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Redshirting kindergarten: New data on when to start school

Tim Johnson | posted Friday, Mar 17th, 2017

Many parents of kids with late birthdays consider redshirting Kindergarten—and now, the nation’s largest school board is saying that they just may be right to do so. The concept of redshirting is this: if your child has a late-month birthday, they may be better off starting school an entire year late, thus making them one of the oldest kids in the class, versus the youngest, and therefore more ready to enter Kindergarten. (The term “redshirting” is borrowed from U.S. college sports, for a student-athlete who foregoes her first year on the field or court in lieu of an extra season of eligibility later on, when she’s older and stronger and more skilled.)

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has just released new data showing the distinct advantages of redshirting kindergarten for kids with birthdays in the last three months of the year, noting that these children experience troubles with the emotional strength and maturity necessary for success at school at more than twice the rate of kids born in the first three months of the year. The data also show lopsided numbers on elements such as language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge, and physical health and well being—with early-month children always performing much better than their younger peers.

Dr. Charles Ungerleider adds that the TDSB findings are consistent with other studies. “The literature seems to suggest that it’s advantageous to hold your child back from entering school if they would be young in relation to their peers—and that’s particularly true for boys,” says the professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and former B.C. deputy minister of education. “I’d certainly advise parents to pay attention to the body of evidence.”

The TDSB data show that the gap remains relatively wide into Grade 3 and persists into Grade 6. In the United States, as many as nine percent of parents now redshirt their children, and in Alberta, where schedules and curriculum are more flexible, some school boards have begun pushing back overall enrolment age in order to respond to the trend.

For their part, the TDSB is reminding principals to tell parents whose kids have late birthdays that they’re free to enroll later—while Kindergarten is voluntary, Ontario’s Education Act states that if a child’s birthday falls after the first day of the school year, he can begin Grade 1 the following year.

Other studies have been far less conclusive on the long-term benefits of redshirting—and the TDSB’s own data show that the gap vanishes by high school. There are plenty of other factors for parents to weigh as well:

Too far ahead
And, while it may seem counterintuitive, some have suggested that older kids may actually be bored in a class of younger peers, and fail to develop proper study skills. In addition, many Canadian provinces employ a play-based approach to Kindergarten—making it easier for young ones to catch up.

Friends and social life
Dr. Ungerleider also encourages parents to consider the social impacts of holding their kids back. “Friendship patterns are important,” he says, noting that disrupting these (if a child has playmates before school but won’t be entering the class at the same time as them) can have a negative impact on them socially as well as academically, especially if they get the idea that they’re somehow lacking in areas that their friends are not. “That’s not a message you want to send.”

Cost
With daycare costs for preschoolers an average of $1,033 a month, many parents are willing to roll the dice that their younger kindergartener will keep up with peers in order to avoid paying for yet another year of full-time childcare.

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