great with my kids, until they wanted the bills, too.

    November 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  8. jonathan

    my issue is not as much the schools themselves (even though learning is more about cramming/passing tests than learning) my issue is the social break down at home

    too much tv
    too much video games
    too much texting
    too much mature material entering these immature minds
    where is the discipline?
    where is the fostering?
    where is the parenting?

    all the worlds filthy garble is too much for a young mind that cannot truly fathom life/death/consequences/etc/etc

    with kids reaching puberty in the 10yr old range nowadays (for crying out loud will anyone pay attention to our food!) peer pressure on these children is just getting out of hand

    I know the stories of social breakdown in these schools is beyond inconvenient, it is a tragedy

    November 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  9. mrsjs15

    I wonder if the author has looked into the parents personal experiences when it comes to "redshirting". Are the parents holding their children back till they are 6 the same parents who were put into Kindergarten when they were 4?? I, myself, was started in Kindergarten at 4 back in the 80's when the cutoff was 5 by January 1st. Now with my daughter, who has a September birthday, I'm torn between starting her with just a few days/weeks of 4 left or holding her out for an entire year.

    For me (and perhaps for other parents) its not KINDERGARTEN that is the issue, but later in life that is...

    November 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  10. John

    Just because PUBLIC KINDERGARTEN doesn't start until 5 or 6 years old does not mean the child is not learning, both formally and informally, in a pre-school program. I decided to hold my son back as he is extremely immature and does not have any ability to control himself and focus on learning. I think it would have been to his disadvantage to start him this year as he couldn't even write his name (and we were trying to teach him, he just didn't care). In contrast, my older child started right on time and has thrived the entire way.

    Each kid is different. Each decision needs to be made for the right reason for the parent and child. Having a "sports" advantage never crossed my mind – having a life advantage because they got off to a better start is my goal.

    November 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jen

      And that is exactly what she was saying- make sure that they go to a quality preschool program during the ages of 5 and 6. For a few years, many of the school districts here in Erie had a birthday cutoff date of May 31st. In the local newspaper, parents cited excelling in sports in high school for their reasoning supporting the rule. Eventually, they changed it back to May 31st. The Kindergarten classes had a very wide age range as you can imagine during the changes... and larger classes.

      November 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  11. Todd in DC

    Kindergarten? I thought the article would be about 4th and 5th graders, or even high school students and about whether they should be held back or socially promoted. Whether you should keep your kiid with your peers, or if you should graduate a child with subpar math, reading, and science skills.

    Note that a high school diploma means bupkiss these days if you don't have a strong basic education in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

    Kindergarten? That is reallty not much of an issue either way.

    November 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • mrsjs15

      Todd in DC – as someone who was from the 1980's Start Them Young As You Can movement, where the cutoff for Kindergarten was age 5 by JANUARY 1st, I can say Kindergarten really is an issue. I started at age 4 and didnt turn 5 till the end of December. This didnt matter a lick till HIGH SCHOOL and COLLEGE. If you dont think maturity plays a part in it at the Kindergarten level, think about a 16 year old high school senior....

      November 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  12. Gia

    I am from asia ,to hold a child back for a year is unheard of unless the school force to do so.

    November 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      I think in Asia, school is held in much higher regards than in the US.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
      • Jerry

        Schools in Asia are still teaching instead of focusing on social engineering.

        November 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  13. smithwolfpack

    My son has a late September birthday. Our school district's cut-off date for entering Kindergarten is September 30. If he had started Kindergarten when he could have, he would have been 4 years old the entire first six weeks of school. My husband and I chose to wait to let him start Kindergarten until the next year. It is definitely an individual's choice and waiting to start our son was the right choice for us.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  14. chris

    I think point 2 part 2 is kind of flawed. What child truly has passion for a sport at age 5....they may have not even been introduced to the sports that they will truly be passionate for in high school. Redshirting would allow them the opportunity to excel in whatever sport they become passionate about.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • NP

      I think that's the author's point! Parents hold kids back so they'll excel at sports someday in the future. The child may turn out to not even like sports or be athletic. Seems like a silly reason to me.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  15. Bill

    When I go to the grocery store and the check out gal says "$22.54 please" and I hand her a ten and a five and she rings it up before I can hand her the 54 cents, she is completley lost. Can't figure out to hand me 3 dollars back. WIthout the register, she stands there with a completely lost look on her face.

