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Could delaying kindergarten be a detriment to your child?

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Last year, I wrote about the kindergarten dilemma. Mainly, whether I should enroll my son on time or hold him back a year so he would be one of the oldest vs. youngest in class. It was one of our most highly-debated posts ever.

In the end, I enrolled him.

I have not regretted my decision. While it is still early in the school year, I am thrilled with how well he has adapted. He enjoys his peers, is reading at an advanced level and his writing/fine motor skills are growing leaps and bounds every day (which was my main concern). Much to my relief, I feel confident I made the correct decision for him because he is thriving.

I always felt unsettled about holding him back because his preschool teachers confirmed what I already knew: he was socially, emotionally and academically ready. While I understand parents wanting their child to be the oldest, biggest and smartest, for me it felt like an unfair (and unnecessary) advantage and that I would be doing him a disservice by delaying him a year.

Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt published an article at The New York Times alleging this strategy of “redshirting” (delaying school) is actually counterproductive.

Teachers may encourage redshirting because more mature children are easier to handle in the classroom and initially produce better test scores than their younger classmates. In a class of 25, the average difference is equivalent to going from 13th place to 11th. This advantage fades by the end of elementary school, though, and disadvantages start to accumulate. In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment — in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year. The question we should ask instead is: What approach gives children the greatest opportunity to learn?

The article goes one to say that in a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age. In other words, school makes children smarter.

“Parents want to provide the best environment for their child, but delaying school is rarely the right approach,” said Wang and Aamodt.”The first six years of life are a time of tremendous growth and change in the developing brain. Synapses, the connections between brain cells, are undergoing major reorganization. Indeed, a 4-year-old’s brain uses more energy than it ever will again. Brain development cannot be put on pause, so the critical question is how to provide the best possible context to support it.”

Most people can agree that boys are known to mature emotionally at a slower pace than girls. However, the authors attest that this process can be helped by interacting with older children. By first grade, the difference usually evens out.

The initial redshirt advantage may disappear because children are not on a fixed trajectory but learn actively from teachers — and classmates. It matters very much who a child’s peers are. Redshirted children begin school with others who are a little further behind them. Because learning is social, the real winners in that situation are their classmates.

I still feel that every child’s circumstance is different and for some children, holding them back is the correct decision. But this article confirmed my belief that these instances should be in the minority, not majority.

“Parents who want to give their young children an academic advantage have a powerful tool: school itself.”

Do you feel that delaying kindergarten is a good or a bad idea?

Authors Mr. Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, and Ms. Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, are the authors of “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows From Conception to College.”

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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  • comment avatar Candace September 27, 2011

    I’ve always believed this–truly I have. There is so much pressure to hold kids back. I did it with my first and I honestly regret my decision. We essentially wasted a year of his life and now he’s bored out of his mind (plus all of his buddies are in the grade ahead of him). Go with your gut. If you feel they’re ready, go for it. Don’t let non-essential factors like size and athletic ability play into your decision. In community sports (which most kids play anyway) it’s by age, not grade. In high school, everyone is evened out by then.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck September 27, 2011

    Interesting, Candace. When I previously posted about this, there were so many parents who either regretted not holding their kids back or had no regrets for doing so. I still firmly believe every case is different but too many are doing it to give their kids a headstart and these findings prove just the opposite.

  • comment avatar Rhonda September 27, 2011

    Look at it this way, put them in when it’s time and if you don’t feel they are ready to move forward to first grade, then repeat kindergarten. Give them a chance to prove themselves. (By the way… I have no children so this is based on observation only!).

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 27, 2011

    very interesting read…too late to change my mind now, he’s in grade 7.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 27, 2011

    Rhonda–In talking with most parents, the general sentiment is to make the correct decision from the get-go. It can be damaging of a kids’ psyche/confidence to be held back. There were a couple of kids you were held back in my daughter’s kindergarten class and I know they took it really hard.

  • comment avatar Carol September 27, 2011

    I don’t have kids to make that decision about however I myself was in the group of being very young for my class. My birthday was 2 days before the cutoff to be in the grade below. I don’t believe my parents even considered holding me back and in fact I have memories of my mom saying that she hoped that I wouldn’t be born later so that I would make the cutoff.

    I’m very glad I didn’t get held back. I did fine in school when I was in elementary school and ended up graduated 5th in my high school class. I don’t think holding me back would have accomplished anything positive.

