One thing we can all agree on is motherhood is a hotbed of controversy at every stage and every age. School has always been a hot topic. Those of us lucky enough to labor and deliver in the dead heat of summer not only get a bundle of joy to take home but also a newer school dilemma — to redshirt or not to redshirt.
Redshirting is defined as the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten of age-eligible children in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. I struggled to make this decision. My fellow JMB contributors did, too. Like my co-writers, I debated, discussed and prayed over what to do. The only difference between us is my July birthday girl did enter kindergarten on time. Several years later, I still wouldn’t change a thing. I wrote this post in hopes of giving the other side of the story a voice. Doing the traditional thing and sending your young 5-year-old to kindergarten is okay, too. Being one of the youngest doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Anna Claire has always been ready. I would say she was born ready except her birthday is the only thing she’s ever done late! She was 13 days, 20 hours and a handful of minutes past her due date when she finally arrived on one of the hottest days in July. She’s been making up for it ever since. She walked on the early side, talked on the early side and potty-trained early. I’m not bragging because it’s never been about what I’ve done, it is just the kinda kid she is. I approached her VPK teacher about enrolling her in kindergarten, and without hesitation, she recommended AC for “on-time” kindergarten. Her advice was more than just a nod to her predicted academic success on benchmarks and Anna Claire’s independent spirit. Her teacher knew what was expected in kindergarten, and she not only felt hat AC could hang but that she would succeed. I trusted her advice. I agreed with her, but something kept bugging me.
I realized the root of my uncertainty had nothing to do with Anna Claire but with the growing trend to redshirt. There is so much noise on the topic out there. All these opinions and articles had left me feeling like a bad mom if I did send her on, even if my gut, the VPK teacher, and heck, the state guidelines are advising me to! Redshirting gives being young a bad name. It suggests if you are young, you may not be as smart. It implies if you are small, you may not succeed. And if you are one of the youngest, you may already be behind. I spent many hours discussing the merits of a waiting an extra year and then challenged each one. Below are some of the most popular reasons to redshirt and a respectful rebuttal/alternative perspective favoring going straight to kindergarten.
They say that if you are older, you will know more and learn more easily. In theory, that sounds good, but that is not always the reality in today’s classrooms. Kindergarten curriculum is designed for 5- and 6-years-olds, not 7-year-olds. Redshirting is actually creating a wider achievement gap within a classroom. For example, a 6-year-old turning 7 may be reading chapters books and a new 5-year-old is just learning sight words. It may seem like being the older student is an advantage to having a more solid academic base, but your child may or may not be challenged or get the attention they deserve because the teacher must make sure all children are mastering the basic grade-level skills first. If you want to argue that the academic demands have increased when kindergarten shifted from half-day to a full-day program, I think you’ve got a leg to stand on. Maybe the solution isn’t redshirting but rather changing the birthday deadline to align with the demands and age-appropriate development for all, not just, summer birthdays.
This is a big consideration, especially for boy moms — and rightfully so. Research does support that boys are less emotionally mature than girls; male and female brains are literally born this way. It also shows that a year may make a difference, but that same research shows it can take up to 10 years for boys to be as emotionally mature as girls. No one is going to hold their child back a decade, rather they’ll just expect to see growth in time. This points right back to the age-appropriate standards and emotional and behavioral expectations that kindergarten (and all other grades) follow. A child should have an emotional growth spurt during the year. They should go in acting less mature than when they come out, and we don’t need to be afraid of that developmental starting point. Teachers are trained in how to handle the emotional needs of children (see more below). And y’all, we follow guidelines for other age-recommended activities like driving and voting. Most don’t say my child isn’t mature enough to get a drivers’ license at 16 or to vote at 18, even though that very well may be the case.
This one is a bit of a soapbox for me because I am a former teacher. In VPK, preschoolers take an end-of-year readiness exam, and parent conferences are held to review the results. Lately, it seems like more parents are choosing to ignore the advice of the professionals, and it bugs me. Yes, we are the parents, and we know best, but we do because we rely on the help of others with wisdom and experience. These preschool teachers know what they are doing. They are with your child in a learning environment for a year. Their recommendation deserves your consideration just like any certified professional. The kindergarten teacher is also a highly trained professional — it is their job to help your child grow, develop and achieve. Don’t underestimate them or your child.
This is another big one, especially for boy moms and even as a mother of girls I can understand the issue. It can be socially more difficult to be smaller and with such an emphasis on sports, it is appealing to have more time to grow to be the strongest and fastest. The ironic thing is since redshirting has become more popular, who really has an edge anymore? And we need to start thinking beyond kindergarten when this increased size and age gap may not be so beneficial anymore. Fast forward to middle school, where the girls are tweens, and the boys are old enough to get their learning permits! Puberty, raging hormones and a big difference in physical and sexual development will make middle school even more awkward. Can you see the potential for increased issues in high school with younger girls and senior “boys” who are 19? As a mother of two girls, I have to go there!
The end goal of parenting is to launch self-sufficient, kind and capable humans from your nest into the real world by age 18 in hopes that they will do good. Redshirting is tempting because it gives you another year at home with your baby. More time and more memories, I get it. I really do. What mother doesn’t want that? But it shouldn’t be the only reason to hold your child back in school.
After thoughtful consideration of these issues, all things pointed to kindergarten despite the peer pressure to hold her back. In two weeks, my girl will start fourth grade. AC is one of the youngest, but each year a teacher comments on how they never would have guessed. She passed her first set of state standardized tests with flying colors. She’s had great success, but by no means has it been perfect. Last year, she struggled in math, and we had to get her a tutor. She got in trouble for talking, forgot her homework a time or two and struggled with a friendship. These are all normal parts of growing up. It is in the hiccups and failures that I know we did the right thing because she handled them. She learned from the experiences, and she is better for them. Heck, we as her parents are better from them, too.
This is my summer birthday success story. There is no one-size-fits-all here. I whole heartedly agree that some children need that extra year, but some does not mean all. The best advice I can offer you summer-birthday moms is do your due diligence and consider both options. No matter if we agree or not, we are all on the same team trying to get our kiddos ready to fly!