    I'm starting to think they should ALL be held back.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • saganhill

      So if the bill is 22.54 and you giver her a ten and a five plus 54cents, how do you figure she owes you 3 bucks?

      November 13, 2012 at 11:50 am |
      • Daltxn

        I want to start going to that store! That's a good deal.

        November 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
      • Todd in DC

        He probably meant "a twenty and a five", but he kind of lost his argument.

        Also, you should have your coin change ready first, then bills, to prevent this error.

        November 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
      • Mitch

        Bills mom should have held him back.

        November 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Al

      If you haven't handed her the .54 cents yet, you owe her $7.54. Of course she's giving you a confused look.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
      • Penny Pincher

        Al, .54 cents? Are you cutting pennies in half?

        November 15, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • Nex5guy

      If you'd just pay with your Debit Card, checkout would go much faster and you wouldn't be holding up the line while scratching around in your pockets for 54 cents.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  16. yeltrik

    This holding back is a singularly US phenomena and appears to be almost exclusively based what's best for the parent rather than the my experience. Two of my siblings have held their kids back. One because they wanted them to have an athletic advantage in school. The other because they felt the kids would have an academic advantage. I've been living in the UK for awhile and there is no concept of holding kids back. Kids start school at age 4 here. Period. And I can tell you that my now 8 year old UK neice is well ahead of her 8 year old US counterparts. She was reading earlier, counting earlier, you name it. There's an entire population of kids here starting school at 4 and you'll never convince me that 6 is the right age to be starting a child's education. It's ridiculous.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Jalo

      I'm not suprised that your child is well ahead of your US nieces and nephews because your child starts school at an earlier age and your schools are based on a year round calendar. I also think the children in the UK are better disciplined and less exposed to video games and television. I attended a school in the UK for 3 weeks because my father had done an exchange with a minister in a small town in England. I was very impressed with the way the school was run and embarrassed by how far behind I was in math and English. Teachers are also paid more in the UK which enables them to be more selective.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Kathy

      I don't think holding back is strictly a US thing. According to information I learned at a PTA meeting, Finland, which is the number 1 country in the world for education does not start any formal education with their children until age 7. Teachers are held in high regard in there. They are highly educated and paid well. Children stay home with their parent(s) where they are taught preschool through the home. I have 2 boys, both late summer birthdays. I waited to start kindergarten with them. They were not emotionally ready. I am so happy I waited as they both are confident, excellent students. It really depends on the child.

      November 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
      • yeltrik

        I can see what you're saying Kathy, and I actually had Finnish neighbors who never stopped touting the Finnish education system. They were education obesessed! It does seem an excellent system; however, I think the difference is as you said: The Finnish children are taught preschool through the home. So while they don't start formal education until 7, they are being educated from an early age by their parents. They aren't sitting around being coddled, watching TV, and "reading" Where's Waldo books, which is what most US parents (maybe not you) tend to do. I'd be willing to bet in 9/10 cases "red-shirting" is entirely unjustified. Unfortunately for me that's impossible to prove!

        November 14, 2012 at 9:00 am |
      • yeltrik

        Got this from Wikipedia, so actually it doesn't seem like Finnish children start at 7 although I don't really know what the pre-school part entails:

        "The present Finnish education system consists of well-funded and carefully thought out daycare programs (for babies and toddlers) and a one-year "pre-school" (or kindergarten for six-year olds); a nine-year compulsory basic comprehensive school (starting at age seven and ending at the age of fifteen); post-compulsory secondary general academic and vocational education; higher education (University and Polytechnical); and adult (lifelong, continuing) education."

        November 14, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  17. Chris

    The problem is that you are only looking at 5 and 6 year olds. I teach middle school and see a HUGE difference in abilities between the younger and older kids. The gap then continues to get wider due to confidence issues. The gap is even wider with boys vs girls because of maturity levels. There have been a lot of studies that show people born later in the year (March) are more successful in life due to the age gap.
    My In our state, we have one of the youngest start ages (5 by Dec 31st). My daughter was born on the cut off date. I held her back.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:24 am |
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