    I do agree that in some cases it might be necessary and even positive for a few kids. However most of the time I think that the younger kids are challenged more by being in that situation and probably do much better in the long run

  • comment avatar Susan September 27, 2011

    I believe it should be based on whether or not the child is ready for kindergarten vs their age or if they will be oldest or youngest in the class. One of my girls is one of the oldest and one is one of the youngest in her grade. They are both in the grade that they should be. One of the boys in my daughter’s kinder class repeated the grade. He was put in too early and needed to repeat. It was difficult for him at first, as all of his buddies were in the 1st grade. But he adjusted and now seems like he is in the right place for him. This would have been much more difficult if he repeated an upper grade later on. I think you go with your gut and do what feels right for your child. Then hope for the best, knowing you made the best decision for your child at the time.

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber September 27, 2011

    Amber, I’m so glad he’s lovn’ school! We kept Si back…but we enrolled him in a private Christian school program specifically designed for those who were waiting a year – he was in a class with 9 other boys! Of the things we, as parents, can do to mess our kids up I don’t think this decision is one of them, lol 🙂 We just wanted for our son to be a powerhouse on the varsity football team — ok, that would be messed up and I’m totally kidding. I do think he benefited from the maturity he gained and the Christian education. The downside: tuition isn’t free.

    • comment avatar Suzanne September 27, 2011

      Hi Jaime,
      I am interested to hear about the program you put your son in. I have 4yo twin boys (turn 5 in July) and am struggling with the decision about holding them back. One of them I think is ready, the other is not as of now. Thank you! Oh, my email address is Thanks!

  • comment avatar Gretchen White September 27, 2011

    I’m with you, Amber. Our kindergartner was still four on her first day of kindergarten, turning five a few weeks into the school year. I’ve been astonished by how much she’s already learned. She has been challenged in a ways she’s never been. I can see firsthand how school makes kids smarter. It sounds like a no-brainer, Captain Obvious sort of thing to say, but it’s true.

    Of course, there are exceptions. My takeaway from your post and the NYT’s article is that parents should stand firm against the redshirt tide if they know their younger kiddos will be okay. Don’t let teachers or others make assumptions about your kid just because they have a certain birthday. It’s not destiny.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 27, 2011

    Great feedback, everyone. And I agree, Gretchen. So many parents are swept up in the peer pressure of holding back when their child may be perfectly ready for kindergarten. I just hope this NY Times article gives some valid insights into the real pros and cons of doing so.

  • comment avatar Lori September 27, 2011

    K, I so didn’t read it yet and so I possibly shouldn’t be voicing any comment a all. Hee hee. But in this part of the country, some parents who have a child who dosnt hit other kindergarten dead line, will sometimes put their child into a private kindergarten. Then the public schools have to take them as a first grader even though they are young.

  • comment avatar Steve September 27, 2011

    I agree with the academic findings of the article. A younger child will certainly catch up academically. It is the social aspects that drives my decision. I was nearly the youngest in my class and a very late bloomer (I grew two inches in college). Athletically, and socially I felt at a great disadvantage in my high school years. Academically I did great, but always felt like I was the littlest kid, because I was. The point in your excerpt, a held back kid has one less year of lifetime earnings. How about one more year of childhood. Which would you choose on your death bed?

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck September 27, 2011

    Great insights! I think the point of the article is a valid one (read the entire thing that also deals with social/emotional aspects in addition to academic). I think it’s a good argument for those parents who just mindlessly hold their kids back because everyone is doing it.

    In my opinion, there should be legitimate reasons and a lot of the parents I know who are doing it don’t have them. Yes, every kid should be a case-by-case basis but in the work vs. play argument, I don’t think my kids will have any less of a childhood because they were enrolled in school when they were supposed to go!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 27, 2011

    Of course it COULD be–depending on the child–but talk to any educator, and they will tell you, most of the time, no.

  • comment avatar Terresa September 27, 2011

    Our oldest has a September birthday and makes the cut, however I was unsure if I should send him to school the year he turned 5 or wait one more year. Being that his is our first and I didn’t now know what to do. I spoke to alot of people in simular situation and prayed about it, in the end I put him in pre-school for that year and enrolled him in K in following year. Honestly I am glad I did it! He is in 2nd grade and reading at almost a 3rd grad level and is not struggling. Yes he is one of the older kids in his class but someone has to be.
    I am happy with the decision we made. But it is an individual choice everyone in this situation needs to make for themselves and their child.

  • comment avatar Lara September 27, 2011

    Here’s my frustration with the whole situation: parents are just doing it do give their kids an unfair advantage. We have kids in our first grade class who are a full head taller because (you guessed it) they were held back. Sure, they may be reading at an advanced level because that’s where they SHOULD be. Kids who are right at the cut, I understand the hesitation but I truly believe that before a child is allowed to be held back, the circumstance must be extenuating and they should be tested by someone at the school. If deemed ready, they should go to school.

