Guest Educator

Kindergarten ‘Redshirting’: Right for Your Child?

by Susan M. Poglinco, PhD

This month’s educator, Susan M. Poglinco, is executive director of the WHYY Children’s Service, which provides educational programs and services for educators and families, both off-air and on-air on Channel 12 and 91FM. Poglinco has an extensive background in teaching, education policy and research.

MetroKids invites teachers to contribute Guest Educator articles that offer insights to other teachers and parents about topics such as curriculum techniques, motivation, discipline or teacher-parent relations. Please send ideas to editor@metrokids.com


The issue of kindergarten cutoff dates was a vague notion to me as a parent of a preschooler, or as some researchers have called it, the “kindergarten entrance dilemma.” However, once it was time to sign my son up for kin-dergarten, my husband and I were the ones who got an education.

Our son, born in the late summer, made the cutoff date for kindergarten in our local district by ten days. My husband and I were aware that some parents hold their kids back, especially boys whose birthdays are on the border. This practice is commonly referred to as “academic redshirting.” But we had no indication from our son’s preschool teachers that he was not ready for kindergarten, so after consulting with them, we registered him and moved ahead.

Redshirting Is Increasing
Nationwide, nine percent of 5-year-old children are held out of kindergarten for a year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. This trend, especially among boys, has grown and appears to increase every year as kindergarten has become more academically focused during the last 25 years.

This reality creates an interesting conundrum for parents who don’t want to participate in redshirting. The question is how to determine which child will do fine at age 5 in kindergarten, regardless of gender, and which child will benefit from waiting a year?

Two months into the school year, and after numerous phone calls and e-mail exchanges with the school guidance counselor, the classroom teacher, the enrichment and aftercare staff, colleagues in various aspects of the field of education, and family members, we decided to pull our son out of kindergarten and place him in a preschool program for another year.

We arrived at that decision after our son exhibited signs of stress, which look different in every child but we experienced as disrupted sleep patterns, uncharacteristic outbursts and frustration, refusing to eat and obstinate behaviors. We realized that in our son’s kindergarten classroom, ages ranged from young 5-year-olds (which he was) to 61/2- year-olds, with most of the other boys in the class clustered at the older range of the group.

Questions and Solutions
An eye-opening experience followed, which poses a number of questions and recommendations.

How is it possible for a kindergarten teacher to span the range of academic, developmental, and maturity levels with an age range of 15-18 months in a single classroom?

What’s the philosophy of a school’s kin--dergarten teachers?

How can schools do a better job of informing new parents about their incoming kindergarten classes in their districts?

Can schools provide prospective parents with the age range and gender split on the projected kindergarten class before the class starts?

Can parents observe a kindergarten classroom in session?

If there are signs that a student lacks maturity and focus to be in the kindergarten classroom, what steps are in place to communicate this and open up a dialogue between the parents or guardians and the teacher?

How accessible will the kindergarten teacher be to parents at this critical transition point? What are the teachers’ preferred forms of communication? What is a reasonable timeline to pose questions and get a response from a teacher?

If it is a rocky road, what steps are recommended that are respectful both to teachers and parents to decide if a child should wait a year, withdraw or repeat kindergarten?

Why don’t more schools have orientations for first-time parents that are distinct from the standard school tour and orientation, which reviews little but logistics?

Parents need to know more about substantive issues such as curricula, screening and assessment of children before kindergarten, and other indicators of school readiness that teachers use as guidelines.

As a family, we decided to give our son the gift of time by waiting a year. We never anticipated being in this position and we were lucky to have the resources to become informed and take quick, decisive action.

When our son starts kindergarten next fall, we will be better informed. We don’t expect it all to be smooth sailing, but now we know which questions to ask, which instincts to follow, and that is half the battle.