Overheard on CNN.com: Should you hold your child back?
November 19th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Should you hold your child back?

by John Martin, CNN

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community. Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.

(CNN) - Donna McClintock, the chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. wrote last week's op-ed on redshirting kindergartners. You may have heard the term applied to college football players, but this isn't a sports story. Academic redshirting means holding a child back from school until he or she is ready. In the U.S., most kindergartners are five-year olds, so a redshirted kindergartner is usually six. McClintock says that when asking whether to redshirt a young child, "parents and educators must determine what that answer is by considering his individual needs and development and not by blindly following a trend."

Some readers questioned whether any child should ever be redshirted:

Rob Breisch: I can honestly say by my own example that it's far better not to redshirt your children – you are causing a life of issues from being not good enough for anyone's standards,and your children will face ridicule all their lives about it. So do them and yourself a favor – advance them and if required spend more time helping them learn.You can destroy a child by just setting them back like it's no big deal. Your child is not a toy nor a rat – so treat them with more respect and dignity and reach out and help them along – but don't make them repeat any grade!

Scott B: I know holding my kid back would be a very last resort. Regardless of what the article says, I went to school and remember how some of those held back kids were treated. About the only time it was a good thing was when they had a car before most of the class. Also, unless the kid simply can't cut it, I'd rather they be in a learning environment that challenges them more than I would want them to get better grades.

Amy: Everyone says "each child is different," and that's certainly true to some extent; however, there is a tendency for some parents to think that their child is particularly unique, different, special, etc. and must be treated differently (i.e. holding him/her back) because of that dazzling uniqueness.... With respect, I think some parents (especially moms) need to stop obsessing about this. Kids are more capable than many parents give them credit for.

Jeanne: What really annoys me is the parents who hold their kids back, so their kids are more than a year older than my kid, and then they claim that the curriculum isn't challenging enough. That is because your 7 1/2-year-old is supposed to be doing second grade work, not first grade.... So then the kid needs differentiated instruction, special trips to the library, and reading enrichment. Meanwhile my age appropriate 5-year-old summer birthday learns at the pace of the curriculum, because that is the age it is designed for. No, she's not special or advanced like your kid, but hey, she's a year and a half younger, and would have gone nuts being stuck in preschool another year. I still think my kid is getting the better end of the deal.

Many readers acknowledge, as does McClintock, that the situation for each child is different:

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.

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.

J: My parents waited an extra year to put me in Kindergarten, and then I ended up skipping 2nd grade because it was apparent I was at a much higher level of math and reading compared to what the class was teaching. You can always correct later, and I imagine it might be easier to skip a grade than having to repeat one.

Angela: When my daughter was ready for K (she had just turned 5) she was socially on target, but having a hard time with her letter sounds (the result of chronic ear infections). I choose to start her anyway. I regret it.... While she is now in 4th grade but reading on a mid 5th grade level, she is now socially/physically behind. Many of the kids are hitting puberty and talk about boys/girls nonstop. My child is still very much a child.

And some wonder if holding students back, or even advancing them early, might work well in other grades, or not:

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 kid with your peers, or if you should graduate a child with sub par math, reading, and science skills.

Ima Teacher: As a teacher, I have seen many students who were not ready for the next grade level and would benefit, I thought, from repeating their current grade level. However, our school district frowns upon retention and makes it so difficult for a teacher to retain a child, that many teachers just don't bother trying.

SoArizona: Going forward and placed ahead in grades can be as damning as being held back. In college at 15 can be just as grueling.

Comparisons to other countries' education systems, particularly Finland's, are common in conversations about education in America, including this one.

Kathy: I don't think holding back is strictly a U.S. 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.

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 child...in 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.

Holly Korbey: Parents have a fear of the new kindergarten – developmentally inappropriate, it's entirely academic and kids spend most of their day sitting in a chair, doing "work." Most five-year-olds don't have the ability or the desire to learn this way, and parents understandably are freaked out by the kind of learning taking place. An easy way to fix this would be for parents to demand what is developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds and kindergartners in general: play-based curriculum. Used by Finland and South Korea and many other high-achieving systems, this allows the children to develop motor skills, social skills and resiliency before turning to academics in first grade.

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

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 it's a parent's choice, you know your child best. But in my opinion the education system here in the U.S. 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.