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber September 27, 2011

    So many great thoughts on this one! Steve is on to the selfish parent side of all this: one more year at home, ha…and the development factor…my husband also grew in college AND since I’m not tall per se (hee hee,) his being a “head taller” isn’t a concern. As far as unfair advantage, well, he’s brilliant either way – his mom will tell you – wink. Seriously though, the reading/writing interest just wasn’t there yet. It would have been such a struggle for us.

    As for our daughter…I’d enroll her this yr if she could. She’s absolutely ready and interested. Every child is different.

    Suzanne, we chose St. Lukes Little School’s Explorers Program. The school is close to our home in Highlands Ranch and has a great reputation. I think it’s helpful to talk to several educators and hear their thoughts – ask for their personal (not just professional) opinion too – esp if they’ve taught your kiddos. Good luck!

  • comment avatar Kathy September 27, 2011

    My daughter’s birthday falls 1 week before the state cutoff and we never hesitated to start her in kindergarten as a still 4 year old. In hindsight, I think our decision was easier than it is for many parents because she physically “fits in” since she is tall for her age, she’s social confident and she did so well in her time in preschool.

    I actually have more concerns about the middle school and high school years and making sure she’s ready to handle those pressures. Part of me is relieved that she won’t be ready to drive until her Junior year…but I also know she’ll have friends that will be old enough almost a full year earlier.

  • comment avatar FreckleFaceGirl September 27, 2011

    I still think that if my child had a summer birthday, I would probably lean towards holding them back. It certainly is a case by case basis of course. I mainly say that because my sister’s birthday was the day of the cut-off. She struggled the whole way through, which is probably just part of who she is. However, the part that bothers me is when she left for college she was still only 17. Kids spend so little time at home. I would just like it to last a little longer.

  • comment avatar JoAnn September 28, 2011

    Our situation is different in that our daughter misses the “cut-off date” for Kindergarten by a month…she wasn’t going to be 5 by October 1st. Add to that the fact that she’s already ahead of the curve, and I was WISHING we could send her to Kindergarten last year. BUT, unless we wanted to spend all the money to have her officially tested and then put on the “gifted track,” there wasn’t much we could do.

    Rather than go that route (you can’t have the school of your “choice” if you do that in our district), we made it work. We found an awesome preschool that really challenged her and helped her grow. (They had her writing sentences by the time it was all said and done.) We then made sure that the schools on our list going forward had the levelized class options, and these classes at her new school have proven to be great! She’s doing advanced reading and math and still “technically” a new Kindergartener.

    I WISH it were only based on if they’re “ready” or not and NOT based on a calendar date…but at least we found an alternative that seems to be working for us.

    • comment avatar Catherine September 29, 2011

      We will be in the same boat as you. Our daughter (who is only 2 now) will miss the Oct 1 cutoff date to start school by exactly 30 days. So we won’t have the choice to send her ahead. She will be one of the oldest in her class, starting kindergarten when she is almost 6 years old. She is not yet 3 and already I am stressed about this! She is WAY ahead of her peers in verbal and pre-reading skills. Her vocabulary is phenomenal, and she is forming complex sentences and memorizing book and sight words at only 2 years old. I do so wish I had the option of sending her to school early, as I know she will be more than ready, both academically and socially. I never wanted to homeschool my children, but this situation is making me reconsider that as an option. Your comment encourages me to make the situation work for us, and find ways to challenge her in preschool (and at home!) as we wait for her time to begin school. Thanks for sharing!

  • comment avatar Shelly September 29, 2011

    What I agree with in this article is that this decision needs to be thoughtfully considered with the what is best for each individual child. There is no right or wrong answer for every child on the whole. However I would like to review the controlls and actual data of this study, not just a summary reported to a news organization because data can be extrapolated and twisted in so many ways and I’ve seen it done so many times. Additionally, this goes against mine and almost every other teacher’s observations I have seen or heard. The youngest children are almost always behind socially and academically. And the assumption that they will catch up is often wrong. The first 2 or 3 years of school is extremely important to the child’s attitude towards themselves, how they fit socially and what their feelings are about school and thier personally abilities. And rarely does that change with out a momentous event.

    Perhaps the pendulum has swung to far to the side of holding your children back, it shouldn’t. I don’t advocate it, here’s what I would advocate. Gather information as much information as you can, observe your child in a variety of situations. And do what you think is best. You were give instincts parents, use them. You do know your child best.

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