A year ago we moved back into the Baton Rouge city limits so that our daughter, who will be five in July, could go to magnet school for kindergarten. My husband and I both grew up in towns where mostly everyone went to public school, and private school isn’t something we had ever seriously considered. I also hadn’t spent a lot of time considering how my girl would barely be five when she started kindergarten.
But for the last several months, I have had a little pit in my stomach about whether we should wait an extra year. I have long been skeptical of how much more stressful elementary school has become in recent years. Higher expectations and fewer minutes of recess don’t fall into what I consider the ‘developmentally appropriate’ category. But I’d also never heard of Pre-K 5, so we sent in her magnet application and crossed our fingers. We were thrilled to find out that she got into our first choice school!
Then came the bump in the road. After her assessment, the administrator from the school let us know that she wasn’t sure whether our girl had passed the reading portion. If not, she wouldn’t be able to register and would have to wait another year or enroll somewhere else for kindergarten then apply for the lottery again next year. Hold up! You can fail a kindergarten assessment?!?!?! Apparently Mommy didn’t do so hot on the reading portion either. And to make matters worse, I had to wait 24 hours to find out the results. Naturally, I went into panic mode. What exactly would we do if she didn’t pass? A few bewildered text messages later, a friend asked if I had ever heard of Transitional Kindergarten (TK). Ummm, no. She told me about one in Baton Rouge, and I was amazed. It was the perfect in-between for kids like mine who may not be quite ready for kindergarten! I made an appointment to tour as soon as possible as a back up plan (it was just as awesome in person, by the way).
I answered the phone the next day prepared for the worst. “Mrs. Suitt? This is Ms. Weaver. Your daughter passed the test. But she did get the lowest possibly passing score for reading.” Answer in my head: “THAT’S BECAUSE SHE’S FOUR!” Answer out loud: “Ok thanks!”
I was relieved, but the seeds of doubt had been sown. Will she be ready for kindergarten? Or should we wait another year? I have an October birthday, and was always one of the oldest in my class. I had no perspective. I did what any normal parent would do. I called my mom, emailed my daughter’s preschool, and posted on Facebook for advice. And there was no shortage of advice. It was fascinating to hear the experiences of friends from so many perspectives. I got replies from teacher friends, friends with elementary-aged kids, friends who were summer babies themselves (they all claimed they turned out alright, but I remain skeptical about a few of them), and I even chatted with a few parents of summer babies whose children are now adults.
Then there was the research. The studies on academic redshirting looked at different things and came to different conclusions. One found that starting kids early helped them to push themselves harder to achieve in school. Another said that by 10th grade, kids did worse on tests and were more likely to drop out of school and not attend college. Malcolm Gladwell famously asserted that redshirted kids are higher achievers later in life. A few sources noted anecdotally that the age differences of younger kids who aren’t redshirted become more apparent in the middle school year. None of this was reassuring enough to me.
Academic redshirting is not without critics (is anything these days?). Many assume that parents make the choice to hold their kids back to give them an academic or athletic advantage. While I’m sure this is true for some, it would not be the case for us. I only wanted to put her in a position that would best set her up to love learning and not come home stressed or crying in elementary school. I also recognized that it was privilege that allowed me the opportunity to even consider redshirting. It came as no surprise that the practice was pretty exclusively done by more affluent families. That extra year of childcare is not cheap and the hours are not easy to accommodate.
So what did we decide? To be honest, we haven’t made a final choice. I’m notoriously bad at decision-making, and both options have so many pros and cons. I keep thinking there will be a sign from the Heavens (it’s still not too late God!). One thing is for sure, whichever route we go, we’ll support her 100% on the journey!