The school year is upon us, and many moms are asking an increasingly popular and perplexing question: Five or six? No, we’re not talking about what time mami gets off of work. We’re talking about which age is best for starting a child in kindergarten.
In the past, conventional wisdom suggested it was best for kids to start kindergarten at the age of five. But as a 60 Minutes segment reported earlier this year, it is becoming more common to see parents intentionally keeping their kids at home until they’re six.
This practice is known as academic redshirting, a name borrowed from athletic redshirting whereby athletes are held back a grade to gain size advantages for the team. The most common reason parents give for academic redshirting is to give their children who have late birthdays (and would be among the youngest in a class of five-year-olds) academic and social advantages over their peers in the classroom.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 10 percent of kindergarteners in United States now begin at the age of six. Research by the center indicates that older children do outperform younger ones in kindergarten, but the authors of the study caution that part of this discrepancy might be due in part to the fact that redshirted children tend to come from middle- and upper-class homes with educated parents.
Many Latina moms are also choosing to redshirt their kids. Tammy Peña decided to allow her son to repeat kindergarten after he’d struggled in it the first time around. She says it turned out to be the best decision her family ever made. Her son went on to become a “mostly straight-A student”. Mom Kendra Paredes Hayden, did likewise with her son, at the request of her school district (which recommended younger boys, but not girls, be redshirted) and says it was a great decision. Margarita Eric-Chapman redshirted both her kids and says, “It made a great difference all around.”
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Critics of redshirting say it’s little more than a way to cheat the system, and that it fails to prepare children for real life by setting low expectations. Redshirting can have a negative impact on gifted children, according to James T. Webb, director of the national organization Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted. Truly gifted kids, who are already academically grade levels ahead of similar aged peers, will have an even harder time fitting in if they’re held back.
Dominican-American New Yorker, A.J. O’Neal, whose parents redshirted him, agrees with Webb and says that as a gifted child he’d felt incredibly stunted by being held back a grade. “It didn’t help me at all,” he says.
The decision about whether or not to start your child in kindergarten at age five or six (or, in some cases, four) ultimately depends upon the readiness of the child themselves, according to William J. Bennet, author of the book The Educated Child: A Parents Guide from Preschool Through Eighth Grade.
According to the Beal Early Childhood Center, some basic indications that a child is ready for kindergarten include being able to socially separate from the family for a while, and being able to share. Academic readiness markers include interest in letters and listening to stories. Motor skills include being able to zip or button his, or her, own clothes. Education.com offers a handy kindergarten readiness checklist for parents.
Regardless of the age at which you decide to start your child in kindergarten, it is essential that as a parent you remain involved, and observant. No one knows your child better than you, and chances are that whatever your instincts tell you, they are worth listening to.