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Redshirting

OK, on redshirting.

"Redshirting" kindergartners (the term is borrowed from college football, see "redshirt freshman") refers, for those of you who don't know, to the practice of holding back your five or nearly-five year old from entering kindergarten. You wait a year and then send them when they are older, bigger, and more developmentally advanced. This is sometimes, but not always, done in part to give kids a supposed competitive advantage as compared to their peers in terms of academic performance and such down the line.

This is a particularly big issue locally right now -- by "locally" I mean in Oakland. Oakland Unified is rolling back their kindergarten eligibility dates over the course of several years:

2011-12: entering Kindergarteners must turn five on or before Dec. 2nd
2012-13: entering Kindergarteners must turn five on or before Nov. 1st
2013-14: entering Kindergarteners must turn five on or before Oct. 1st
2014-15 (and beyond) school year: entering Kindergarteners must turn five on or before Sept. 1st

(http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/1994101130191626693/blank/browse.asp?A=383&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=58005)

This leaves a lot of kids with fall birthdays in kind of a gray area. Including mine: my children make the 2013-14 cutoff date by the skin of their teeth. They are, however, eligible for "transitional kindergarten," or, basically, Kindergarten Year One, traditional kindergarten now becoming Kindergarten Year Two.

Oakland Unified has in theory implemented some "transitional kindergarten" programs that kids who fall into the gray zone between September 1 and December 2 can enroll in. In practice, it's hard to find information on these programs other than where they're held. A lot of parents I talk to, rather than considering transitional kindergarten, are considering another year of preschool for their kids (or, in some cases, a private transitional kindergarten program) instead.

It is perhaps notable that none of the Oakland Unified transitional programs are held in elementary schools in the hills, if you see where I am going with this. You bet that "redshirting" is a class marker.

So this is all background.

For me, I cannot imagine waiting two years to get these kids into kindergarten. I think they would be bored out of their mind by the time they got there. Nobody I know who knows my children think they would benefit from redshirting.

But lots of people are starting to ask me if I've thought about it.

Lots of people with their kids' birthdays very near my children's are more than just thinking about it.

And while I remain resolute in my decision -- in fact I am hugely grateful that my children fall on the side of the transitioning cutoff date that allows them to go to kindergarten next year -- I am not immune to the simple anxiety created by the disparity between my actions and those of parents around me. I don't let it affect my decisions, but I can't help but to experience it. (Yes! I do have parenting anxiety! A lot of it! Just not in the usual places! This case somewhat excepted.)

Also I have a lot of anxiety, to be honest, just having these conversations with parents who have barely questioned the underlying premises of redshirting. I spend a lot of time going "please please please don't ask any follow-up questions" in my head after I say that no, my kids will be going to kindergarten on schedule next year. Because if I get the follow-up questions I am going to have to discuss buried assumptions about class and pedagogy and child development and I'm already so tired and so alienated all the time. I want to smile and superficially bond with other parents, not challenge their very reality, please.

Meanwhile I will be over here making a big list of elementary schools to tour this fall.

(And if anyone wants to pay me to write an article on "Why I am not redshirting my children this year"...)

Back to the background, some semi-biased links to the larger phenomenon of redshirting:

"Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten"
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57390128/redshirting-holding-kids-back-from-kindergarten/

"Kindergarten redshirting is popular, but is it necessary?"
http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/kindergarten-redshirting-is-popular-but-is-it-necessary-201203064455

"When should kids start kindergarten?"
http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/4165-redshirting-kindergarten.gs

"Delay kindergarten at your child's peril" (op-ed)
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/dont-delay-your-kindergartners-start.html

"The pros and cons of 'holding out'"
http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/news/coverstories/pros_cons_holding_out.php
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Comments

Contra Costa USD is similarly rolling back the birthday cutoffs; I think it's a statewide change.
Iris turned 5 on November 28, 2011, when she was in kindergarten. Neil and Zinnia will turn 5 in August 2014, a couple of weeks before starting kindergarten. I second- (and third-) guessed myself on the decision to send Iris at 4.5, especially when I went to the playdate at the end of the summer and saw a few boys who were noticeably taller than her and had already lost some of their baby teeth. It turned out that they were more than a year older than her. (One of them was repeating kindergarten at the teacher's recommendation.)
However, when I volunteered in the classroom, it was clear that Iris was better at sitting still and listening than most of her classmates. Academically, she was at about the same level as the other kids. So far, it has seemed that starting her in K last year was a good choice. (One other reason to do so in our case was that we were not happy with her preschool and would not have wanted her to continue there for another year.)
On the other hand, I think the 3 older boys in her class (who started at age 6 or nearly so) matured greatly over the course of the year. None of them would have done well in first grade in the fall of 2011. I think their parents probably made the right choice in holding them back a year.
I guess I don't see anything wrong with holding a kid with a late birthday back a year if he or she doesn't seem ready for kindergarten. I don't like the idea of people holding back kids who are ready to give them a competitive advantage.
FWIW, I skipped second grade, and I think it did have negative social consequences for me. I hope that being the youngest by only a few days doesn't have the same effects.
[daughter] is exactly on the cut-off date here in Maine. Similarly as with your kids, I think she would be appallingly bored if we held her back another year. (Heck, she's already reading better than the first grader next door.)

First day of Kindergarten is tomorrow.

