During the summer of 2009, my wife and I were excited to find out that God had blessed us with our first pregnancy. The educator in me saw the early May due date and thought about Kindergarten. You see, birthdays that run from about early May to the end of August fall in that gray zone for enrollment in Kindergarten; depending on parents’ decisions children with those birthdays will either be “old for the grade” or “young for the grade”— no way around it.
For us, there wasn’t a question: our son would attend PreK and then start Kindergarten in the fall after turning 6 in May — he’d be old for his grade, these days some people have taken to calling it Kindergarten Redshirting.
Call it what you want, but my wife and I believed that doing so would increase our son’s chances of thriving academically, socially, and athletically. Not only did we believe it, but there was a lot of research to support it with headlines like: Study Shows That Kids Who Were Oldest in Kindergarten Enjoy Benefits Well Into Their Teenage Years. In addition, it would not only allow him an outstanding PreK experience, but it would keep him under our roof for an additional year years that we now realize truly fly by.
Our oldest son is now turning 10 and we have 4 other boys, 3 of which have similar “red-shirtable” birthdates. We’ve made and will continue to make the same PreK choice for them. This is in part to reading a bunch of research and books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, but it’s also about playing the odds. If you’re like us, as parents we are constantly seeking a wide variety of ways to best form our children. A faith-filled home, a good school, athletics, and extracurriculars are all very important, but let’s not forget that a child’s age for the grade can have a tremendous impact on formation.
Over the years, I’ve talked to a myriad of parents who are seeking advice about the PreK decision. Almost without hesitation I urge them to give their child the gift of time—that’s not to say that being older guarantees success or that being young guarantees struggles. It’s never an easy decision, especially when so often a child seems “so ready” for Kindergarten and choosing Pre-K seems like it could be holding a child back or that it wouldn’t be challenging.
Perhaps the scope of this decision is much bigger than one year. The value of the extra year of learning in PreK aside, there are also things like the increased odds of fitting into peer groups in middle school, of not being too young for abstract mathematical lessons in high school, and about walking on to a college campus with an extra year of maturity and growth. When thinking about it through that lens and knowing how kids change on a weekly basis, my wife and I have avoided attempting to judge the kindergarten readiness of our children in a short spring window and defaulted to the gift of an extra year.
Matt Bauman is GTACS Director of Curriculum & Instruction and is a former teacher and principal in our school system. He is also the St. Francis High School Dean of Students. He and his wife, Kristin, have five sons: Mikey, Luke, Jacob, Ben, and Joseph.