Decide when to go to kindergarten
Experts say postponing kindergarten — a practice known as “redshirting” — can be beneficial for kids in certain circumstances, but be warned there are downsides to waiting, too.
The transition to kindergarten has always been a big one for kids. And as this first year of elementary school becomes increasingly academic, some parents are wondering if it’s best to enroll kids as soon as they qualify, or wait an extra year until they’re more mature.
Considerations may now feel particularly fraught, as fewer children attended kindergarten during the pandemic.
Experts say postponing kindergarten — a practice known as “redshirting” — can be beneficial for kids in certain circumstances, but be warned that waiting also has its downsides.
When are children required to go to school?
In most states, children must be 5 years old in August or September to enter kindergarten that academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
But the age at which children are legally required to attend school is often older, and state laws and school district policies can vary widely. Sometimes the registration deadline is after the school year has started, so children as young as 4 years old are eligible for kindergarten. Some states do not require kindergarten, and some districts, such as New York City, do not allow wearing a red shirt. In practice, this divergent policy means that care providers are often given a great deal of latitude in making decisions.
Why Some Families Choose to Postpone Kindergarten
For most families, redshirting is not an option.
“If you look across the country at children who are suitable for kindergarten, the vast majority do indeed go,” said Mary Kay Irwin, director of school health care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. A 2013 NCES report found that 87% of preschoolers nationwide enrolled on time in the 2010-2011 academic year, and only 6% received a red shirt (another 6% repeated preschool for a second year). That could be because for most working parents, putting off preschool means paying for another year of childcare. The report found that more affluent households — those with incomes above 200% of the federal poverty line — were the most likely to put on a red shirt.
[READ: Getting Ready for Kindergarten.]
Irwin notes that there are instances where postponing kindergarten might be a good idea. These include for children with developmental delays (although access to early intervention services, which are available in public schools, should be a consideration for these families); and for children who have experienced trauma.
She says some kids with birthdays near the cut-off date may be helped by another year of early learning and time to grow up, but she encourages families to talk to their pediatrician about their concerns first.
For some parents, the decision is more about the long term. Scott Odachowski, the father of a 4-year-old with a summer birthday in Broadview Heights, Ohio, decided to wait an extra year before enrolling his daughter in preschool. Although Odachowski says his daughter’s pre-K teachers report that she is academically and socially prepared, he is concerned about how her age will affect her future experiences. He says milestones like driving and puberty that he and his wife “didn’t want her to be the last” were a factor in their choice.
Being young compared to other students in the class has been associated with higher rates of certain diagnoses. A 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that college students who were young for their grade were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. And research published in 2020 by the education news site Chalkbeat found that New York City students born in the last two months of the year are more likely to have a learning disability than their older peers.
Preschool teachers often talk about a less tangible benefit of waiting: extending the early childhood experience. Odachowski says teachers at his daughter’s pre-K program called it “giving your child another year.”
Disadvantages of postponing kindergarten
While there is often an initial academic advantage for students who enroll later, Irwin says this sometimes settles out as students progress through their education. (Some studies show that the benefit may disappear as early as first grade.)
[READ: What Do Kids Learn in Kindergarten?]
Boredom is also a concern for older children. Irwin says that sometimes “you will see a normally developing child … become frustrated with less mature classmates.”
Lisa Fiore, a professor and chair of the education department at Lesley University in Massachusetts, notes that skills related to preschool preparation can develop quickly. “A kid who can’t do something… at age 4 may do it at age 4.9,” she says. It’s conceivable that a child who doesn’t seem mature enough to start kindergarten during the typical spring enrollment period could be ready by the time school starts in the fall.
Finally, experts say the financial burden associated with another year of childcare or preschool is a challenge for many families.
The COVID effect
Today, children entering kindergarten find themselves in a situation that most research on redshirting fails to account for: Much of their early development took place during the unusual circumstances associated with the pandemic.
Irwin says children have been missing out on early learning experiences due to kindergarten and daycare closures and capacity restrictions, as well as parents choosing to keep them at home. She says today’s 4- and 5-year-olds have probably experienced “more isolation than any cohort of children ever in our country’s history.” That’s why she calls personal school attendance ‘crucial’.
Fiore agrees that COVID-19 is affecting children’s social development. Because so many have been isolated for so long, she says, they are “in some ways a little behind in learning how to negotiate or compromise.”
[READ: What is Transitional Kindergarten?]
Hillery Hentges, the lead kindergarten teacher at the North Broadway Children’s Center in Columbus, cites these challenges as reasons for families to consider postponing kindergarten in favor of another year of kindergarten. Because of the skills and structure that many kids have overlooked, preschool can feel overwhelming, says Hentges. “I think there’s a great benefit to taking an extra year if you don’t feel like your child is going to be successful in a very busy, structured classroom environment.”
Extra time in a play kindergarten could help, she says: “That kind of play builds all the skills you need; from your hand strength to your social skills to your language development.”
How do you know if your child is ready for kindergarten?
If your child is currently in a kindergarten or pre-K program, experts say a conversation with those teachers is a good place to decide whether to enroll in kindergarten. Talking to your child’s pediatrician can also help you understand your child’s readiness, says Irwin. She notes that students often take a preschool readiness assessment, and parents can request a meeting with the assessor about their child’s readiness.
Visiting prospective kindergartens on school tours and speaking with teachers and building administrators can give an idea of their expectations and your child’s ability to meet them.
Fiore suggests listing what worries and excites you about getting your child into school as a strategy to help you make the decision. Finally, if you choose to wait until your child is older to start preschool, experts say to make sure they’re enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.
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Decide when to go to kindergarten originally appeared on usnews. com