Redshirting, a term most often associated with giving college athletes an extra year of eligibility, has replaced the phrase held back when it comes to describing the process of having children repeat their first year of school. I am fine with that, as I’ve long despised the stigma attached to the expression “held back.” My husband and I never felt we were holding our children back from anything; quite the opposite, in fact. We felt we were giving our kids, one who was born in late spring and the other a few weeks before the school year begins, the gift of time.
For us, the decision to have our children spend two years in the 5-6 year-old class was a no-brainer. Did you notice that I wrote 5-6 year-old class, and not kindergarten? It is much easier to redshirt your child when the system to do so is already in place. At the time of my daughter’s enrollment, there were several kids, all born between June and August, who entered her school with the same plan in mind. This made the process easier, as the kids didn’t feel as if they were being singled out. And because the school was private, the curriculum was designed to accommodate the skill set of both older and younger children.
I graduated from high school a few weeks prior to my 17th birthday. I realize now just how very young that was. It wasn’t my intention to graduate at the age of 16. My birthday is in June and I was always on the younger side, but for most of my childhood I attended Montessori where the practice is to mix children of different ages, so age was never really an issue. That was until it was time for me to exit Montessori. The plan was that I would attend the 8th grade at a more traditional school, but I was wait-listed; so I skipped the 8th grade entirely and began high school at the age of 13.
At the time, I would have told you that I was perfectly comfortable with being the youngest in my grade. I could keep up academically–and socially–I would be just fine.
This is what I would say about it now:
~ I hated that I wasn’t able to drive until my junior year and was beyond embarrassed that I had to bum rides from my friends, most of whom could drive a full year before me. As a parent, I am thrilled that my daughter drove before the majority of her peers. I prefer my children being in the driver’s seat.
~Older kids are often put in the leadership position, by both peers and teachers. I’ve never been one to follow, just not who I am, but… as I look back now, I can see that being younger did make me more self-conscious and less likely to take charge. My kids are both leaders, they are very confident, and again, I think that has a lot to do with who they are, but I also believe that being older and having had time to mature, helped.
~I didn’t want anything I said or did (or didn’t say, or didn’t do) attributed to the fact that I was younger. I never wanted to be thought of as the “baby.” So, I probably did some things sooner than I would have had I been surrounded by people who were my age. Nothing horrible, I’ve always been a rule follower, but I did sneak into R rated movies when everyone else was old enough to see them and I wasn’t. And I took a joy ride with someone, who while older than me, was still not old enough to be legally licensed to drive. I remember not wanting to get in the car with her, but doing so anyway because I wanted to fit in. I did other things too, but I won’t go into the details here. I don’t see this type of behavior in either of my kids. Again, I think being older means you tend to lead, not follow.
~And while I had good grades, I think maybe, attending the 8th grade would have helped. Pretty sure my lack of algebraic ability can be traced back to missing a full year of math. My kids, on the other hand, both had an extra year to get the fundamentals down–that’s never a bad thing.
If you are facing the decision of whether or not to redshirt your child, I highly recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s novel Outliers. Gladwell devotes an entire chapter to how being older benefits male hockey players in Canada. You might not be Canadian, or plan on your son playing hockey, but if you have a child with a summer birthday, I’d say this is required reading.
My daughter will be heading to college soon and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that she will be 19 when she gets there. Recent studies of the brain have shown that the frontal lobe, the area that is responsible for reasoning, is not fully formed until the age of 21–why not give kids a little more time to grow into their brains?
What are your thoughts on redshirting?