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Is Redshirting the Essential Undoing of Your Child’s Development?

Is Redshirting the Essential Undoing of Your Child’s Development?

Admittedly this is not the first time I have written about “redshirting”, the practice holding kindergarten-age children back for a year as an attempt to give them a leg up on peers. But considering 1 in 11 children will be electively held back from kindergarten this year, this issue is decidedly not going away.

An opinion piece in The New York Times last month, by Sam Wang (an associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton) and Sandra Aamodt (a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience) posits the idea that the practice of “redshirting” gives children neither an academic nor social advantage –maybe at the beginning, but certainly not in the long run.

Wang and Aamodt report:

“Teachers may encourage redshirting because more mature children are easier to handle in the classroom and initially produce better test scores than their younger classmates. In a class of 25, the average difference is equivalent to going from 13th place to 11th. This advantage fades by the end of elementary school, though, and disadvantages start to accumulate. In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment — in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.”

The authors insist that it is the children who are sent to school at the ripe old age of 5 are the one’s who both have the advantage, as well as the long-term results. “In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age. In other words, school makes children smarter.” What this evidence might prove is that it is not about “being ready” for kindergarten that makes all of the difference, but being challenged in a demanding environment and being allowed to make errors and mistakes. In essence, learning is largely social and, as the authors attest, delaying that social exchange may lead to social and learning delays down the road.

Does this argument sway you any which way? Has anyone opted to “redshirt” their child and found themselves regretting it down the line? Can you champion the practice of “redshirting”?

Read more: Caregiving, Children, Family, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

9 comments

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7:08PM PDT on Oct 8, 2011

my elementary school had semesters instead of grades (so you went through Low Second then High Second then Low Third). This helped children learn what they were ready to learn.

9:59PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

yay for living in Canada.

9:30PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Another risk of "redshirting" is that the child may get the idea that they are not smart enough or able enough to move forward with their peers, resulting in a lower self esteem and perhaps teasing by others.

8:44PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:18AM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Interesting indeed.

3:22AM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Interesting article.

12:59PM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

I think people try to create "generalizations" and "rules" for these things, but the truth is each child is different. We're all individuals, we have different needs, different learning styles, different motivators, different environments, and one size or one "rule" won't fit all of us.

11:35AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

The issue is the content expected at a certain grade level. What we used to teach in 1st grade in California is now the new Kinder. Much less weight was given to what was developmentally appropriate for the majority of children at a given age when they'd be in a certain grade than what "had" to be covered by 12th grade and working backwards. This is one of the reasons "transitional kinder" is part of the new plan in CA. While "redshirting" to gain an advantage on peers is a practice with questionable results, given that content in Kinder used to be associated largely with 1st grade and 6 year olds, it is no wonder that 6 year olds in Kinder now are more successful with a longer day and more sophisticated content than 5 year olds.

When I was in Kinder, we had time for bugs and snails, sand and water (otherwise known as earth science), free play with games and manipulatives (pretending, social interaction, constructs we know are important to all aspects of human development), etc. Despite a much longer standard Kinder day, and even all-day Kinder programs, it's tough with the standards to fit this stuff in. This is why being 6, and hopefully getting these in preschool or transitional Kinder with that added time, are tipping the scales for a later start. The real issue are kids and their developmental stage vs. the content they are expected to learn vs. each other.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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