Recently the New York Times published an article discussing “redshirting,” the practice of holding a child out for an extra year prior to entering kindergarten. Here’s one parent’s experience with the concept…
I spent this spring and summer uncomfortably sitting with my decision to hold my five year old boy back from Kindergarten until next fall. If his birthday were August I would have felt more sure-footed in this decision, but his birthday is the end of May. This means he has been five for a couple months already, and this also means he will be seven the last week of Kindergarten.
As the school year ended this past spring I began to feel that he might not be ready. When I visited his pre-K class he was one of a few children who were not interested in engaging with the group, and also one of two of the youngest. Bright, quiet, and a little dreamy, he struggles with following directions and often will simply walk off to play at his own pace. He is drawn to younger children just as his is peers.
At his end of the year Pre-K Caterpillar Graduation Potluck (rule: everything requires a Graduation Potluck), he walked across the stage with much pomp in his new Spiderman pajamas to receive his gift — we are currently celebrating at least two years of his wearing pajamas almost every day.
After his beloved teacher hugged him, he was momentarily confused about where to sit. I heard an aggressive older boy in his class yell “Not THERE! You’re NOT supposed to go there! Over HERE! NOW!” and my son hurriedly shuffled over with his bag and squeezed himself onto the stair riser to sit where he was told. I thought to myself, “If he goes into Kindergarten this year there will be a boy like that in every grade, in every class, for him to contend with, and he’ll be amongst the youngest.”
My older girl attends the school into which my son will enter. It is an inner city South Seattle public school which I can proudly say is in the middle of the most diverse zip code in the United States. Our school is an “alternative” school, although the District has most recently taken to calling it “K-8”. I’m not entirely sure what this means in the language of changing dictated monikers from the organizational upland, but what I can say is: The school is non-traditional and there is a strong component of parental influence to the school. Also, informally, I’m going to wing it and say we likely amongst the highest percentages of artists, published authors, and families of mixed ethnicity and GLBT parents of any other public school in the city. I love our school and I am proud to be a part of it.
My school-aged girl writes poetry, makes amazing art, sings, and puts her hands in the dirt to garden every single week at school. These things are precious and dying on the vine in public schools today. At our school we don’t shy away from social justice and activism and in fact, we embrace it as a community.
Some of the criticism I have read about redshirting involves a perception that parents holding children back are attempting a “leg up” toward academic and standardized testing success. I guess the logic here would be: hold your kid back and you’ll have the biggest, smartest, most competitive mutha-flipping kid around and therefore be able to smash the 2nd grade competition where they stand.
Honestly, this part really hadn’t occurred to me.
What has occurred to me is this: by the time my daughter was in first grade, even at a West Coast non-traditional school where she gardens each week and writes poetry daily, the testing pressure was in full force. She came home crying this past year in third grade because of stress over standardized tests. As I looked at her spring report card even I noted, “Hmm…sixth percentile drop for her in 2009/2010? What happened?” I have to remind myself to snap the hell out of it.
Grade school is a different place than it was in the 1970s when I showed up in my Toughskins with my metal lunchbox. Even with taking measures to shelter and protect my kids from the ballooning academic pressure, the intensity around testing and competition enters the grade school experience like a toxin in the atmosphere. Standardized testing cuts a wide swath through all aspects of our public educational system today and in its wake lie the victims: art programs, music enrichment, and other “extra” tidbits like fostering creativity and critical thinking.
So, earlier this week I formally notified the district that my son will not be attending school when it starts in September. I am going to give my son another year to be five and quirky and free of public school pressure.
I am giving him a year to wear his bunny mask around if he wants.
I’m giving him one more year to go to school in Spiderman pajamas all day or walk around the house naked in the afternoon (not that this isn’t OK at our house anytime).
My “leg up” for him into the competitive world of today’s grade school is: I love you and I am giving you one more year to just simply play.