Thursday, January 15, 2015

to redshirt, or not to redshirt?

My husband and I have a very personal, important, and literally life-altering decision to make for our son. And what does one do when they have a very personal, important, and life-altering decision to make? Why, ask the internet, of course!

Here's the deal. Jack was born in August 2010. In California, you have to be 5 on or before September 1st in order to attend kindergarten, so he makes the cut off by a couple of weeks.

It wasn't as prevalent when I was growing up, but I thought, in this day and age, it was a not-uncommon occurrence for parents to keep their kids back a year. Whether it was Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, or the hippie-dippie Waldorf mentality, or generations of empirical evidence, or each parents' personal experience, I definitely know and have heard of plenty of parents keeping their kids a year longer before starting them in kindergarten. Particularly those with summer/fall/winter birthdays. It was such a thing that California actually changed the law - gradually pushing the cut-off date from December 31st to December 2nd to October 1st to, now, September 1st.

I figured that the parents of kids on the cusp could decide for themselves whether they wanted to send their kids as newly-minted five-year-olds, who would be the youngest in the class, or keep them a year longer so they would be brand-new six-year-olds, and among the oldest in the class. But apparently, at least in San Diego, California, the decision is not our own. The policy here (based on California law), is that "a child shall be admitted to first grade ... if the child will have his/her sixth birthday on or before September 1st." (Section 48010 of the Cal. Education Code).

So, as has happened to some, you could keep your child in pre-K (or put them in a private kindergarten) for another year with the intent to delay their entrance to public kindergarten, only to have them placed directly into first grade in the fall. Understandably, this ruffled some tail feathers. Something about taking this decision away from parents feels wrong to me. (Sorry to get all legal on you, but, parents have a fundamental right under the Constitution of the United States to rear their children without undue governmental interference.)*

There's a whole Facebook page of angry local parents dedicated to this very subject. And I get that animal rage, I do. Apparently, there were some "assessments" conducted of these little kids, without their parents present, behind closed doors. My first reaction when I read that was, Oh HELLLLLLLLL No. (The school district claims this is "not their policy," by the way.) In any event. My child will be showing up to his assessment with a noted civil rights attorney, aka, his dad. Also his mom, who is an un-notable attorney, but who will go Mama Bear on your ass so fast you won't know what hit you.

Interestingly (and I was not expecting this), there is an equal and opposite angry mob on the other side. People who are suuuuuuuper pissed that their little Jilly or Johnny (or, more likely, Brita or Barley) has to attend kindergarten with a bunch of behemoth six year olds, stealing their organic kale-and-kiwi snack-packs and such. (Our town is a little strange, by the way. There's some friction between the hippie surfer set and the new money republicans, and the latter DO NOT LIKE YOGA.)

I personally don't really understand why you would care that much what someone else does with their own child for kindergarten. But whatever.

Anyway, my point is, I'm not that angry, so I have a hard time finding common ground or useful advice from one extreme or the other. I'm sure my kid will be fine either way. I don't think I'm going to ruin his life by sending him to kindergarten when he's five, or waiting until he's six. I just want to make the best, most informed decision that I can for my son.

Here are our thoughts on the pros and cons of keeping him back (aside from the reported Guantanamo assessment procedure, and the fact that we have to jump through so many hoops at all).


- He's sensitive, emotional, slow to warm up, easily frustrated/discouraged, etc. Another year of brain development can only help in that regard.
- Counter argument (brought up by my cousin and aunt, both teachers): He's always going to be "highly sensitive," what difference will a year really make?
- Also, maybe being among his peers in kindergarten will help him mature in those ways?

- I (of course) think he's extremely clever, but he's definitely still working to master fine motor skills and other developmental milestones.
(Then again, this could be the result of the fact that his preschool is basically a glorified daycare and he's just not getting the skills there, nor, admittedly, at home).

- On a related note, boys develop more slowly in general, and the extra year of physical growth and maturity will give him more time to "come into his own."
(DM, my dad, and my bro in law were all the youngest in their grade (July, August and October birthdays, respectively) and they all said they would have loved to have been a year older for a multitude of reasons - school, sports, friends, girls, etc).


