Leaving a Child Behind Before Kindergarten
By Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D.
Ask any child who has had to repeat a grade how they feel about having been "left back" and you'll quickly realize how serious a decision this is for parents and educators to make. An early study asked young students to rate a series of stressful events, and being left back ranked third, immediately following "going blind" and "losing a parent."
The practice of holding back kindergarten-eligible children for one year, known as academic "redshirting," assumes that some children would benefit from additional time for intellectual, emotional or even physical growth prior to starting school. While it may seem logical that another year of "life experience" or "practice" will improve a child's chances of success in school, this is not always the case.
Child development is a moving target, making a child's readiness for kindergarten difficult to measure. Many factors must be examined before making the important decision to hold a child back.
If You Are Thinking about Delayed Entrance to Kindergarten
Here are some suggestions for parents and educators to consider when discussing the benefits of redshirting for individual children:
Be clear about the specific characteristics of the children for whom you have concerns and the reasons why you think they might benefit from another pre-K experience. Being the youngest in the grade or not knowing how to tie shoes are not good reasons to delay kindergarten entry. You should include parents, preschool providers and kindergarten teachers in this conversation!
A well-designed curriculum that is both age and developmentally appropriate for each child can make an enormous difference for students who are at either end of the developmental continuum. Think about the types of adjustment that will enable timid or reluctant, average, and more advanced learners to succeed.
All-day kindergarten is recommended for most children, and can be especially helpful in evening out the disparity in readiness that is typical of many kindergarteners.
Some children will need individualized attention and additional support. Decide what help is needed, both inside and outside the school setting, and make attention to these concerns a priority. Earlier is better when it comes to recognizing and responding to children's early struggles with learning.
Use screening and evaluation data appropriately. It is much better to use the outcome of these studies to design and adapt curriculum that meets the needs of all young learners than it is to use these data to make placement decisions.
The Research on Redshirting
A Professional Development for Early Childhood Professionals and Families program at the University of Kansas published a great review of the research on redshirting in a question-and-answer format. I've adapted and expanded this worksheet below:
Some studies report that in the short run, redshirting can boost a child's confidence, improve academic learning, increase success with social interactions, and perhaps even boost popularity among peers. But the long term benefits of redshirting are not clear, and by third grade, there is no discernable difference between those children who had a late school start and those who did not.
When compared to their non-retained peers, children who were retained before kindergarten were sixty-six percent more likely to receive negative feedback from teachers during their later school years.
Students who are more than a year older than their classmates are more likely to drop out of high school.
Children come to kindergarten with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Widening the gap of 'cans' and 'cannots' in this pool of youngsters can create unwelcome competition and pressure within the classroom, and intensify the range of emotions that ordinarily help to make the kindergarten classroom such a welcoming experience.
Explore these NCLD resources for more information
Use NCLD's Transitioning to Kindergarten Toolkit to examine your child's strengths and weaknesses before entering kindergarten.
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