The "Graying" of Kindergarten

Andrea Evans
April 19, 2009

To redshirt or not to redshirt. That is commonly becoming the question.

As parents of preschoolers know, parenting is a seemingly never-ending series of decisions about what is in your child's best interests: when to introduce solid foods to whether to "sleep train" your child to what type of school he or she should attend.  But not too long ago, there was at least one important issue that most parents likely did not wrestle with -- when to enroll their children in kindergarten. Times are changing. And fast. Today, the question of whether to enroll your four or five year old in kindergarten or to wait one year (or "redshirt") is becoming a pressing issue for parents.  In fact, about 10% of all kindergarteners nationwide are now red shirted, and in some affluent areas, approximately 25% are redshirted.

If you are the parent of a four year old, you may already be familiar with the so-called "graying" of kindergarten, the fact that more children, particularly boys, are not entering kindergarten until six years old and sometimes even older. There are several reasons for this trend.  Most notably, many school districts have pushed the cut-off dates by which children must turn five up from December to the fall (and even the summer). They have done so because kindergarten is not the warm and fuzzy place it was when we were kids.  Because of increased pressures around standardized testing in the second and third grades, kindergarten has become much more "academic" in nature. So, the thinking goes, children should be better equipped when they start kindergarten. And to some, being older translates to being better prepared and, thus, better learners.  

That correlation, however, has yet to be proven. The research (except in sports where age has been conclusively shown to be beneficial) is conflicting. For example, there are some studies that show that, in the short term, redshirted children have advantages in motor skills and size and are more confident than their younger peers.  And at least one recent study has shown longer-term effects.1 However, some studies have shown that, in the long term, redshirted children exhibit more behavioral problems.2 In addition, there is a body of research that highlights the socioeconomic impact of redshirting, namely the societal costs associated with delaying school for children whose parents do not have the resources to afford private preschool.  And even for those who posit that it is beneficial to redshirt, there is still further evidence that suggests that it is not a child's absolute age that correlates with performance but rather her relative age vis-à-vis her classmates.  If true, then if nearly everyone enters kindergarten at six, some of those advantages might disappear.  

So, what is a parent to do?  Well, first and most importantly, you must know your child and the school options available to you.  It is, ultimately, a personal decision for your child and your family. Here are some considerations to assist you in making your decision.

1. Review kindergarten readiness tests or screenings.
Often, you can simply ask at your preschool or neighborhood kindergarten for information on what kindergarten readiness really means.  Use those criteria to help you evaluate whether your child is ready.

2. Talk to your child's preschool teachers.
Solicit the views of your child's preschool teacher about her readiness for kindergarten.  Ask whether your child made some friends in his or her preschool group; the ability to make friends will help your child adjust to kindergarten.  Inquire as to whether she was able to follow directions and whether she appears to ready to begin academic work.

3. Examine school expectations.
What types of schools are you considering?  Is it very formal? Is it organized primarily around formal instruction in basic skills or around more informal "learning centers"? Organizing children's learning around informal learning centers can accommodate a greater developmental range of children than a formal, structured arrangement in which basic skills are taught to the whole group of children seated in rows of desks.

4. What is the class make-up of the kindergartners in your neighborhood? And how big will the class be?
Will your child be the youngest?  The oldest?  And how do you think that might impact her experience - not just in kindergarten, but going forward into her teenage years.  And, will the class likely be more than 25 children? Larger classes may make it more difficult for teachers to focus on the needs of any individual child - so consider whether that may make it harder for your child to become acclimated.

5. Alternatives?
Do you have a solid alternative to kindergarten?  Can your child spend another year at preschool? Is there a transitional program available to help bridge the gap between preschool and kindergarten?

__________________________________

1 Kelly Bedard, ''The Persistence of Early Childhood Maturity: International Evidence of Long-Run Age Effects'' in The Quarterly Journal of Economics (November 2006).  After crunching the math and science test scores for nearly a quarter-million students across 19 countries, a leading labor economist found that relatively younger students perform 4 to 12 percentiles less well in third and fourth grade and 2 to 9 percentiles worse in seventh and eighth. 

2 Deborah Stipek, Dean of Stanford Education, "At What Age Should Children Enter Kindergarten? A Question for Policy Makers and Parents" (Social Policy Report, 2002).

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Just what is the positive change between the iphone4 and new iphone 5 that are coming out for United states? i want to find out if it's worth it to obtain the apple iphone 4 or if i must wait for an i phone five.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    My son was born September 10 and does not meet the cutoff date for kindergarten by a few weeks. I've also noticed that different schools in our area have a different cutoff date. With such varying dates, how is it that as parents we continue to keep quiet and accepting of this practice that negatively impacts those children who do not meet the cutoff date? Cutoff dates should be eliminated and children should be assessed and grouped based on incoming varying academic and developmental skills. They should be continuously monitored to provide support and intervention as needed to maximize the learning of every child. It is ridiculous and unfair to hold back a child from a whole year of learning simply because of random dates chosen by so many different schools. At minimum, children who do not meet the cutoff date should be allowed to enter kinder on a trial basis(ex: 6 weeks or so) to determine kinder readiness. Parents of these children who are being pushed aside by the cutoff date should be contacting our Secretary of Education and pushing for the reevaluation of this practice.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    Still so unsure for my little guy... He turns 5 in August and would start school a few weeks later. He is head strong and has trouble making friends, but academically he is starting to read and is ready to learn. I am afraid if I hold him back, he could be bored with the content and be a trouble maker out of boredom and if I let him go I am afraid he will have trouble sitting still and following directions. Wish there was a happy medium like a delayed entry K...

    over a year ago

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