We’ve Changed Our Minds on Kindergarten Redshirting

My article on kindergarten redshirting (i.e. holding a child back a year before entering kindergarten) this past spring elicited heated comments on both sides of the debate. There, I announced that my wife and I had decided not to redshirt my son Marco, born in July of 2004.

Well, in the past week and a half, we’ve had a change of heart. We scrambled to find a spot in a good “Young 5s” or “Pre-K” program for him, and we found one. We just informed our neighborhood elementary school, Oak Knoll in Menlo Park, that he would not be attending this fall.

So, why did we change our minds?
I should start by stating why we were so resistant to changing in the first place. We believe deeply in a strong ethic of personal responsibility. More specifically, we do not think it’s right to search for any way we can to get an advantage over others. I wrote:

My fundamental problem with redshirting Marco, who is not seriously missing any developmental minimums for kindergarten, is that doing so would make him like the kid taking ADHD drugs who doesn’t need them or the child of deep-pockets donors.  He would always think of himself as age-privileged, so he could never be certain if his accomplishments relative to other kids at school were due to that advantage or to his merit.

What’s changed is that we’ve had to admit that Marco is missing an important “developmental minimum” – a social skills issue. We’d thought that he’d come around in the last year, but in the last few months, we’ve observed that he hasn’t.

His issue is that he doesn’t have a clue how to be friends with other kids his age. He never seeks out kids he knows, and when we’ve taken him to see kids he talks to us about, he doesn’t talk to them at all. He usually just stands frozen, watching them. In the few times when he has interacted with them, he’s usually been selfish and pouty, alienating these kids.

After the last negative episode like this a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I imagined that Marco would probably be lonely and sad in kindergarten. A kindergarten day is a long day, and teachers don’t devote much time to social skills or play because they have so much academic material to cover. (See The Alliance for Childhood web site for information on the harmful effects of the increased academic nature of kindergarten.)

We couldn’t bear the thought of our five-year-old being sad every day for a year, so we acted quickly to find a spot in a kindergarten-like program that does emphasize social skills building. We found one at the Periwinkle School in Palo Alto, CA, and we’re thrilled! From what we can tell, like kindergartens of decades ago, it places roughly equal priority on social skills and academic skill building. Also, its classes are small – 12 students – and there are two teachers, so Marco will be forced by the very structure of the school to interact with a small number of kids on a daily basis.

While we think that Marco’s issue is merely a developmental delay, we also blame his preschool for failing to help. He went to Bing Nursery School, one of the most renowned preschools in America because of its connection to Stanford University. The problem with Bing for kids like Marco is that its classes have 36 students each. Even though each class has six very skilled teachers to create a 6:1 student:teacher ratio, the large numbers don’t force each kid to interact with any particular kid or teacher on a daily basis. Thus, kids like Marco can get lost at Bing. I call it the UC Berkeley of preschools – huge, with lots of opportunities for kids who know how to take advantage of them. In two years there, Marco never had much of a clue.

What how do I think about this “redshirt or not” question now, given my own personal experience? I still very much believe that kids who are developmentally ready to go to kindergarten should go, but I’m now more sympathetic than before to the argument that the way kindergarten is today excludes more kids than it used to. It’s sad that so many kids are destined to be unhappy in their first year of school because it’s so rigidly academic, and therefore so inappropriate developmentally for a large proportion of five-year-olds.

In my original article on redshirting I referred to a paper by Dean Deborah Stipek of the Stanford University School of Education, where she makes a plea for schools to be ready for the children they admit, rather than asking parents to prepare their five-year-olds for a certain level of “kindergarten readiness.”

I understand even more than before what Stipek meant when she wrote this.

