Academic redshirting for young children refers to the practice of postponing the entrance of age-eligible children into kindergarten in order to allow extra time for social, emotional, intellectual, or physical growth. In Illinois, a child 5 years old on or before September 1 of the kindergarten year may begin kindergarten. (By law, a child must begin school if he or she is 6 years old on or before September 1.) Parents often choose to delay the enrollment in kindergarten of an age-eligible child if the child has a birthday so close to the cut-off date that he or she is likely to be among the youngest in the class. These parents believe that older children are more successful in coping with the social, emotional, and academic demands of kindergarten than younger children.
How often does redshirting occur?
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that, nationally, about 7% of children have parents who planned to delay their entrance into kindergarten. This statistic included a higher percentage of boys than girls and a lower percentage of children living in poor households compared with nonpoor households.
What are the effects of redshirting?
Research on the effects of redshirting on children has shown mixed results. It is difficult to establish a direct link between being redshirted and doing well or poorly in kindergarten and beyond. Studies indicate that children who are redshirted may show a short-term gain in academic skills, but these early advantages may decrease as children move through the elementary grades.
Some researchers have speculated that redshirting may also have short-term and long-term economic effects. Delaying school entry can cost a family an additional year of child care or preschool, or it can result in the loss of a parent’s income for an additional year if that parent stays at home with the child. In the long term, delaying kindergarten also delays the students’ completion of their education and entry into the workforce (Elder & Lubotsky, 2006).
A benefit of redshirting may be that older children are less likely to be held back or diagnosed with a learning disability. Another benefit may be for the younger students enrolled in a classroom with older students who were redshirted. The younger students have older peers to model for them appropriate social behavior and better academic skills.
What should parents consider when deciding whether or not to delay their child’s kindergarten entry?
Because the research is inconclusive about the effects of redshirting and Illinois children are not required to begin school the year they turn 5, parents are usually the ones who make the decision about whether to keep their child out of kindergarten for an extra year. The following are some points for parents to consider in making a decision.
- Clearly identify the specific characteristics that cause you to be unsure about your child’s readiness to begin kindergarten with age-mates. In other words, don’t delay entrance into kindergarten just because the child has a summer birthday or is likely to be among the youngest in the class. Some younger children may be more ready for kindergarten than some older children.
- Talk to your child’s preschool teacher about his or her readiness for kindergarten. Was he or she usually able to follow directions? Does your child appear to be ready for kindergarten work? Has he or she made friends?
- Find out more about the nature of the kindergarten program. Is it half-day or full-day? If your child still takes a long nap, she may find it hard to adjust to staying awake in school during her usual nap time. Is the program organized primarily around formal instruction in basic skills, around project work, or around more informal learning centers? Organizing children’s learning around project work or around informal learning centers can accommodate a greater developmental range of children than a formal, structured arrangement in which children are expected to sit still while basic skills are taught to the whole group at the same time.
- Is the kindergarten class size likely to be larger than 25? A very shy child might find a large class more difficult to adjust to than he or she would a class of around 20 or fewer.
- What else would your child be doing if she or he did not start kindergarten? Would your child have easy and safe access to playmates and play spaces? Are there easily available (and affordable) good-quality preschool programs for your child?
- Ask the kindergarten teacher for suggestions about what you can do at home to help your child prepare for kindergarten.
- Talk to your child in a positive way about starting school. Your child is likely to adjust rapidly if you approach the beginning of kindergarten with real confidence and reassurance, and if you share any concerns you have with the teacher.
- Cascio, E. U., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2016). First in the class? Age and the education production function. Education Finance and Policy, 11, 225–250.
- Elder, T. E., & Lubotsky, D. H. (2006, June). Kindergarten entrance age and children’s achievement: Impacts of state policies, family background, and peers.