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There was a New York Times article a few weekends back about redshirting Kindergarteners

For those of you who might not have heard the term before, redshirting comes from college athletics.  Athletes can extend their eligibility by not playing their freshman year.  Since college athletes can compete for four seasons, by redshirting their freshman year they can still play for four years spending five years total at the school.  Some athletes will be redshirted to gain size and strength while others will do it because the current team is so strong they would have sat on the bench all season anyway.

Redshirting is also used to describe children whose parents delayed their start in Kindergarten.  Parents may choose to do this for a variety of reasons.  Their child’s birthday is close to the cut-off date and they don’t want their child to be the youngest in the class.  Their child is not socially ready for school. Their child is not academically ready for school. Some parents make the decision to wait because they themselves were late bloomers in middle school and want to avoid that same scenario for their own children.

States and school districts have specific cut-off dates for the start of Kindergarten.  The majority of states require that students are 5 or turn 5 within the first month of Kindergarten. For example, in quite a number of states students have to be 5 by September 1st in order to be enrolled in Kindergarten. If school begins around Labor Day then almost all children are 5 by the time school starts.

There are a few hold-out states, like Connecticut, which allow students to turn 5 up through December 31st – which means that some students are only 4 during one-third of the school year. Apparently the State Board of Education in Connecticut has been trying to change the date, but I could not find an article confirming this.

Here in Colorado our cut-off date is October 1st.  Considering school begins in mid-August I actually think the cut-off date is too late.  I didn’t always feel that way.

My older son’s birthday is in November.  He was an extremely social and verbal toddler. The fall he was turning 3 I was extremely frustrated because I couldn’t enroll him in a preschool program. I thought he was ready and I was more than ready for him to be in a preschool program.  We eventually were able to find a program for 2 1/2 year olds and it was fine.

As I look back, I can’t believe I wanted to push him ahead.  One of the older boys in his class (but not the oldest), he has a maturity about him that is just right. Academically he does well and he has a good, solid group of friends. I honestly can’t imagine him as a 7th grader right now.  He is just where he should be.

In my own Kindergarten class, during the first few days of school I can always tell who are my youngest students without looking at birth dates. Always. No matter what the cut-off date is, there will always be children who are the youngest in the class. It’s a fact of life.

My initial reaction when I began reading the New York Times article was defensive.  I am an experienced teacher and the more I read about the developmental nature of acquiring literacy the more I feel that waiting is always best. I couldn’t remember a parent who regretted redshirting their child. But I have watched children struggle because they weren’t ready for Kindergarten and would have benefited from waiting.

As I read and reread the article I began to understand and even agree with the scientists. Children who are young but academically ready often benefit from being with older children. I thought of some of my youngest students over the past few years who did well academically.  I couldn’t imagine having them wait a year for school. Plus, these children showed so much growth socially and emotionally over the year that being in school truly was the best option.

And then the memory hit me like a ton of bricks.  A few years ago my younger son was in preschool with another boy who was already five.  His mom wanted him to be the oldest rather than youngest. However, the child was exceptionally bright.  When he went to Kindergarten he was so far ahead of the rest of his class that he spent most of the day in first grade for instruction.  At the end of the school year it was decided to skip him to second grade.  Technically, he was old enough to be in second grade since his birthday was before the cut-off date. Here was the perfect example of how redshirting can be detrimental to children.  Fortunately the school and the parents worked together and the child was moved to the appropriate grade level.

The key part to that story was that the child was exceptionally bright. And rereading the article I saw that was the crux of their argument.  Holding children back who are academically ready can have negative effects.

So what about the children who are not academically ready?  I had to carefully reread the article to find the answer. There was one sentence about how delaying entry to Kindergarten can be beneficial for children who are academically behind. This has always been my opinion as well. A year of preschool would be much better for a child who is not ready for the challenges of learning to read and write.

The article goes on to explain that disadvantaged youth are better off in school than not. I wholeheartedly agree with this. If a child is not ready for Kindergarten and the parents cannot afford a preschool program, it is much better for the child to be in school.

So when people ask me my opinion on redshirting Kindergarteners, I will say it depends on the child.

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Inspiration

“It’s just Kindergarten don’t they just play?”

Ummmmmmmm. “NO.”

When I explained what my students learn in preparation for first grade – reading, writing, math, geography, history, science and so much more – I heard, “Oh well I know you went to college and all.”

Ummmmmmmm. “Yes. As a matter of fact I have my Masters in Literacy Instruction.”

And then one more slipped out, “Oh well I know you went to college.”

Ummmmmmmm. Yes. Yes I did. And actually I majored in mathematics. My first career was in actuarial science.”

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I’m pretty used to this by now, but I can’t help but find it insulting. My parents thought I was wasting my private school education by becoming a teacher and leaving the actuarial profession.  And when I’m in social situations, the standard response when I tell people I teach Kindergarten is, “Oh. How cute.”

Yes, my students are quite adorable. But teaching children how to read and write is actually quite complicated.  Neurologically speaking, the fact that humans are capable of reading and writing is miraculous (I just watched a 97 minute lecture by an NIH neuroscientist – yes I am a geek).

Sure I spend a portion of my day singing with my students, reading stories, and having them draw and color. If you ask me, however, I always have an underlying educational reason for the activity. I teach with purpose and meaning. It takes a great deal of creative energy and fundamental understanding of how children learn to plan these activities. All these activities take children well down the road to literacy. It’s not uncommon for a quite a number of our Kinders to end the year exceeding our expectations – reading at a mid-first grade level or higher  and writing 3-4 sentences independently.

I know someone else wrote about professional respect recently, but I couldn’t find the post. So I give credit to that author for this next part:

Please do me a favor as this new school year begins, stop and chat with your child’s teacher. Get to know them as a person. Ask them what their favorite book is. More importantly, ask them why they became a teacher. My guess is their eyes will light up as they remember what led them to become educators – a love for a specific subject, a love of working with kids, an inspiring teacher from their past.

Then think about the teachers who inspired you to become what you are today.

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Reading picture books every day is a great perk of my job as a Kindergarten teacher. OK to be honest, I would probably read picture books even if I wasn’t teaching.

The illustrations in picture books can be beautiful, poignant, or perfect in their simplicity. The stories can make me laugh. They can make me cry. Very often I find meaningful life lessons in picture books.

Yesterday I read Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Erick Litwin and James Dean to my class. This was a new book for me – recommended by another teacher friend.  Once we were done reading it, I couldn’t believe I had never met Pete before!

You see, Pete the Cat loves his white shoes so much that he sings about them – I love my white shoes. I love my white shoes. I love my white shoes. But as he is walking around he steps into different strawberries, blueberries, and mud turning his shoes different colors. Does Pete get upset? Does Pete cry? No! Not even close. Pete’s a cool cat and when his shoes turn a different color he loves them just as much as before. His responses include awesome, everything is cool, and groovy.  He sings about how much he loves his new [insert color] shoes.

The moral of Pete’s story is: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song….because it’s all good.

We had a phenomenal time singing along and saying cool things with Pete – because it’s all good!

I think we  should all approach with the ease and equanimity of Pete the Cat. That’s my life lesson for today!

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For a little fun click on the TV to watch a video of the author performing a live reading of his awesome book!

Eric Litwin reading Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

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