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31 Responses to We’ve Changed Our Minds on Kindergarten Redshirting

  1. Anonymous says:

    exactly why we gave our son (mid aug birthday) 2 years of kindergarten. he just wasn’t emotionally “there.” and 2 years of a structured kidergarten program (2 diff schools) was perfect – FOR HIM. we were given a very hard time by both schools; they felt we should “keep him on track.” Now, in 3rd grade, his kindergarten teachers in both places have independently admitted to me that based on their observations of him now, we did the right thing for him. while redshirting your child purely so they’ll have an “advantage” is morally reprehensible, there are other legit reasons to do so. just my two cents 🙂 love your blog, btw. we just made a nice seating area in our front yard after reading your posts about that. working nicely!

  2. Ed Miller says:

    Interesting story, Mike. More and more people are recognizing that the overly didactic, sedentary, high-pressure kindergarten is hurting children, not helping them.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My twins are heading to kindergarten next year and both are ready – my daughter a *tad* bit more than my son, I think. But ready. And I think we just started to feel comfortable with this a few weeks ago – you really don’t know sometimes until the last minute.

    I love the concept of giving the gift of another year, rather than “holding back.” Socially ready kids, as well as academically ready and gross motor skill ready kids is the right mix. Have a great year!

  4. wendy m says:

    I have been teaching a dedicated pre-k program for the last 13 years. It has become increasingly popular as kindergarten has become more like first grade. Even the testing for placement is quite involved in our local district. Two-thirds of my classes (am & pm) are old enough to attend kindergarten, and three-fourths of them are boys. In my experience, parents give great consideration to this decision, and we have many repeats from within families who love the experience. Ours is a cooperative school, each class having one teacher and one volunteer parent helper. They are expected to help once a month and provide the snack that day, so it also comes with a time committment as well as a financial one. Class is limited to 15 students in each session.

    By and large, the students attend for the following reasons: they are not academically ready, or they have social or behavioral problems that hinder their learning, somtimes both. I have only had one child in 13 years whom I felt should have been placed in kindergarten and not in pre-k. For some, this educational step is a lifeline.

    I do not feel parents are choosing to “hold them back” for selfish reasons. All people develop at their own pace, and it is not determined by an arbitrary birthdate. As for having an advantage, it is to the child’s advantage to feel confident in his or her abilites and not have to spend the first year struggling and in frustration. Build your house on a strong foundation and you have a better house. I wish kindergarten was not so advanced as it is, but it is, and any parents who have concerns over their children’s readiness need to take a hard look as to the options that will give them the best experience, the one they are developmentally ready for. Set the stage for confidence and success. Ask any principal how many parents have ever come and said, “I am so sorry I didn’t start my child a year earlier.” And how many have said the opposite.

    I am proud of the part I have played in helping get students off to a strong start.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mike your candor is refreshing. I have rarely heard anyone publicly admit they were wrong. That is something you should be really proud of, especially the example it sets for your sons.

    Another fabulous Young 5’s Program that has both typical and special needs kids is Milestones at Abilities United (formerly CAR) in Palo Alto. My twins attended this program and had a great 1st year of kindergarten. They may have space.

  6. M's_Mom says:

    Mike if I could do it all over again I would definitely have held my daughter back in Pre-school. She is smart as a whip, but socially not there. She is now going into 7th grade and it has been a struggle every year for her to “fit in” with her peers. She does wonderful schoolwork, understands the subjects well, but really is like 6 months to a year behind her peers.

    I crumbled under immense family pressure (including from my husband) to send her on to Kindergarten when I felt in my heart she was not ready emotionally.

    Good for you and your wife looking at the big picture and finding a happy medium for all. Marco will definately benefit from your forethought.

    Best regards!

  7. andy says:

    Mike:

    I totally agree, the academic push, which is ridiculous, means that the teacher has less time and frankly less ability to deal with social issues. As you know, we did the same thing in that I was opposed to the academic rigors with no time or ability to help children develop. This has been lost in Kindergarten.

    My brother in law is a kindergarten teacher in public school in California and has been for 17 years, and he will tell you that starting in Kindergarten everything is designed for test scores.

    He is looking to switch jobs to another position as this is not what he wants to do. In fact, he finds it so discouraging he even wonders about the value of public schools for the overall health of children going forward with the elimination of time to develop emotionally, not to mention art, drama and just plain fun.

