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Red-Shirting: When to Delay Kindergarten a Year

When people find out that I am an educator, one of the most-frequent questions I am asked is, “Should I hold my child back from starting kindergarten to give them another year to learn, grow, and mature?”

Delaying kindergarten is a trend that’s been increasing over the last few years. This means that you would hold your child back from starting kindergarten even though he’s five on the date of your school’s cutoff (often September 1). In the area where I live, preschools are accommodating this by offering an extra year of preschool for 5-year-olds.

There is a lot of buzz out there among parents about this. Some cite Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, in which he writes that all the best hockey players were the among the oldest students in their class. There are articles and research papers about how, in general,  it appears that older children perform better than younger children in a given grade.

As a result, we as parents are panicking about what to do with our children who have summer birthdays. And maybe spring birthdays. And maybe any birthday after Christmas.

If your child has a birthday right before the cutoff date, this is something I would recommend that you consider. I have a niece with a birthday on September 1, so she can either be the oldest or youngest in her class, and I’m glad that her parents chose for her to be the oldest.

If your child’s birthday is not right on or next to the cutoff date, I would not recommend that you consider this unless a preschool teacher has recommended it or your child has learning challenges and might benefit from waiting another year before beginning school.

Here’s the thing: this has become a trend. What you’ve read represents generalities, not advice about your child. And when we all jump on bandwagons…well, they break down. Teachers are now having to work harder to differentiate in their classrooms between children who might have a 1 1/2 to 2 year age difference. (And if you don’t think that’s a huge difference when children are young, I invite you to any kindergarten classroom anywhere!)

There’s nothing wrong with sending your young 5-year-old to kindergarten with the skills of…well, a 5-year-old.

What I’ve said here is, in general, what I believe about this for those of us in the US school system. HOWEVER, I believe something else more strongly: you know your child best. This is why I believe that any parent can homeschool, especially with great support.

Because you know her best, you – perhaps even without the words to express it – know if your sweet (or spicy!) 5-year-old is ready for school. I believe that an instinct about and for our children is one of the greatest gifts that we have as parents. Don’t ever let anything that I or anyone else says override that.
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