Why Redshirting Is Ridiculous

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “redshirting”, it refers to (in the educational arena) holding back children who are of elementary age an additional year to ostensibly give them time to grow and mature prior to entering elementary school.  It is typically done at age five, when a child, otherwise age-ready for kindergarten, is held back for another year of pre-school, or more often the current alternative, “junior” or “transitional kindergarten”.

As someone who had very little knowledge of this trend nearly ten years ago when my daughter was born, I found it to be very odd.  After all, I had grown up in a generation where none of this nonsense was perpetuated.  If you were age five, and didn’t have any major physical or cognitive dysfunction, you went to kindergarten.

As I explored this new option when my daughter started the end of her pre-kindergarten years (she has a very late August birthday), I begrudgingly understood the origins of the practice.  In particular, at least in the state of California, the cut-off date for kindergarten had been moving precipitously backwards.  When I was in school, if you turned five by December of the same school year you entered kindergarten, you would already start.  That cut-off date has been set back over the years to September 1, with little leeway for those unfortunate kids with Fall birthdays.  Transitional kindergarten, therefore, was initially a way to close that gap, and give kids who did not otherwise meet the age cut-off but who were practically ready for school an outlet of their own.

Like any other good thing, however, invariably over-privileged white people ruined it.  Transitional kindergarten increasingly became a place where well-off parents (ones that could shell out the bucks for another year of non-public education at preschool) held back their offspring to give them a competitive advantage over their classmates.  At first it was a way for parents with boys to ensure that their child, now entering kindergarten at age six, would be bigger and stronger than his peers in sports.  As more and more people got onboard however, and even public districts began having tk (transitional kindergarten) classrooms, the old-school kindergarten, play-based and a slow introduction to elementary school, fell by the wayside.  Now, kindergarten is “the new first grade”, where kids are expected to fully read and write entire sentences.  It has been amped up to the maximum degree, ostensibly so our kids can begin their competitive educational career even earlier.

Now, parents will hold their children back from kindergarten and put them in transitional kindergarten to give them an intellectual edge.  They assume that if they put junior in tk at five, when he is in kindergarten at six he will already be reading and therefore will look like a genius compared to his non-tk peers who (gasp) started kindergarten at age five.

Does it work?  Unlikely.  There have already been studies out there that demonstrate the opposite, such as one which showed that being held back had no advantageous effect on earning a Ph.D. later in life. Referencing this study, among others, a 2015 article in The Atlantic highlighted that “new research suggests redshirting is little more than a silly fad-a suburban legend.”

I have long argued with friends and family that the process is ridiculous.  It is my opinion that intelligence is a genetic trait-either you have it, or you don’t.  While parents can help and nurture this trait, trying to manipulate it by giving your child an extra year of pre-kindergarten education is not going to work.  You simply cannot manipulate intelligence. I have noticed in my daughter’s classrooms (she is going into fourth grade next year), that while the tk benefits of other kids (I refused to hold mine back) were slightly noticeable in kindergarten, they had all but dissipated by the time she reached second grade.  In fact, the parents who brag otherwise look rather silly doing so; in one example, a parent in my best friend’s son’s second grade class was bragging about how her son, already eight and turning nine before the school year was out, could read at a fourth grade level.  My bf handled it with aplomb, stating matter-of-factly “I hope so…isn’t he almost nine?”

In addition to the intellectual impact, I also have to wonder about the social ramifications.  Granted they were fewer and farther between when I was in school and in the last ten years, but the few adults I have spoken with who were redshirted express regrets.  The biggest challenge for them appeared to be at the end of their high school career, when they were turning nineteen by the conclusion of their senior year.  At this point, they no longer felt like they fit in with their peers, or even within a traditional school setting, making them feel ostracized and finding it more difficult for them to complete their education.

As for me, I chose not to redshirt our daughter.  That was a relatively easy call, even with her birthday coming less than a week before the cut-off.  She is intelligent and assertive, and would have drowned from boredom otherwise.  With my middle son, who just turned five in June, I was on the fence.  Emotionally he seems more babyish to me than my daughter did at this point, although all the moms of boys I know assure me that this is normal.  I was this close to putting him in tk at the insistence of my husband, but thanks to district restructuring, redshirting him is no longer an option, so he will start kindergarten in three weeks.  Secretly, I am relieved, because I thought holding him back was a terrible idea to begin with.  He is certainly intelligent enough to go already.  As for the emotional, I think going to kindergarten will actually help him grow up a little bit.  But as my husband always says, “we’ll see”.

Wendy Marcus
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Wendy Marcus

I am a non-pinterest, domestically challenged working mother of three kids under the age of ten. Tired of today's hyper-vigilant and one-size-fits-all parenting, I have decided to be the face of a new movement where we celebrate and value those mediocre moments of motherhood instead of obsessing about some random standard of perfection. I strive to be a superhero, freeing other moms from these societal stresses and pressures. I desire to have my voice heard to effectuate change in parenting standards and attitudes.

I am mediocre mom!

Wendy Marcus
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