  8. Murray says:

    You’ll never regret your decision.

    The parents are the ones that make a big deal over the kids ages and who has an advantage. The kids just know that they have different birthdays. : )

  9. Jennifer says:

    What’s the secret of getting into one of the two most coveted young fives programs in the area at the last minute. It looks like you started the process in early August and Periwinkle just happened to have an open space? Do tell!

  10. Mike Lanza says:

    Jennifer – Getting into Periwinkle was absolute luck. In this case, applying very late was an advantage. A spot opened up right before I called there, which was about two to three weeks before school started. They had a waiting list of about five kids ahead of us, but kids on the list had other school plans by the time the director of Periwinkle called them.

  11. irish83 says:

    Mike, you are making the right move. I am only 26, and I was not held back, but I have friends who were and they hate the fact they were. Why, because they are a year older than all their friends. They have accomplished less than a person their age, because they have been in the workforce longer. Holding back could work if a child is not ready or has a disability, but there should be no other reason to taker a year away. Being out of college, the ages 25 to 34 are considered young professionals. They are the most important years for building a career in the business world, and every year is needed to be better than the next guy. People do not think about the long term outcome. Thank god you made the right decision, hopefully your son does well.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am a kindergarten teacher in a Silicon Valley public school. Although there are always exceptions, my “fall fives” are almost always the ones who are struggling, in some way, in my class. It has very little to do with cognitive ability and everything to do with maturity. California State Content Standards for kindergarten are very academic, therefore, kindergarten requires a higher level of maturity and self regulation than most of you remember. The current content standards are what first grade once was. Whether this is appropriate or not is another debate but it is the reality of kindergarten today. I dislike the term redshirting because it suggests that one is keeping a child out of kindergarten to gain some advantage. I think waiting another year is giving fall fives the gift of time so that they are ready for the demands of the way kindergarten currently is. I have never met a parent who regretted waiting the year. I have met many who wish they had. Thank you for your frankness.

  13. irish83 says:

    I understand what you are saying, what about the child. You said you have never met a parent who regretted it, what about the child who was held back. The fact is, no child should be older than a kid who is ina higher grade. No child should be older than a kid who is a freshman in college while you are a senior in high school. I took psycology classes in college, ad there are reports of inferior complexes of held back children. Every child deserves the chance to be with kids of their own age. My point is that a child held back always gets a late start. Th kids I know who werer held back feel like they are in a rush because they do not have enought time to accomplish goals. I agree with you that there are cases where some kids do need to be kept back, but don’t keep all kids back because they were born in August or September. For example if you have a brothert who is 4 years older than you and you are held back for no reason, you have lost a year compared to your brother. I understand where you are coming from but I strongly disagree. My main point is that the child is not more mature he is older. Maturity comes with age.

  14. irish83 says:

    One more point, you talk about kids struggling in the beginning. I think you should give a child time before making a decision that changes the childs life forever. That decision decides when they begin to make a living, who theri friends will be, and so on. The decision effects the child way more than the kid. What if a child is held back just due to his birthday, and then struggles in school and is held back again. You are going to have an almost 20 year old senior, but most likely that kid will drop out.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I have no idea why you say that no child should be older than a child in a higher grade. That is just not realistic as regardless of cut off dates someone will always be on one side of the cut off date who is older and someone on the other side of the line will be a year younger. My point of view comes from my experience in the state of California which is one of only 4 or 5 states that allows children who are turning five (as late as Dec 2!) to start kindergarten. This was appropriate when kindergarten was not as academic as it is now. The current academic demands are simply not developmentally appropriate for children who are not yet five. Their first taste of school is often fraught with stress and frustration over things that they are just not ready for. These are bright kids but they are just not ready for the current demands of kindergarten. Incidentally, about 1/3 of my class usually consists of students whose parents chose to wait a year (i.e. they are turning 6 in the fall). Almost without exception, kindergarten is a place where they are successful, competent and confident!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I forgot to address your concern about the child, fall birthday, is is held out for a year but still struggles. Again, based on my experience, I have rarely seen this happen. When it does, there have usually been other issues which contribute to academic difficulties. Are there exceptions? Of course and there always will be!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Physical size, where you are compared to your brother etc. are really not relevant when you talk of kindergarten readiness. The maturity that I refer to does come with age as you point out but I mean maturity that is appropriate for a given age. In the case of kindergarten, the ability to sit still for 15 minutes, follow a three step direction, have self control over impulses to shout out, interrupt others, keep ones hands to oneself, have adequate fine motor skills to write etc. Almost without exception, given the current CA content standards and grade level expectations, children should already have turned five when kindergarten starts. Almost every other state in the country has acknowledged that. It’s a pity that CA doesn’t.

