For many parents of children ages 4-6, the term "redshirting" has taken on a meaning quite different from its original application to college athletes. In its new context, redshirting refers to the practice of delaying a child's entrance to kindergarten in order to optimize school performance.
The question of whether or not to "redshirt" a child has become particularly relevant for children whose birthdates are close to the cutoff date for eligibility for kindergarten. Since these children would be the youngest in their grade, redshirting them will make them one of the oldest -- rather than youngest -- children in kindergarten. Parents hope that with an extra year of academic, emotional, social, and even physical development and growth, their children will be better equipped for school.
Research examining the pros, cons, and effectiveness of redshirting is inconclusive and provides no absolute benefit or disadvantage. In fact, some research suggests that although there may be benefits for students initially, there are also disadvantages for them later on, further complicating the matter.
In terms of the immediate effects of redshirting, research has shown that an older child can raise his or her academic achievement or at least be on par with his or her classmates. Redshirted children may also display increased social skills and confidence when interacting with their classmates. Moreover, if children spend their year before kindergarten in a school setting, they will enter kindergarten with enhanced "school-related" skills, mainly because they have been in school for an extra year.
On the other hand, older children may feel alienated or different from their younger classmates. Redshirting can give older children an unfair advantage over their classmates, specifically in terms of their social and motor skills, as well as their size. Some research also suggests that in later grades, children who require special education services may be deprived of these services if they were redshirted and therefore not seen as needing these services in comparison to their younger classmates. Furthermore, by the time children reach the upper grades (4th grade and above), age differences are much less apparent. As explained by Darren Lubotsky of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "Kids who are older do a lot better at the beginning, but that doesn't mean they're going to do better throughout their educational career."
Given the complexity of this issue, there are several things parents can do when deciding whether or not to delay their child's entrance to kindergarten:
- Think about your child's needs and behavior to assess if he seems to be similar to, and on par with, other children his age and when he interacts with them.
- If your child has attended some form of school or daycare, consult his teachers and administrators for their opinions. Consult your child's pediatrician to assess your child's development.
Consider the alternatives and what your child will be doing if not attending kindergarten. Will he be at home for an additional year, or is there another form of school or group interaction that he could participate in?