By: Natalie Wardel, KSL
When Katrina Anderson's son was born in the summer, she already knew she'd be waiting a year to send him to kindergarten.
Now that Asher is 5, she says she made the right decision.
“Knowing my own child and seeing the way that he has developed, I felt he would be more confident and more socially well-adjusted if he was a little older.” Anderson said.
Her dilemma is shared by parents all over the country whose children have late-summer birthdays. Should they start kindergarten? Or “redshirt” them, as it's called.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 9 percent of kindergartener are redshirted, or delayed a year behind when they are eligible to start. Anecdotally, most of those are boys.
Anderson made her decision based on mother's instinct. But for her husband, Macolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" came into play.
Gladwell's research looks at the birth dates of professional hockey players from Canada, hypothesizing that hockey players closer to the league cut-off deadline - the oldest in the league - have an advantage over their peers because of their birthday and end up in the NHL.
“When a child is older they then get the advantages of being a little more developmentally ahead, and those advantages accumulate over the years,” Anderson said.
Academic studies present mixed results on the issue. A 2011 report by Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey say that children who are older than their classmates get better grades, more leadership roles and go to better colleges.
However, in other reports, it was the younger children who did better, perhaps suggesting they learned to work harder to catch up. Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, authors of “Welcome to your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College” wrote in the New York Times that redshirting can be counterproductive to the goal that parents have for their children. They say parents should instead ask, “What approach gives children the greatest opportunity to learn?”
Principal of Highland Park Elementary Shelley Halverson believes those opportunities can happen in kindergarten, and that pre-K evaluations help the school identify how to best help the child.
“I haven't seen redshirting work in an academic perspective,” she said. “You don't walk into third grade and go, ‘Oh, that kid started later and that kid started early.' It shakes out pretty quickly.”
Halverson recommends that parents involve the school in their decision and bring the child in for a pre-kindergarten evaluation at the start times set by the school district. If signs indicate the child should wait a year to start, then they will look into it.
Former kindergarten teacher and clinical instructor John Funk is an advocate for redshirting. He redshirted his second son after his first son faced difficulties growing up. He advocates focusing on the individual and says that parents know their child best.
“There's so many factors, I don't know how they can credibly say that it always evens out because I think every child is different,” he said.
Funk is careful to specify that redshirting is not the solution for a child with a learning disability. If a child is exhibiting signs of a learning disability, parents should consult their doctor and school on the best procedure.
Instead, redshirting might be a possibility for children who don't currently match their peers to take a year off and grow.
“If they don't seem to be making the advancements that most kids that age do, they are not speaking in good sentences or vocabulary, if you can't get their attention to read a story to them, so their attention seems to not be what that of another 4-year-old might be,” Funk said of the signs to look for.
For Jenny Olsen, mother of 18-year-old Michael, waiting to start was a decision she made with athletics in mind. She is happy how it worked out, but doesn't advise it for every parent.
“Academically he's ahead, socially he's ahead. He's very mature for his age,” Olsen said. “I do think being a little bit older gave him more confidence.”
And for Katrina Anderson, that slight edge is all she's looking for to help ensure her son, Asher, gets a good start in school.
"A lot of times, one year one way or another may not make that big a difference in the long run, but I felt like this was a little bit of advantage I could give him," she said.
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