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Kindergarten redshirts: What we know about holding back a 5-year-old

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The term "redshirting" originally referred to postponing the start of a college athlete's participation in games for one year to give him extra time to grow and practice with the team, hopefully improving a player's skills for future seasons. But college athletes aren't the only ones who can redshirt.

Academic redshirting refers to postponing entrance into kindergarten for age-eligible children. Much like redshirting in sports, the idea is that holding children back allows extra time for socioemotional, intellectual or physical growth.

Profile of redshirters:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 9 percent of eligible kindergarteners are redshirted each year. The practice is most prevalent in affluent communities and among children who attend private schools.

Boys are more likely to be redshirted than girls, according to NCES. The practice is also more common among children born between July and December. White children are also more than twice as likely as black children to be redshirted, entering kindergarten a year later than their birthdays would have allowed.

Immediate effects of redshirting:

Research on academic redshirting suggests that in the short term, redshirting has largely positive effects. These include:

1 - It puts the child's academic achievement —math, reading, general knowledge — and conduct on par with or above that of younger classmates.

2 - It increases the child's confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates.

3 - It may simply add to the normal mix of ages and abilities within the classroom.

However other studies suggest that redshirted children feel alienated from their younger classmates. Additionally, the presence of children with wide-ranging ages may make it more difficult for a teacher to manage well.

Long-term effects of redshirting:

Proponents of redshirting argue that there is no definitive evidence that redshirting harms children in the long term. However some researchers found that adolescents whose school entry was delayed exhibit more behavioral problems than their peers. Redshirters also have higher use of special education programs. This leads some researchers to speculate that many children who are redshirted as kindergartners may have had special needs that were misdiagnosed as immaturity.

For parents who are considering holding back their child from kindergarten, Lillian Katz of the Education Resource information Center has several tips, including:

  • Check the school's kindergarten readiness screening procedures to get an idea of how your child will fare
  • Solicit the opinion of your child's preschool teacher about his or her readiness for kindergarten
  • Be careful about conveying your own apprehension about starting school to your child
  • Be clear about the behaviors your child exhibits that make you uncertain about their readiness for school; being one of the youngest children in the class isn't a good enough reason