When we found out we were expecting a baby boy due in August 2011, family members and friends started asking us before he was even born — “Will you hold him back in school?” and “Will you redshirt him?”
We had hardly decided on a name yet, hardly even decorated our nursery before people began questioning our education plans. School seemed like eons away from that particular moment.
In some areas of the country, it’s common for children with summer birthdays, particularly boys, to wait until they turn 6 to go to kindergarten. In some areas they call it “redshirting,” and research has shown that the boys who are older in their grades do better in sports than if they are the younger in their class.
Some studies have shown that delaying kindergarten enrollment can lessen the child’s risk of being too inattentive or hyperactive and can increase test scores later in life. Other studies suggest that the benefits are perceived, and that the benefits fade over time.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, around 7 percent of kindergarteners — a majority of them with summer birthdays — wait a year or are “redshirted” before they start school, and so that they are 6-years-old when kindergarten begins. Another 5 percent of kids repeat the grade, spending two years in kindergarten.
Our baby boy came two weeks early and was born at the end of July 2011. I dismissed questions about whether or not we would hold him back with “We will see” and “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” After all, my birthday is the same week as my son’s. I went to school on time and never had any problems.
But as the years went by and our son was in preschool, I had my doubts whether we had chosen the right path. I remember sitting in a parent-teacher conference at my son’s preschool with tears welling up in my eyes and when the topic of kindergarten was brought up — the teachers suggested our son was ready for kindergarten. But he could probably benefit from doing two years of kindergarten, they said.
I honestly felt lost on what to do.
As my very tall son went to his first day of school last year, I prayed that he’d have a good year, that he’d excel in school and make great friends. And he did all of that. But when it came down to the end of the year, in another parent-teacher conference, the question of whether to move on to first grade loomed ahead.
Academically, our son was doing OK. He’d probably be fine either way, his teachers explained. But socially and emotionally, I knew my son could use more time. And with three years of speech therapy already under his belt, I wanted to give him more time to work on speech articulation issues, too.
My husband and I talked to the teachers, then talked to other parents who had their children repeat kindergarten. Ultimately, we made the decision I honestly didn’t want to make — to do two years of kindergarten. I knew it was the decision that needed to be made.
I worry that my child, who is on the 100th percentile for height, will loom over the other kindergarteners in his class. I worry that he may get bored learning the same old stuff. I worry that he will be socially stigmatized for having to do kindergarten twice, and I know he would rather go on to first grade with his friends.
But last week, as my son bounced into his elementary school, he didn’t seem fazed as he put his backpack in his cubby and sat down at his new seat with his new teacher in his new class. He introduced himself to his new friends and was proud to tell his classmates that he was 6 now, and this was his second year of kindergarten. He was just happy to be back at school, regardless of which grade.
That’s something I hope never changes.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.