To Redshirt or Not: A Total Mind#@*&

You may have read that title and are thinking ‘Good God, not another post about redshirting, I can’t take it!’ Well, consider yourself #blessed; opt out of this one and go watch videos of baby elephants taking a bath or something.

If you’re like me and have been on the fence about redshirting and have therefore read everything within the first five pages of the Google search ‘redshirting kindergarten,’ then you’re probably just happy for something new to look at. You’re welcome.

For those of you insanely lucky people who have no idea what redshirting means (and if that’s the case, I’d like to negotiate some kind of Freaky Friday scenario with you), redshirting is choosing not to send an age eligible child to kindergarten. The term comes from college sports, because it’s not like placing mature concepts onto young children is what got us all into this mess in the first place or anything.

Parents make the choice to redshirt for a lot of different reasons: Emotional maturity, academic readiness, physical size and, sometimes, like its namesake, an advantage in sports. Studies have found that about 4-5.5% of age appropriate children are redshirted, with about 70% of those having summer birthdays and the vast majority being boys.

My obsession with redshirting started about a year ago, when my oldest son Jack was a couple months away from starting Pre-K. Jack was born 12 days late and has pretty much been late doing everything since, falling at the later end of normal for many of his developmental milestones. Jack is friendly and loving and has the most creative mind of anyone I’ve ever met, but he just wants to do things when he wants to do them. He can’t be pushed or negotiated or bribed. So, even before he started Pre-K, I had an inkling that he wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten.

Nevertheless, at this early stage, I was really, REALLY against the idea of redshirting.

Jack has an April birthday, so starting him in kindergarten at almost six-and-a-half seemed insane and ridiculous to me. I worried about the stigma he might face for the rest of his school career over being ‘held back’ and I didn’t want him to always be the weird older guy with his car and his facial hair, hanging out with the younger kids à la Luke Perry in 90210.

I also completely resent the current trend of making the standards for kindergarten so rigorous that many developmentally normal five year olds struggle to keep up and I didn’t want to use my child to further perpetuate that system. Apparently (say it with me now) KINDERGARTEN IS THE NEW FIRST GRADE. For years I’ve heard teachers, friends and random ladies at the Hamilton Place food court extol the virtues of ‘the gift of time’ and, because I’m spiteful and obstinate, I didn’t want to hold my son back just because it seemed like the thing to do.

And, if I’m being honest, one of my biggest worries in holding him back was how it would reflect on me. Would people think I was an inattentive and unengaged mother? Would they think I hadn’t done enough to ready him for elementary school? HAD I actually done enough? Should I be forcing him to practice writing and looking at flashcards instead of running around naked in the backyard with his brother and building Legos?

So, I did what I always do when I’m confused and anxious about anything: I researched obsessively. I read any and everything I could about redshirting, I listened to podcasts, I emailed teachers from our zoned elementary school, I drove my husband and friends crazy. And I learned that the answer to the question of ‘Should I redshirt or not?’ is really ‘…Eh?’

Some studies say that redshirting has no real long term academic benefits, and, in some cases, can actually lead to worse outcomes, potentially because older students are less academically motivated. But then another study claimed that teenage boys with later birthdays who had been redshirted felt happier and more confident in middle and high school than boys who hadn’t been held back. So, basically, redshirting wouldn’t necessarily make or break Jack’s academic life, one way or the other.

All year while I was having this moral dilemma, Jack’s preschool teachers were at roughly DEFCON 2 regarding his unwillingness to do the things he didn’t want to do. We had him tested, just to make sure there weren’t any underlying issues (there weren’t) and then one day, it just clicked.

I made my decision. I decided to give into what I think I knew all along, despite all my reasons, and redshirt him.

Even though it wasn’t the decision I wanted to make, I knew immediately it was the correct one. I felt the weight of the world move off my shoulders and instead of constantly worrying what Jack knew or didn’t know, I just gave into letting him learn when he was ready, not when someone else said he had to be ready.

So that’s my advice to anyone struggling with this decision: You probably already know the answer.

The research on redshirting shows pros and cons on both sides, but doesn’t point to a clear answer. All things being equal, a child who is redshirted or not will probably be just fine either way, so you have to make the decision of what’s best for your child and your family.

If, like me, you hate the idea of redshirting but think your kid probably needs some more time to mature, then there’s your answer. If your kid has a late birthday but seems to be ready and able to head onto kindergarten, and you feel pressure to redshirt because you don’t want him or her to be the youngest, then go ahead and send them and see what happens.

All kids have completely different needs. Jack is very sensitive and shy, and I worried if I sent him in the fall and he had a hard time keeping up, it might sour him on the very idea of school for the next 12 years. But that’s an individual quirk of my individual kid and it can’t help you decide what to do with yours. Only you can.

So the next time your friend or a random lady in a food court or some annoying mom blogger tries to give you advice on whether you should redshirt, don’t let it get to you. Reassure yourself that when the time comes, you’ll make the choice that’s right for YOUR child.

Now, forget about redshirting for a while and go watch some baby elephants. 

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One Response to To Redshirt or Not: A Total Mind#@*&

  1. Jennifer June 9, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    I hadn’t heard of this concept, and I find it intriguing because my son’s August birthday will put him undoubtedly right on the line for age-readiness. No idea what we’ll do when it gets closer to school decision-making time.