Should You “Redshirt” Your Child?
So “redshirting” – holding back a child from starting kindergarten so that they can be amongst the oldest, rather than the youngest in their class – is in the news again and being debated again. For many kids, it’s not particularly relevant – like if they have a winter birthday, there’s usually no debate on when they start kindergarten. But if your kid has a summer birthday, you can decide if they will be one of the younger kids in their kindergarten class – or wait a year so they can be one of the older kids in the class. So the question is, how do you make that decision?
Well, typically I invest in examining the research on a topic to date. I like to go through the studies, see if there are good reviews of studies, and if possible find analytic approaches that are applied to a number of studies (known as meta-analysis). But on this topic, I’m really not interested in the data that are out there. Why? Well, the data most frequently cited involve looking at birth dates – to determine kids who, at a given point in time, are older or younger – in either highly selected samples (such as hockey players) or in large data bases that track academic performance. The basic idea is that the younger kids are less likely to get put on “fast track” (academically or athletically) because they are developmentally behind the older kids – the younger kids may not be as precocious as readers, or the biggest kids in the class. And this “small effect” (statistically the idea is that this is empirically not a whopper effect but it accumulates over time) thus eventually prevents the younger kids from achieving as much as the older kids. But here’s the thing for me. Anytime you look at either selected samples or very large samples you have to be very wary of drawing conclusions from correlational data – and not just because of the usual disclaimers. To me, you really need to show – empirically, with real data, and not with after the fact inference – that there is a process going on, after taking into account a whole lot of other variables. And for me, until I see process data (which, by the way, I’ve been collecting as a researcher for more than a few years now), I don’t really buy into anything or assume a take-home message. Especially since there are so many other factors (uh, like, genetics, environment, etc) that influence a child’s physical and cognitive growth and shape the vast individual differences you see in a group of kids that are independent of a few months worth of age difference.
So here’s my (obviously) very biased take: I’m not interested in the data that are out there yet. I don’t believe that, for the vast majority of kids, being the oldest or youngest in a class has a profound influence on the rest of their lives. Does it have some immediate impact? Maybe for some kids it does. But so do lots of other factors – factors that are much more connected to process than structurally being older or younger than the rest of the kids. If I’m a parent, I want to get some feedback from educators on my child’s social and academic readiness, which can be quite separate from where they are at in terms of chronological age. Will my child be bored in kindergarten, or find it stimulating? Will my child be able to integrate socially? Will my child have the behavioral control necessary for the change in structure? Are they ready to take off on their own? Will they possibly need some support in some areas? These are the questions every parent should consider – whether or not they have a choice in terms of when their kid starts kindergarten – and should be the rationale platform if a decision on “redshirting” needs to be made. Parents have to bring their resources to help their child develop to their full potential – at every developmental stage – given their unique set of skills and, yes, issues (every kid will have some). And sometimes there are very real structural barriers when a kid is growing up that may be related to their age, their height, their weight, their academic skills, or their social skills. Parenting is all about taking that on – it’s called preparing your kid for the real world. And to me, that’s a much more important focus for parents than trying to find some type of structural advantage to set up a kid to capitalize on the (questionable) probabilities for excellence as determined at age 5.
For more discussion on the topic of redshirting, check out this link – it’s a very good and informative read.Add a Comment