Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Redshirting: good for your little boy, but bad for America?

I should be napping (Emma keeps waking us up before 6 a.m.)...but instead I'm researching kindergarten "redshirting." We already decided to hold Emma back a year because her birthday is one day before the Sep. 30th cutoff. If only we hadn't decided to be induced lo those five and a half years ago, it probably would not have even been a decision at all.

Right now I'm researching redshirting for Charlie. Word around the sandbox is that people are redshirting June birthdays now, especially boys. Charlie's birthday is June 8th. In Virginia, where we live, school doesn't end until well into June. That means if we redshirted him, he would be turning seven at the end of kindergarten. He might as well be growing a mustache and wearing just sounds kind of weirdly old to be in kindergarten doesn't it?

So, at first I was all, no way are we redshirting Charlie. And then now all the chatter about redshirting has got me to of course I fired up the internet to see what it has to say about it. The answer is lots, and like most internet searches, it has left me feeling even more confused than before I started. Confused, but full of good quotes and statistics! Like, here's a good one:

Fred Morrison, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan who has studied the impact of falling on one side or the other of the birthday cutoff, sees the endless ''graying of kindergarten,'' as it's sometimes called, as coming from a parental obsession not with their children's academic accomplishment but with their social maturity. ''You couldn't find a kid who skips a grade these days,'' Morrison told me. ''We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways -- into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.''
Hmmm...yep. That pretty much sums me up. And what's so bad about wanting everything to be pleasant all the time? (said the girl who likes to have her marshmallow and eat it too.) Here's the article where that little nugget came from.

And, eeek! Take a look at this passage from the same article:

Robert Fulghum listed life lessons in his 1986 best seller ''All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.'' Among them were:

Clean up your own mess.

Don't take things that aren't yours.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Take a nap every afternoon.


Were he to update the book to reflect the experience of today's children, he'd need to call it ''All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Preschool,'' as kindergarten has changed. The half day devoted to fair play and nice manners officially began its demise in 1983, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education published ''A Nation at Risk,'' warning that the country faced a ''rising tide of mediocrity'' unless we increased school achievement and expectations. No Child Left Behind, in 2002, exacerbated the trend, pushing phonics and pattern-recognition worksheets even further down the learning chain. As a result, many parents, legislatures and teachers find the current curriculum too challenging for many older 4- and young 5-year-olds, which makes sense, because it's largely the same curriculum taught to first graders less than a generation ago. Andersen's kindergartners are supposed to be able to not just read but also write two sentences by the time they graduate from her classroom. It's no wonder that nationwide, teachers now report that 48 percent of incoming kindergartners have difficulty handling the demands of school....

Furthermore, as Elizabeth Graue, a former kindergarten teacher who now studies school-readiness and redshirting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, points out, ''Readiness is a relative issue.'' Studies of early-childhood teachers show they always complain about the youngest students, no matter their absolute age. 'In Illinois it will be the March-April-May kids; in California, it will be October-November-December,'' Graue says. ''It's really natural as a teacher to gravitate toward the kids who are easy to teach, especially when there's academic pressure and the younger kids are rolling around the floor and sticking pencils in their ears.''

Ugh...I have already changed my mind like three times since starting this post...and now I have to go pick up Charlie from preschool. Right now I'm just thankful he has at least another year of playdough and blocks.

What does everyone think about this redshirting thing? Anyone want to chime in?


MaryAnne said...

I never even heard of redshirting until a couple years ago, but I will say that two of my brothers were a year ahead in school and they got picked on/beat up constantly - something which wasn't a problem at all with the two brothers who were in the "normal" grade for their age.

One sister was a year ahead too, but she didn't seem to run into the same problems...

I have all winter b-days until baby 3, so I shouldn't have to worry about this for a while...

Elizabeth said...

Wow, Mary Anne you have a lot of brothers! : ) I find that very interesting that the ones who were actually older for their grade were picked on. That's something I worry about a little with Charlie. I think it might be a little strange to be the oldest all the time, like it could make you feel a little out of place and like this big, giant older kid sticking out like a sore thumb.

Katherine said...

I have so many strong feelings about this - but they're all from a teacher / school planning perspective. I wish they would just let kindergarten be kindergarten. But now it's first grade. Then again, since they keep moving back the cut-off dates, the kids are first-grade age, too.

I was born a week before the cut-off back in the day and other than being the last to get my driver's license in HS, didn't really mind always being the youngest. And sadly, most of the parents I knew (back in the day -- and back in the South, too - which is always different) who held back their boys - did it for athletic reasons. They didn't want their sons to be the shortest / smallest kid on the ______ball team.

I do think one thing to keep in mind is the learning style / speed of your child (and his predisposition to being bored). If he can "rise to the challenge" and do well even at the younger age, that would be so much better than him sitting through K when he already knows most of what they are teaching -- THAT is a recipe for a behavior problem . . .

Phillips Family said...

My son has an August birthday and people started discussing when he would go to Kinder. before he was even one. People are all into this idea of "holding back" (Texas term I guess?) boys with summer birthdays.

That being said, I question weekly what we are going to do with him as far as school is concerned. Are we going to homeschool, private school, semi-school and when are we going to send him? Who knew I would be faced with such important educational decisions at such an early age???

Our Lovely Life said...

I don't think you should just look at when a childs birthday is but look at the individual child. If you think they will be ready then send them, if you think they need to wait a year, then wait. It's really up to the parent and no one else. Kaitlyn's birthday is August 21st. She is one of the youngest in her kindergarten class, but we thought she was ready to go this year so we sent her. And she is really excelling. Now there is a boy in her class that is older. He will be 7 right after school gets out. He has had a pretty hard time in kindergarten. So it really does depend on each individual child!