- He might be bored academically (because he's so advanced, obviously ;)).
- Counter argument: There will be plenty of opportunities (GATE, AP, etc) for him to challenge himself academically. Also, see above re: fine motor skills, e.g., barely being able to write his name, and having the artistic range of Jackson Pollock.

- Some of his friends from preschool will be a year ahead of him, and he's already aware of a sort of "stigma" of being held back.
- Counter argument: He's 4. He'll get over it.

- Malcolm Gladwell notwithstanding, the benefits are arguable. (Unless he's planning on becoming a professional hockey player, and he's just too pretty for that ;))

I've already done a lot of "research" a.k.a. asked Google, friends and family what they think. Interestingly, a lot of teachers I know seem to be in the "as long as he's ready academically, send him when he's 5" camp. On the other hand, everyone from my generation who was young for their class wished their parents had kept them back, and everyone who was older for their grade liked it and plans to do the same for their own children.

My gut (and DM's too) is to keep him back. But then I read scary articles like this one in the New York Times: Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril. (Incidentally, wtf?! Take a Xanax.) For now, our plan is to get the ball rolling with the "delayed kindergarten eligibility assessment" process and see what they say. If they look at us like we forgot our medication and say "Wow your child is a genius we think he should skip straight to high school," then we'll probably reconsider ;)

For the record, this issue isn't really on the table for Colby Jean. Her birthday's in March (as was mine), so it's not as much of an issue. Further... well, first let me say in Jack's defense, he continues to grow and mature every day, and presently, he is, on average, thirteen times more pleasant than his (freaking adorable) little diva-devil of a two-year-old sister. That being said, Jack is, and always has been, "highly sensitive," just like his mama. He has big feelings and a quick fuse. He has a hard time with transitions. I didn't think too much of it until I learned that some kids, including his little sister, handle preschool drop-off and mom and dad's date nights, etc., like it's no big deal. Not so much with J-money. He's our sweet, sensitive soul. Change will always be hard for him. I'm not in a huge hurry to thrust him out into the real world (insofar as kindergarten can be considered the real world), to force him to make the jump before he's ready... But on the other hand... Maybe he's ready to make the jump and is only hampered by mom and dad grasping at his shirttails?

What would YOU do???

If you're interested in some more reading on the subject:

When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten? by Elizabeth Weil for The New York Times Magazine.

Kindergarten Redshirting Gets Tougher in NYC - With Repurcussions by Sarah Gonser for Motherlode.

Can Your Kid Hack It In Kindergarten? Or should you redshirt him? by Melinda Wenner Moyer for Slate.

Should Children Be Held Back for Kindergarten? by Jennifer Breheny Wallace for the Wall Street Journal

* Select case law re: the constitutional right to raise your children as you see fit, and make decisions on their behalf and in their best interest.

"Parents' right to rear children without undue governmental interference is a fundamental component of due process." Nunez by Nunez v. City of San Diego, 114 F3d 935 (9th Cir. 1997)

"There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children's best interests, Parham v. J. R., 442 U. S. 584, 602. There is normally no reason or compelling interest for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question fit parents' ability to make the best decisions regarding their children. Reno v. Flores, 507 U. S. 292, 304. The state may not interfere in child rearing decisions when a fit parent is available. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

"The parent-child relationship is an important interest that undeniably warrants deference and, absent a powerful countervailing interest, protection." A parent's interest in the companionship, care, custody and management of his or her children rises to a constitutionally secured right, given the centrality of family life as the focus for personal meaning and responsibility. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 US 645, 651; 92 S Ct 1208, (1972).


  1. As a man who was redshirted, I must say I hated it. A lot of parents say they redshirt to children to give them an academic advantage, but let me ask: How do they have an academic advantage over all their peers when they’re a year behind all their peers? How are they ahead if they’re in second grade when they’re supposed to be in third. This is why I would never redshirt my kids. I’d much rather they be doing okay in the grade they’re supposed to be in then be doing spectacularly being a grade behind. Doing better than kids a year younger than you is nothing to be proud of, and I want to be proud of my kids. Part of glory is doing things early, and if I redshirted my kids, they would be deprived of any academic glory, like I was. So don’t redshirt your kids. If anything, try to get them tested in early. Becoming valedictorian is really nothing to be proud of unless you were against kids your own age or older.

    1. I never really thought about it that way. Thanks for the insight!

    2. Your welcome :)