Kindergarten Redshirting: Is Your Child Ready for School?
“I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry,” I swore to myself the first day I dropped my daughter off for kindergarten. I stole glances at her in the rearview mirror and didn’t feel ready yet to share my little Peanut with the world. Needless to say, I lost the fight on that first drive to school and burst out in tears.
Everything after that was a blur. No sooner had I walked my daughter into her classroom and found her desk that I was instantly shooed out by her teacher like a mother hen. “She’ll be fine. We’ll take good care of her,” she reassured me. “Tomorrow don’t walk her in, it’s better that she does it on her own from now on.” And with that, she closed the door in my face.
I lingered, watching my daughter through the window for a moment until my husband brought me back to reality with his, “Let’s go before they think that you are a stalker.” I laughed but I felt like my heart was breaking.
As the day dragged on, with every tear I cried, I felt myself letting go a little bit more. Finally at 2:30 PM, the school doors burst open and my little Peanut came running out laughing and chatting breathlessly with kids who she would one day call “best friends.” Standing there, watching her looking so happy and independent, I suddenly realized that my daughter went in this morning as a baby, but she came out a kid.
There are really no words to describe what I felt at that moment other to say that I was feeling both profoundly sad and incredibly liberated.
The day that our children leave for school is a powerful rite of passage, but how do we know that they’re actually prepared to take that big step? Neither one of my daughters went to preschool. I wanted them home with me, running outside and playing in the countryside. I just wanted them to be little for as long as possible. But at some point, we all have to cut the cord and get our kids into some form of kindergarten.
As parents we know our children’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. As frustrating as it is, sometimes our kids may not be ready to handle the challenges of kindergarten as successfully as their siblings. They might know their alphabet, but it doesn’t mean they are emotionally mature enough to navigate a classroom of different personalities with rules and expectations.
It’s easy to talk ourselves into a “sink or swim” mentality – believing that once our children get into the classroom setting, they’ll somehow just naturally acclimate. But that can backfire for sensitive children, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
The summer before my youngest daughter began kindergarten, I worked hard to catch my little dreamer up to speed. She was an easily distracted and very stubborn child. That fall, I sent her off to Kindergarten class with the same teacher that my oldest daughter had and she did just fine. But the following year, she had a very strict, no-nonsense teacher, and despite all of our efforts to help, she was held back. Had we kept her in for an extra year before kindergarten, we probably could have saved her that experience.
Redshirting, a term used in collegiate sports that gives freshmen an extra year on the field before playing, is becoming a popular trend among parents who opt to hold off sending their children to kindergarten an extra year. The rationale behind this is that they don’t believe that their kids have developed the skills to listen, follow directions, share, or concentrate as required for school.
More and more parents are making the decision to redshirt. In fact, 6.2% of children in the United States who were eligible to start kindergarten were held back in 2010. That number continues to rise and the trend is particularly common with boys – especially boys who were born in the summer months. The most common reasons parents cite for wanting that extra year include:
- Helping the child gain a competitive edge academically to perform at a higher standard.
- Giving the child more time to mature socially and physically (the latter is most often true for parents of summer-born boys).
- Placing a greater emphasis on play and other non-academic activities in the children’s learning and development.
In my daughter’s case, it was the teacher who decided to hold my daughter back, which of course was out of my power, but knowing what I know now, redshirting could have helped her in the long run academically. At the same time, being more mature than her peers in high school created an entirely new set of problems.
If you’re concerned that your children might not meet the requirements to succeed in kindergarten but you’re reluctant to redshirt, you can always:
- Take a “wait and see” attitude. A lot can happen the few months before school begins, and the decision can wait if you’re planning on public schools.
- Send them to school and be prepared to invest time and effort in helping them meet expectations, if they need it.
- Put your child in a transitional kindergarten class that helps younger kids adjust to some of the aspects of school without putting too much pressure on them.
- Enroll them in a school that promotes learning through play, provides ample free time, and is less traditional in its approach.
Most importantly, whichever way you go, remember this: when your children’s big day comes, just be sure that they are ready and that you have a box of Kleenex handy.
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