The World published an article from The Seattle Times recently: “Is your child ready for kindergarten?”
Great question. For a lot of parents of preschoolers, the answer is complicated.
My younger daughter will turn 5 in June, which means she will qualify to attend kindergarten in the fall. It also means she’ll be one of the youngest kids in her class. In Washington state, any 4-year-olds who will turn 5 by Aug. 31 are eligible to register. In Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, kindergarten enrollment will begin in just a few months. I need to make a decision: To send or not to send.
I gather from online parent forums and conversations with other moms that more and more parents are putting off sending their children to kindergarten, a practice called academic redshirting (which makes me think of my little girl wearing a football helmet, which makes me giggle). State law doesn’t require students to enroll in school until they’re 8, and when a kid’s birthday falls on the cusp of two school years, parents will sometimes opt to keep them home an extra year to allow time for physical, cognitive and emotional growth.
In his 2008 bestseller, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell makes a strong case for redshirting, claiming that a person’s age relative to their peer group is a key predictor of success later in life. Sending your child to kindergarten early or late locks them “into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years,” he argues.
But not everyone agrees about the relationship between age in kindergarten and long-term success.
Adding to my confusion is the fact that kindergarten is not exactly the carefree, finger-paint and free-time affair that it used to be. Kindergarten is the new first grade, they tell us. It’s more academic than ever before. We see endless articles about the grave importance of early childhood education, and it all feels so very high-stakes.
In that context, and for parents who feel time slipping by too quickly, who are reluctant to say goodbye to afternoon naps and Sesame Street and those silly, sweet preschool years, the idea that we can manufacture an extra year in our child’s life is appealing, maybe downright magical.
But of course we cannot really manufacture time. And there are studies that suggest this redshirting trend is not all it’s cracked up to be.
So what’s a mom to do? Parents know their children best, of course, but I appreciated this insight from researchers Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Stephanie Howard Larson: “We find that redshirting at the kindergarten level bestows few benefits and exacts some substantial costs.” And “the gains that accrue from being an older student are likely to be short-lived.” And “the perceived developmental delays and immaturity that prompt parents to choose redshirting in the spring have often resolved themselves by fall.”
So just because my daughter can’t write her name perfectly in January, doesn’t mean she’ll still be struggling with her name seven months from now, when the school year starts.
What are your thoughts? When your children were small, did you delay kindergarten? (Or will you when they get to that age?) How did it work out?
(A version of this post originally appeared in The Wenatchee World on Nov. 8.)