  18. irish83 says:

    I am from the Cleveland area, and our cut iff date is September 30, but there are a number of kids from my class whose birthday falls between October and January. I agree that December is very late for a kindergartener to turn five. The thing I have been trying to say is that if you birthday falls within the cutoff date then give your child a shot. Don’t assume your child will not succedd. Size means nothing, as a child will grow. When comparing myself to my brother, which was just an example, was about the loss of a year if oner is held back and the other is not. As I said in a prior comment, I have a friend who has a summer birthday and was held back. Therfore, he has friends in his own class that are more than a year younger than him, and kids in a higher grade younger than him, and he hates it. You keep talking about the parents, what about the kid. They are too young to realize what has happened, but when they get older they realize, why am I older than everyone. My friend who is 27 does not feel 27, becasue he does not have the same experience as the usual 27 year old. I respect your opinion as an educator, but I have a late September birthday and I still amost skipped a grade. If one has a worry about their child, then you should have them tested. I agree with my friend when he feels he lost a year. It sounds like you are saying this is the only wayfor these kids to succeed. I just know if it had happened to me, and everyone in my grade was a year younger than me, and I never showed signs of a child who needed to be helped, I would be angry. I do believe some kids need it, but not all. Some are ready and othere are not. I was ready and so were my brothers. I used my brother because he was born 9/14/79, I was born 9/21/83, and my younger brother was born 9/28/85. That is why I said if I were held back and my older brother was not, I would lose a year compared to him. I was not held back, but if I was, I would feel the same age as the kids who I graduated with. It might sound silly, but that is actually how my friends who was born in the summer feels. I could go on forever, I do not know why I care, but I do. I feel you are holding back a kid forever.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Did you know that throughout the world, star soccer (football) players were typically old for their grade? People make decisions about themselves and their ability at 4-6 years old. Bigger, older boys are not better athletes, they are just more developed thus more coordinated. That development impacts their world view. Kids begin having words for themselves at this age. If the words are I’m a good athlete, they try. If it’s I’m a klutz, they may never try again.

    There are lots of these decisions that kinders make about themselves. Our daughter who tests show has a very high IQ, came home from kindergarten saying she was not smart. After a while it dawned on us that as a tall girl with long blonde hair, people stereotyped her into “not smart.” We explained to her that both smart and pretty were inherited separately. Being pretty does not = not smart.

    How kids define themselves is key at this point in their lives. If they enter a program they are not prepared for, they may draw conclusions about themselves that follow them for their entire life. These beliefs could be holding them back forever. It depends on the child.

  20. irish83 says:

