When my brother and I were kids, I was always the tallest in the class, while he was always the smallest. Even though we were only 14 months apart, and one year apart in school, we seemed years apart: I was larger than life, while he was small and slight, shy, more reserved. We were both great athletes though, which pleased my dad who had played basketball at USC and played tennis daily. I ultimately gave up on sports, but my brother still loved to play. Unfortunately though, by the time he got to middle school, he was still small, and didn’t make any of our (highly-competitive) school’s sports teams. It was a real blow to his self-esteem, especially since he was a skilled basketball player.
I remember, very clearly, my parents both lamenting that they hadn’t started him in kindergarten a year later, just to give him that edge. He was among the youngest in his class. They felt that, had they redshirted him, making him the oldest, he may have been more confident, less shy, more of a go-getter. Had being among the smallest and the youngest permanently trashed his self-esteem?
So when I found out that the cut-off birthday for public school in my area would be September 1st, I worried about what that might mean for my twin boys, who have a mid-summer birthday. They’re already smaller than average and now they would be among the youngest, like my brother was. Would I be condemning them to the same fate? Hell no, not a chance. So, I decided that my kids were going to have to be redshirted. End of story.
But, that was a couple of years ago. Now they’ve been in preschool for a couple of years, a program they started when they were just 2-years-old. If I redshirt them, they’ll be in preschool for another two years. Two more years! Four years of preschool! That seems kind of excessive, no?
So, despite what was my firm belief in redshirting, I talked to their school about it. I talked to their teachers, the ones who engage with my children every day, and who know what kids need to be kindergarten-ready. Although my boys are still young, they very firmly told me that I should start my boys when they are 5-years-old, not wait a whole year until they’re 6. The director, who actually believes that some boys may need an extra year to be ready, felt that my children showed an interest in learning and emotional maturity that indicated they would be ready for kindergarten by next year. It doesn’t mean they’re smarter or more advanced, they’re just ready to sit and listen and learn. It’s that simple. And she explained, if you start kids too late, they can get bored and restless because they’re not challenged, acting out because their little minds aren’t engaged.
Although I trust this woman implicitly, I decided to do my own research. Well, she’s right. According to studies, it seems that while redshirting benefits kids athletically, making them more likely to play varsity sports, it doesn’t actually help them academically. In fact, it might even hinder them in the long run. Experts point to the same concerns our school director did: boredom, as well as a sense that they’re “not smart enough” to start school with their peers. While that extra year might make kindergarten easier for some, it doesn’t bode as well for their long-term education.
Okay, so then I finally went to the ultimate source for information on whether or not to redshirt my children: my brother. Now, 6’2″ and handsome, with charm, confidence, and brains, as well as two amazing kids of his own, he turned out just fine, thanks. His advice: Start them at 5-years-old, with their friends, let them be the youngest. Sure, my parents might have been bummed that he didn’t play varsity sports, and he might have been bummed at the time, but he believes it was an invaluable experience for him academically. He said he tried harder, felt more of a sense of accomplishment. He said he felt smarter, knowing he was keeping up with kids who were almost a year older than him. In his experience, being the youngest and the smallest taught him perseverance, gave him a work ethic, and made him feel confident. Maybe it wasn’t confidence in his skills on the court, but it was confidence in his own brains and intellect and ability to get things done.
So, this fall, I need to start looking at the public schools and charter schools in my area. Yes, when they start school, they’ll be among the youngest, and definitely among the smallest, but I think that they will be better off for it in the end. Besides, I’ve seen them try to shoot Little Tykes hoops–it’s not like I’m raising NBA stars.