There's layers of privilege around redshirting, and also layers of sexism. There are quite a number of books who recommend this, particularly for boys, based on pseudoscience, bad interpretations of science and sexism in action (Dr. Leonard Sax I'm looking at you).

I think part of the challenge is that a single arbitrary date based on DOB is not a good measure of how ready a child is for school. School boards don't want to test every child for readiness or ability, so they set a single date, and kids that are ready sooner and later loose out. Ideally schools would have multiple entries to kindergarten, not a single date a year, and base entry on the individual child's readiness.

For what it's worth, we have full time day care (by the grace of a city subsidy) and have regular conversations about how to get our child into school early. I worry about our 98th percentile for hight, super verbal, January birthday kid in a school board where December 31st is the cut off. I worry about him being the oldest, biggest, most physically coordinated and him being bored and turned off by school. This kind of thinking played into our choice of daycare too - the one he's at has him mixing with kids as old as 6 for half the day, and he's thriving with that.

There's a quote that makes the rounds in teaching circles I'm in every year or so. Roughly, it says "You have to teach the kids you have. Not the kids you wish you had, not the kids you had last year, not the kids they told you you would have, the kids you have." When surrounded by parents making different choices, I remind myself that parenting is the same. We have to parent the kid(s) we have, in the way that is best for our kid(s).
I am going to sit here and contemplate a city subsidy for full-time care, and sigh.

I tried to find a preschool setting where the girls mixed with older kids regularly, but it didn't happen. If I can find it later I think it would be a great thing for both kids.

Speaking of which, I will also note that there's a twin-specific anxiety here, in that I worry that I am off in my assessment of April because it's so obvious that Simone is ready, ready, ready. It's good to have second and third opinions (nanny, preschool teachers, etc.) that seem to validate my perceptions.


The city subsidy is a damn amazing thing. You are assessed based on income, and for our first year we paid about $5 a day - it's increased now (because our income has) to about $15 a day. Yes, there was a long wait list, but it can be applied to any licenced child care spot in the city. Really, I do not know what we would have done without it, it is, and has been such an opportunity for our whole family. On the fortunately rare occasions that someone from the states gives me a whole thing about the dangers of socialism, this is one of the things I trot out. It stops people in their tracks. They look at me like I am making this up just to be malicious.
Because if I get the follow-up questions I am going to have to discuss buried assumptions about class and pedagogy and child development and I'm already so tired and so alienated all the time. I want to smile and superficially bond with other parents, not challenge their very reality, please.

I would imagine that if the follow-up questions do come up, to avoid all that, you could smile and say, "Oh, they're ready all right. They're really excited!" kind of thing without going into the class and pedagogy, stuff, at all. Just make it about YOUR kids, not the world.

Legal footnote: I am not a parent. But I am kind of a nonconfrontation ninja.
Also it's funny that it's a class marker in that direction now. When I was a kid, you were obviously a little higher-class if you were the youngest in your class, because you were SMRT.
That's what I always think of! "In my day, children who were held back were stigmatized! Now it's a badge of privilege!" < /crotchety >

Edited at 2012-09-03 08:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this. The cut-off in my district was always September 1, meaning I was usually very nearly the youngest in my class. Caused me no end of issues physically and to some degree socially, but it was seen as "the benefit of having a teacher for a parent" (not that single-parent public school teachers had a whole lot of class privilege relatively speaking, but we had what we had) that I was beyond ready to go in terms of my reading and other cognitive skills. Which to some degree it was.
I was born in late September, just barely made the cutoff for starting kindergarten. Outperformed all my classmates throughout my K-10 years (long story, yes, 10) without the aid of tutors or ambitious parents.

I think it absolutely depends child by child whether they should be redshirted. I would have gone nuts myself if my mom hadn't put me in school ASAP.
Oh, redshirting makes me see red! I am beyond furious that T. does not make the cutoff for kindergarten, as I also think she will be bored senseless if she has to do 3 years of preschool/2 years of preschool and a transitional year. This is one of the biggest factors pushing me to move back to NYC, where Dec 1 is still the cutoff date (and she just barely makes that.) I am hugely influenced by always having been the youngest in the class, and having had no trouble because of it. Ugh, California.
I'm pretty sure we had a January cutoff when Milo started kindergarten; Milo (now a senior) turned 5 two weeks into the school year.

Were it not for the social-development aspect, I'd have almost said Milo was ready for first grade then, given academic levels -- Milo made the jump from picture books to chapter books that year, because I was reading Harry Potter as a bedtime story, and guess who wanted to read ahead? But, socially, it wouldn't have worked.

Like you, I was more concerned about the possibility of a bored child than a struggling child.

I totally get my parenting experience isn't applicable to anyone else's kids

In SF, because Blake was in a special early intervention program for kids with autism, holding him back wasn't an option. He had to start Kinder when he was 4 (turned 5 in October). When we moved to Charlotte 2 years later, I chose to have him do first grade a second time. He was still pretty feral, and hadn't met any of the testing milestones for first grade, so the team here was OK with it. He's in 7th grade now, and will be mainstreamed with support this year. (starting with Spanish!)

Hope that you're able to make the choice that's right for your kids. I can imagine with two, that sometimes what's right for one may not be right for both, and I can't even imagine juggling two when I have such a hard time keeping up with just the one.

Re: I totally get my parenting experience isn't applicable to anyone else's kids

Your parenting experience may not be directly applicable to other people's kids but I always enjoy hearing about it.