Leaving the hospital without your newborn is a special kind of hell. The kind where you spend hours wandering aimlessly around the house, staring at the freshly painted nursery and brightly colored Gymini and all the other temporarily useless baby gifts, trying to figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing. The kind where you wake each morning with a racing heart and blindly reach for the phone to call the NICU without stopping to put your contacts in, exhaling only once you’ve been assured your kid is still alive.
So why am I telling you all this? Because we live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where the cut-off date for starting kindergarten is September 1. And had she been born on her original due date, our daughter would have missed the deadline. But she wasn’t. So the decision to redshirt (hold her back a year) or not was ours to wrestle with.
Given her precarious start in the world, you’d think this would have been a no-brainer. Except it wasn’t. She was small, but she was scrappy and self-assured. Petite yet precocious and academically prepared. Sure, she had a little separation anxiety, but so did some kids who lapped her birth date by almost a year. In the end, it was her feistiness – already apparent in those first few days of life – that tipped the scales. And so just a month after she turned five, we sent our daughter off to school, the youngest in her entire grade.
I know we made the right decision. As a seventh grader today, she is killing it both socially and in school. But I’d be lying if I said there’s not some lingering guilt. Every time I watch her struggle with a math problem or walk down the street flanked by friends twice her size, I wonder about the road not taken. But thanks to a new study published in the Journal of Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, I may no longer have to. The study found that starting school a year later does not lead to better academic performance for pre-term or full-term children, and could in fact cause poorer academic performance as the children get older.
“Many parents demand that preterm children should be held back, particularly if they were born in the summer,” said co-author Julia Jaekel. “However, we found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardized tests at eight years of age for both pre-term and full-term children.”
Hallelujah! Obviously the decision to redshirt is one every family needs to make for itself. But while I may harbor guilt about giving my kid the occasional Pop Tart for breakfast, for now, at least, I can cross this one off my list. I may feel differently when she leaves for college in five years, however.
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