The cut-off in my area of Canada is December 31. My child started kindergarten at 4 and did not turn 5 until November. She was in pre-school for two years prior to that in French Immersion, her kindergarten was French Immersion as well. I think most children do quite well, you need to observe your child and consult with the school you are sending your child to.

jdoe: From my own experience, America as a whole is holding every child back. In Asia and Europe, kids are taught at least one grade level higher than in the U.S. I'm not saying that other countries do it better. I'm just saying that children have a lot more capacity for learning than we believe.

Another theme we see often in the Schools of Thought comments are issues of semantics. How do the terms we use in education affect our children? Here's what some of you had to say about redshirting and similar terminology.

Spijder: It makes even less sense in relation to the practice of delaying kindergarten to use a phrase relating to an increase of time on a team to a decrease of time in another group situation.

Hemyola: The concept "held back" misses the point. Not going to school does not have to "hold the child back." In fact, learning at at home can be a way to enhance faster learning and growth for many children with supportive parents. Likewise, going to school can actually hold a child back from growing and learning....

Experienced Teacher: There is no cookie cutter answer. It really does depend on the child. Yes, we are talking about your child and you do have the final say-so, of course. I am so tired of hearing the "bored" word. Your child by and large is NOT bored. They may not enjoy what they're learning, but they are not bored.

carlivar: The plural of anecdote is not data.

What experiences do you have with redshirting? Were you held back or have you considered redshirting your own children? Tell us your story in the comments section below.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Jasmine Masters

    As a future educator, I have taking the initiative to respond to this topic and present my opinion and supporting details on how I feel about academic redshirting. It is imperative that professionals create a balanced plan that is adaptable for all children. Our society is becoming more and more diverse, and it seems that in the education field we are getting too comfortable failing our children. I have chosen to state my overview and standpoint on “academic redshirting” or holding children back a grade level. With a successful method of teaching and assessment, and correcting flaws and mishaps in learning, there shouldn’t be any reason to hold a child back a grade level. I believe that the study of ECE and developing children is and unfinished job. There is always something to know or learn about children and their learning. Sadly, it seems as if society has come to the conclusion that early childhood education and its components has been developed via a black and white handbook with all the answers there cut and dry. This is not the case. This is a field where even as the professional; you should always be actively learning and remaining current within this field.
    When determining if a child should need to repeat a grade level or not, I think it should be evaluated very closely. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered. Some of those factors would be behavior problems/ issues, abuse, health issues, family income and poverty of applicable and if the teachers and staff have completely exhausted all other options such as special training, conferences, and one on one learning alternatives. It’s quite challenging for the child and for the teacher when it comes to having a child repeating an entire grade level. Vice-Versa, I feel the same way about parents being given the option to have their child skipped up a grade level because they may be a lot smarter or advanced than the current grade level. To a certain extent, this is being close-minded to a child’s developmental stages. Taking academics out the picture and considering 6th grade has been combined with middle school now in most areas…Would you really want you’re under aged child in an environment with middle school aged children if by age he/she shouldn’t be. As parents, we need to realize and understand both sides to situations.
    I disagree that parents should be the primary decision maker in determining if a child should be held back or not. I disagree that parents should be able to request their child repeat a grade level. As far as the child, I feel that they will suffer from anxiety issues of being teased by their classmates, some developmental issues may occur such as being slightly bigger or taller than the other kids. Usually these are the students that cause disruptions and have behavior problems in the classroom. Why make them be bored in classroom covering material they have already learned and seen. Of course they will be bored, embarrassed and most likely cause interruptions for the teacher and fellow classmates.
    Observation and assessment plays a major role in this issue at hand because we need to realize exactly what we missed or what particularly area a child may be suffering in so that it may be corrected in due time. Instead, we see a child fails a standardize test, and we decided they should be held back. Due diligence should be done, when it comes to children and their education. It is important that educators have a scale of valuating and assessing each and every student. Material presented to them should be developmentally appropriate and educators should keep semester long records or anectdotal records so that they are obtaining useful information to present to parents. Also, these records can be a reference when attempting to find out what subject area or concept a child is doing poorly in.
    I wouldn’t present my opinion without suggesting or propose an alternative to what I have said and supported. Outside of summer school, night school, and all the other traditional ways of getting students caught up….If I were in an administration position and had the power to do so, I would present 3 options the parent and child had before holding them back a grade level be the final decision. #1- parental involvement. A workshop that a parent or legal guardian MUST attend. This is so they still see and have the responsibility in the equation. A lot of parents send their kids to school and feel like while they’re at school they are no longer a parent. This is why some students fail. The workshop could either be based on curriculum information from where the child needs help with or where they are failing. Why make a child repeat an entire school year in a certain grade, when they’re only reason for failing or not meeting the promotion criteria to be promoted to the following grade is only in one area such as fractions. Have the child AND parents attend a mini workshop on fractions over the summer, or over the Christmas break. Another alternative would be isolated teaching. Teaching a student in an isolated environment, covering certain material, and then re-testing them. Possibly something in the classroom could be causing them to fail. As child care professionals, we have to understand that all children are different. Engagement is a must, and holding them back is not the answer.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  2. Brad

