My son was 4 when he attended kindergarten orientation which took place in May, a few months before he was to arrive for his first day of school. It was hard for him to relax and open up. I specifically remember he did not make a single peep the whole time he was there. It was the first time I ever questioned he may not be ready, even though he made the cutoff date.
I thought maybe we should wait and “redshirt” him, the term used when a parent holds their child back from entering kindergarten, even though they make the age cutoff. It’s becoming more and more common these days.
I went back and forth with the decision for months. My husband and I talked about it all spring and summer. I asked his teachers, and other educators for feedback, and they felt he was ready
Although he would be one of the youngest in his class, he already knew several of the kids he would be going to school with. He could count to 20, he had started to read and write, and even seemed a little bored at home. But I had heard his kindergarten days would be nothing like mine were. The expectations were a lot higher now. I was warned that kindergarten was the new first grade. Maybe that is why so many parents are choosing to keep their kids home or run them through one more year of pre-K? Of course, we don’t want to throw our kids into a classroom for a full day of structured routine and instruction before they are ready. It could be bad for all involved — students, teachers, and parents.
After joining the soon-to-be-kindergartners play group in our town, he began to loosen up around his peers, and I started to feel more confident that he was ready. He said he was excited, and so I sent him to kindergarten before his 5th birthday.
The first day, he was kicking and screaming as I tried to get him to line up with his classmates and go inside. I felt horrible, of course. Big mistake, I kept thinking to myself, but as soon as his teacher came out and took his hand, he was fine.
And when I picked him after his first half-day, he welcomed me with, “Mom! I didn’t think about you at all.”
Okay, maybe not a huge mistake.
He did really well in kindergarten, he loved it, and I quickly felt that I had made the right choice for him. I was glad that I had trusted the opinion of experienced teachers.
Then, in his second-grade year, he began to fall behind. My son stopped enjoying school as much as he had the two years prior.
Of course, I asked myself if it was because I sent him too early. Would he be more eager to learn and able to focus in class better at this age had I kept him home an extra year? Obviously, it was too late for regrets, but I questioned myself every damn day. It was so hard to watch him struggle.
As parents, we always wonder if we could have made a different decision that would have worked out better for our kids. Would my son be a model student had I not sent him to school when he was 4? If redshirting wasn’t a thing, would I even feel this way or would I just assume he was having a tough year?
The studies on redshirting our kids are mixed. Some say they absolutely have an advantage. With an older age comes more knowledge and maturity. Some parents believe it has given their child an edge against their peers. Other statistics show that the younger kids who reach the cutoff date by the skin of their teeth do just fine.
I do question myself and feel like, if I had just waited another year, maybe my child wouldn’t have to push as hard as he does to be successful, or struggle to balance extracurricular activities without it hindering his academics or totally wiping him out.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with teaching our kids to work hard. They should work hard, but when they are in tears every night trying to figure out math problems they say everyone else in the class understands, or report they are slow readers compared to their classmates, it makes you wonder, are we sending some of them to school too early?
I certainly don’t have the answers. There is a slew of research available to parents, and there are studies to support each side. But for my child, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have sent him to kindergarten as a 4-year-old. I would have waited a year, done another round of preschool, and I believe it would have helped him academically and socially in the higher grades.
If you are the parent of a 4- or 5-year-old and having the same internal struggle, talk to people you trust, friends and teachers alike, who have been there. Their perspective is valuable. But remember, you know your child better than anyone else ever will, and the final call is yours.