My oldest has always been impressive, and although it may seem like I’m just a proud mom, that’s not it. I’m not a stupid person, but the kid has a habit of talking me in circles and having conversations with his father about history and science that I don’t think I can reasonably keep up with. When we moved from New England to Colorado, the deadline for kindergarten jumped up by a month and a half — and my little Bug who was already ahead of the game missed the deadline by a week.
He didn’t know the difference, of course, but I was devastated. I could see how he stuck out from his preschool classmates in size, intelligence, and emotional maturity. Thankfully, his preschool teachers made sure to give him one-on-one time so he wouldn’t be bored, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case when he got into kindergarten.
Growing up, I watched both of my brothers struggle in school. Both of them are brilliant — lazy as shit, but brilliant. They were capable of so much more, but in a classroom that didn’t challenge them, they got bored and complacent with school work. I knew this was going to be my kid as well if we didn’t find a way to keep his brain busy.
Redshirting — in case you haven’t heard of it — is a common practice nowadays where parents are keeping their kids back a year so they have more time to develop mentally, socially, and emotionally. I get it, I do. We all want our kids to be the most successful that they can be, but shouldn’t that mean we push our kids forward instead of holding them back?
In theory, a child might be more ready for school if given the extra year to blossom. On the other hand, couldn’t we — as parents — start getting our kids ready for school earlier? Counting apples at the grocery store, adding up Easter candy, reading books before bed: these are all simple forms of school prep that we’re doing with our kids as part of the regular routine.
Redshirting is actually a term borrowed from the practice of keeping athletes back a year so they can be bigger and stronger for competition. In fact, lots of parents redshirt their kids in an attempt to give them a heads up on their peers academically, but is that what it really does? Once they are in the classroom, they’re learning the same things at the same pace as their peers. Is this pushing them to be better or simply to be better than those around them?
There have been tons of studies around how redshirting affects kids in the long term, but here’s the gist: At first, kids who are redshirted perform better, a fact which can likely be attributed to their higher level of cognitive functioning than kids younger than them as well as a year’s worth of experience. (Yes, experience counts when you are only five!) Down the road, the results even out and kids who were redshirted don’t seem to perform any better or worse than the kids in their grade. Down the line, however, kids who are redshirted have a higher high school dropout rate than their peers.
In my son’s case, it was the state that required he “stay back”, not his parents, but that didn’t mean it didn’t affect him. Everyday he’d come home telling me how boring school was and bang out a week’s worth of homework in twenty minutes on a Monday night. We’re now looking for a school where the curriculum is a better fit for him, because I truly believe that the system will fail him otherwise.
Unfortunately, age isn’t a good determining factor for where a child belongs in school and grade level is all but an imaginary number. I don’t want the state redshirting my kid because he should be in classrooms that best fit his needs, not his birthday.