    I agree with you, but give them the chance to enter the program and see if they are ready before making a decision. I just don’t think it is fair for a child to be so much older than the kids in their own grade. I have always heard it is important for kids to be with otyher kids of their own age. I just agree with my friend on the way he feelsdabout his age. If he was held back in the first or second grade or failed I would see him as older but I don’t. Bigger, older boys are not better athletes, you are right, kids catch up, but some parents do hold back for that reason. I agree if the kid needs it, if they don;t let him be. There is a reason it is called held back, becasue you hold them back from moving on. I see some of your points, I just hope you see some of my points. I am glad I was not held back, it was almost like getting another year. That is what I mean when I said my friend feels rushed. Everyone likes to measure how much success they earn before turning 30, well those who are held back don’t have the same time as those who move on. Once could say they would not be successful if they nwere not held back, but I can honestly say I do not know one kid from scholl of over 2,500 kids who suceeded after beibng held back. You have your opinion and I have mine. The main point is how do you know that early that yourt child needs to have a year taken from them. They don’t grow on trees.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Well, clearly, the CA birthdate cut off is far too late for what the curriculum demands. I am also a late September birthday but when I was in kindergarten, we just played. It is, in most states, a very different story today. This is ,as are many decisions made about a young child’s life, something that is the parents job because a 4 or 5 year old simply is not in a position to make that decision. No matter how you slice it, my state needs to change that birth date cut off. We (in CA) now have large numbers of students who are voluntarily holding out their fall fives. These children will not be an anomaly as they move through school. There will be many like them. They weren’t held back, they were given the gift of time!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Let’s be clear. Starting kindergarten a year later is not the same as being held back or repeating a grade. I can only speak, with authority, about my school district and my experiences as an elementary school teacher. My district does not encourage “giving it a try” and then seeing if they succeed or not. If a parent enrolls a child and then withdraws then within the first two weeks of school it’s as if they didn’t start at all. Past that point, they strongly encourage the child to stick with it. Additionally, my district rarely retains a child, so a struggling K student often becomes a struggling grade 1 student. I don’t know if you are a teacher or not and I respect your opinion however as a teacher my primary concern is a child’s success as a student. I have many years worth of observational data to back up the fact that given the current academic rigor of kindergarten, we cannot (with rare exceptions) expect 4 year olds to be ready for kindergarten. Maybe this is just an issue for the few states that still allow fall fives to start school. If you are the parent of a fall five in the state of CA please, please consider giving them the gift of time. If you need any further convincing ask teachers in CA what they would do with their own fall fives. I bet that almost all chose to wait a year ( waiting is not held back in the same way retention is!).

  23. irish83 says:

    I am not from California, I am from Ohio, and I disagree about starting late and being held back. It is the same result. Once you start late, you are late to everything. They were not given the gift of time, because once they are out of school, they are older than everyone, hence they do not have time. I was giving time with the fact that I started school when I was supposed to. W

  24. irish83 says:

    I am not from California, I am from Ohio, and I disagree about starting late and being held back. It is the same result. Once you start late, you are late to everything. They were not given the gift of time, because once they are out of school, they are older than everyone, hence they do not have time. I was giving time with the fact that I started school when I was supposed to. Most of the kids that I know that started late or held back did attend college. There should not be 19 year old seniors in high school, that is crazy. They were not given time, they had it taken away. Life is short, and it was made shorter by having a year taken away. Ifa child meets that deadline, then they should enter school if they are ready. You make it sound like it does not matter if they are ready or not, when it does. Do not penalize all children becausae some are not ready. To be honest, most kids that are not ready then will never be ready.

  25. kteacher says:

    May I ask what your experience and professional training is? I’d be curious to know what expertise you bring to your position.You haven’t really addressed academic readiness and self esteem, simply the negative aspects of being “older”. I say self esteem because that is often the thing that suffers most with young kinders. It does matter very much if a child is ready or not and that is exactly why children who are turning 5 in the fall struggle with kindergarten.The CA deadline is developmentally inappropriate and was put in place when kindergarten was a very different program, that is why many school districts in CA don’t discourage parents from waiting. They know it is no longer appropriate. “To be honest, most kids that are not ready then will never be ready.” That is completely the opposite of what I have seen in that most kids who wait are very, very ready! Remember, we are not talking about playing, clay, paint and naps we are talking about what is essentially the “old’ first grade. Lastly, although life is short,but a year is nothing if your child enters his first year of schooling from a position of strength not weakness.