    Every kid is different and has different needs in different areas. My own child has consistently been ahead cognitively, doing kindergarten level work while in his 3 year old preschool class. He was advanced early to the 4 year old class in order to bring up his social skills, while he was still out performing those children cognitively.

    The local district's cut off for kindergarden is that the student must by 5 before the start of their kindergarten year. With a November birthday, that would have my cognitively advanced child entering kindergarten at almost 6 years old. He started kindergarten at a local private school last week, 5 days after his 4th birthday and is doing well.

    Keeping him out of school untiol 6 would have been a great disservice to my child, and would have left him bored with a curriculum 2 years behind his ability. Meanwhile, we stand ready to help him as he meets the new challenges of his kindergarten class. He comes home tired, but happy and is performing well. If we have a second child, he will base our decisions on the child's ability and the educational options available to us.

    Education of my child is my responsibility. School is just a tool that a parent uses to achieve that end. Ultimately it is our job as parents to see that our children are educated and prepared for adult life and no one elses. If we don't want that responsibility, then we shouldn't have children. Each of us has to evaluate our own child and do what is best for them and be prepared to help our child as best we can to meet the challenges they face along the way.

    November 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Kevin

    I think if you need to you should.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  4. Dylan

    I seriously think that kid should not be redshirted because i think all kid should be the same age in the class. If some kids are older in the class they would be able to graduate before everyone else and i think everyone should graduate together.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Sophia

    I believe that kids should be held back if they have a hard time learning about the subjects they learned that year, on the other hand if the child is successfully doing well on the topics then they should move ahead and not stay back. Some parents want their kids to stay back because of their age, not their learing abilities, and that seems reaonable to me. Hopefully the teachers and the parents make the right decision for the child, and not for the parents good!

    November 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  6. Mohammed Imran Qureshi

    Nice Post.

    November 20, 2012 at 4:46 am |
  7. Mfjkmc

    There is really only one way to respond: it depends on the kid. There are so many variables in life, that you cannot possibly come up with a solution that covers everything. I'm in high school now, and can tell you from personal experience that a lot of the time data can mislead, and you need to sit down with a child, disregard any parental dream of the perfect kid, and figure out what they need. I'm really sick and tired of the public school system. I did go to a private school most of my life, and a good one at that, and I can tell you that I'm bored. I don't know why the school can't just tell that I'm doing well and need something harder, but they're requiring me to take an IQ test to get harder classes, and that it will take months to enter the system. I think that schools should completely ditch the average starting age, and test each child individually to find out their needs to let them enter school when they're ready.

    November 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  8. hypatia

    It should not be the parents' choice at all, but a matter for the teacher to decide. If the kid is hopelessky behind or simply not able to understand the curriculum, he or she shoukd be held.back. If he or she can be helped to remain in the grade group, summer school and individual tutoring would be advisable. Using any other excuse but academic performance is specious. And passing a failed kid only creates a mess further up the scale, until little Josh or Betty is graduating but cannot read or write.

    November 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  9. shelli

    This is part of what made me more confident about deciding to homeschool. My son turned 5 two weeks before the cut-off. So if I had enrolled him in Kindergarten, he would have been the youngest in the class. If he had been born only two weeks later, he would have HAD to wait another year. This year, at 6 yrs old, he may not be challenged enough. When he turned 5, he probably would have been okay academically, but I KNOW he was not ready in other ways. He's a very introverted child, and he has blossomed this year through one-on-one play dates and classes and mini-camps at our local nature center. He's much more comfortable in large groups now and more willing to participate in group activities. I do think many children can benefit from staying home, learning at home, and bonding with their parents more. I don't like the idea of such young children having to sit at a desk doing worksheets when they would be better off moving around. Children can learn a lot more than we give them credit for – when they are allowed to learn in an engaging way. Homework in kindergarten? No thank you! Unfortunately, I'm not sure many parents are able to give their children an engaging environment at home. Many children might be better off going to school. This IS a matter of each child's individual needs and the needs of the family. There's just no easy answer.

    November 19, 2012 at 9:17 am |