Amy said...

Asher, of course, is in the exact same boat as Charlie. A friend mentioned she wasn't sending her son to K until he was six (July birthday). I think ahead to high school. Some kids that I knew that were older for their grade seemed to get a little wild. They started driving earlier and wanted to hang out with the kids in higher grades. I'm a July birthday...a good friend of mine who was the youngest in our grade (September) did great in school...socially and intellectually. I'm interested to see what you'll choose.

Robin said...

Very interesting discussion. I'm sure Charlie will be ahead of his class no matter when he starts! I think one of your readers hit the nail on the head when she said it depends on the individual child and that it is up to the parents to decide. Dang rulebook was included with these little people!! I'm planning to bypass this particular issue by homeschooling. :)


Erin said...

I agree that it does depend on the child. However, I don't think most parents have any idea what kindergarten is all about anyway, so how can they know if their child is ready? As a former teacher, this whole idea of redshirting frustrates me! The cutoff date is set by the state (should be national standard), people who have researched this decision and child development. They aren't just picking this date for no reason, they believe this is the best way to divide students. Why does everyone seem to think that their decision is better than a state standard?

Furthermore, this comes into play later in school. Kids who are older are sometimes labeled as gifted, but really they are just more mature than their peers. If they are younger, they may be labeled as slow.

I come at this issue as a former teacher, as a mom, and as a kid who skipped a grade. Yes, there may be some benefits to holding your kid back, but overall people should stick to the cutoff date set forth by the state! It just downsizes the MANY issues and variables that your child will undoubtedly face throughout their school years!

MaryAnne said...

Oops I just re-read your answer to my comment, my brothers were a year younger, not a year older, and I think the fact that that made them smaller than average made them get picked on. I think there can be problems with being the oldest in the class too, though - anything that makes a kids stand out, I suppose...

Elizabeth said...

Oh, oops! I mis-read your comment, MaryAnne. They were a year it. Mom brain strikes again. : (

Erin, I'm with you...I think people should just play by the rules and obey the cut-off dates. Some people are going to be younger and some are going to be're born when you're born and those are the breaks.

Robin, can't wait to hear more about your homeschooling plans. I'm so intrigued by homeschooling, but I'm not planning on taking the plunge. It will be fun to live vicariously through you, though!

Deanna said...

Hi there, I know this was a while ago but -

If you enjoy his writing, check out Malcom Gladwell's newest book, Outliers. It's very interesting and addresses this issue some, among other things. Although, it made me glad Zack would be older in his grade without my having to choose, and if that weren't the case, I don't know how much I would have liked the info! That's (mostly) joking, I like to know, even if it's something to just be aware of.

So did you decide to go ahead and start him this year?

Cindi said...

I'm speaking on the side of a veteran kindergarten teacher (32 years). I used to give a lot of importance to the student's birthdate as a factor in their abiliy to academically and socially handle the now rigorous demands of kindergarten; however, this year a student really opened my eyes to examine each child individually. I teach bilingual kindergarten in an at-risk school and one of my students didn't turn 6 until the end of May. That is usually concern for me especially with language issues. This child's primary lang. was Spanish (parents don't speak, read, or write Eng.) but he learned to read AND write on a end of 2nd gr. level in Spanish AND English! Yes, this is an exceptional student but the bottom line - it all depends on the individual child (and parent!) Read "Leo the Late Bloomer" by Leo Lionni for a good perspective!

Julia said...

Well it's over a year later and I've just found your blog post...I am interested to know what you have decided for Charlie!

Our son turned 5 in July, and with 2 years of Montessori school under his belt, his teachers gave me two enthusiastic thumbs up about his kindergarten readiness. All that aside, my child is strong-willed and very energetic (which has kept me in constant indecision about the homeschooling option).

Knowing that he can be wiggly and energetic, but yet craves stimulation and structure, we decided to let him go to Kindergarten this year.

2 weeks in and he is adjusting beautifully - academically. We're hearing about quite a few scuffles, however, between him and other boys. I suppose some of this is common at the beginning of the school year, and especially for a young 5, but it makes me nervous. I'm trying to have faith in the process, but if we don't see some more positive social adjustment, I may be joining the ranks of the heroic frizzy -haired homeschooling Mamas with messy yet happy homes :)

We want what's best for our son, no matter the financial (or mental) cost. I hope we'll see more assuring results soon!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Julia,

Thanks for your comment! We decided to hold Charlie back this year. We were lucky to find a pre-k program for kids in just his situation. It's a little more academic than the artsy-craftsy, play-based preschool he was going to. They will do things like document the weather each day and graph it as opposed to just talking about whether it's cloudy outside or whatever like he has been doing for the past three years in preschool. It's funny because his class has ten boys in it and they were all born between June and December. : ) Clearly, we're not alone in our desire to hold our little boy back. If Charlie hadn't gotten a spot in this school (and I thought he wasn't going to because he was 7th on the waiting list), I would have "home-schooled" him for this year. I'm putting that in quotes because I don't really know how much straight school we would've done. Our version of home-school would have been pretty loosey-goosey, I'm sure.

I wrote another post about why we decided to hold Charlie back. Here it is if you're interested:

I think you have to do what your gut tells you. What does your little boy think? Does he get excited when you mention home-schooling him? Does he love going to school every day or does he seem anxious about it? I think at the end of the day, either choice you make will turn out okay in the end. And nothing is irreversible. You can always evaluate and change your course if need be. Thanks for reading and commenting!


paperseed said...

Hah. I haven't even had my son (he's due mid-June), but an article in this month's "Parents" magazine made me curious about "redshirting." Very good post, including everyone's comments.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, paperseed! I read some of your blog this morning. I look forward to reading more! Congratulations on your June baby boy. : )