  26. irish83 says:

    Self esteem is a big part of being held back. What kind of self esteem is one supposed to have when they are not deemed ready for a grade they are supposed to be in. I am a student in my last year od medical school studying psycology, and this subject has been studied thoroughly. All children do not be kept back year. Exactly what will help them in their year off. Socially and academically they will not improve. A year of experience in the workforce is very important. Someone who has been held back will have a year less than someone who is the same age. Of course age is important, nobody wants to be the old kid in class, and you make it sound like every kid should be a 19 year old senior when that is ridiculous. I do not know how you can not look at as a year lost. If a child is held back and they never needed it, then it is a year lost in my opinion. If a child is not ready, then fine, but if a child is ready and the fall within the cutoff then they should be placed in that grade. I know for a fact that children that arte held back that should not have been become bored with the ciriculum they are in but don’t want to leave their class mates. What about those that are academically ready. What should the cut off be, May 1, that is nuts. Are you saying kids from other generations are smarter and more mature, or are kids today just not that smart. I also know kidnergarten is not what was like in 1989-90, when I was there. One of the smartest girls in my class was born in December, three months pass the cutoff. Some kids struggle and others don’t. Don’t punish everyone because some kids struggle. If a kid is ready then let him move on, if he/she is not than a move is to be made. Also, I agree with you about the California cutoff, but Ohio’s is September 30, so, so your argument about California means nothing to me. S

  27. irish83 says:

    I got cutoff there, but it sounds like you are saying a kid born in May will be smarter or more prepared than a kid two months younger. I got news for you, the older kids in my class were the ones who got in the most trouble in school, had drug problems , and alot of them dropped out. All teenager are immature.

  28. kteacher says:

    Congratulations on being so close to med school graduation! As I stated early on, my experiences are based only on CA and it’s standards and birth date cut offs. I do not have the expertise or experience to comment on other states. Academic readiness is generally not what is missing in 4 year olds. It is generally self control/self regulation and fine motor skills. No, children from other generations were neither smarter nor more mature but what was required of them was very different. And yes, I have , on occasion had very smart 4 year olds who were very ready but that has been rare. No, I do not think every kid should be a 19 year old HS senior and I’m not sure how you interpreted my comments to mean that. As for self esteem, I have never seen a child who turned 6 in the fall think that this meant something negative. I have, however, watched fall fives become stressed and frustrated because they were not developmentally up to the demands of the current kindergarten curriculum and they knew, even if they couldn’t express it, that they were not in the same place as those who did not have to struggle as they did. I respect your medical school education and your study of psychology and I’m sure that you probably also have a great deal of first hand experience with elementary education (as a professional, not a student). I guess your professional experience as an educator has been vastly different from mine. Again best of luck with your medical career.

  29. kteacher says:

    Oh, I didn’t mean for for my opinions to mean anything to anyone. Just observations gleaned from my experience as an educator and someone who deeply committed to the success of all children by doing what is best for them. 🙂

  30. irish83 says:

    My example of the brothere where one is 4 years older than the second brother, but he is five years older in school because the second was kept back for no reason, is my point of lost year. That second brother has lost a year compared to the second. The second brother was reasy and prepared but still kept back, that is a lost year. In my studies, we have come across kids who were kept back a year and they do not want to be treated as older kids. If everyone is 8, tyhat is how old they want to be. They just don’t want to be different, and they perceive it as a negative, and with my experience with my friends, so do they. Thye hate it. I do respect your opinion and have enjoyed our arguemnt. If Ohio’s cut off was like California, I would agree with you, btut it is a three month difference. Thank you for the encouragement in my future.

  31. kteacher says:

    Just read back to your first comment congratulating Mike for making the “right move” and am a bit confused as Mike is writing about holding his child back from kindergarten this year. I also noticed that you said you were 26 and I must say that you have indeed done a lot with your years. A teacher and now a soon to be med school graduate. I am quite impressed! As to having one less year in the workforce and somehow being behind career wise, I guess we’re a bit more laid back about that sort of stuff in CA ! Education, career and life are journeys not races. Enjoy.