Back in the day, kindergarten brought visions of dramatic play, circle time, sumptuous snacks, and class pets. “Academic” instruction was minimal, and emphasis was placed on social, emotional, and creative growth. Yet with our current age of rising academic standards and testing demands, kindergarten has now become, in essence, the “new” first grade. If your child is on the young end of his grade, you may be considering holding him back from starting kindergarten, the “redshirting” option that has become increasingly in vogue. Yet before you jump on the bandwagon and opt for this choice, carefully consider all of the implications.
To thrive in today’s kindergarten classrooms, children must be able to stay in their seats for extended periods of time, remain focused during lessons, and follow multi-step directions. Socially, they need to share appropriately, take turns, and know how to interact with their peers. Some kids are just not emotionally ready for these increased demands. Due to the redshirting effect, in certain cases, as much as a 16 month age gap can exist between the youngest and oldest kids in a class. Being the youngest, least “mature” child in the classroom can feel overwhelming to a youngster, as she may not know how to interact appropriately with kids who are significantly older. Ultimately, she can feel confused and sad, and can develop a poor self-esteem. On the flip side, kids who are on the oldest end may find it hard to socialize with and relate to kids who are significantly younger. Being on the very end of either side of the age spectrum can have its challenges.
Standardized testing has become a reality in most districts around the country. Schools are held accountable for their students’ performance on these exams and, as a result, structured learning has been “pushed down” so that more academic work is covered at a younger age. Play-based kindergartens have been replaced with rigorous, acadamic-based curriculua, with schools hoping to boost test scores and increase performance. Kindergarteners “back in the day” may have been expected to learn very basic skills such such as letter and number recognition, but in many classrooms they are now expected to fully read, write stories, and solve math problems by the end of the year. Certains kids thrive with these rising academic demands. Yet for others, it’s a recipe for disaster. These children, who are not quite ready to jump into the current kindergarten demands, may benefit from the “gift” of an extra year.
Some kids are held back from starting kindergarten due to what are perceived as “developmental delays,” even if their age falls into the appropriate cut off date. Yet some of these kids may in fact have real special needs, rather than generic delays, and, moving into kindergarten could open up a plethora of special education services that could truly help them. Holding these children back actually creates a disservice to them. Instead of being evaluated and subsequently receiving appropriate services, they are instead held back, losing a year of valuable instruction and services.
What to do?
The decision of whether or not to hold your child back can be a stressful one. A 2006 University of California study indicated that elementary school students who are amongst the oldest in their classes scored 4 to 12 percent higher on standardized math and science tests over the youngest kids in their grades. Yet other studies show that the benefits of holding kids back are significantly reduced after the beginning of elementary school and that by the time kids reach third grade, skills usually even out. Ultimately, there is no clear cut answer. Only you truly know your child. Observe your child interacting with other kids. Talk to her preschool teacher about how she socializes with per peers, follows directions, and pays attention. If you feel she is mature enough and ready for the demands of kindergarden, then go for it. But if you feel she is not quite there – socially, emotionally, or academically – then give her that extra year.
Ultimately, you will make the right decision for your child.