'Academic redshirt' debate has no right, wrong answers - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

'Academic redshirt' debate has no right, wrong answers

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As the school year begins, some parents are making a big decision about their kindergarten-aged children. (Source: MGN) As the school year begins, some parents are making a big decision about their kindergarten-aged children. (Source: MGN)
Marie Masterson holds a Ph.D. in early childhood development. (Source: Marie Masterson) Marie Masterson holds a Ph.D. in early childhood development. (Source: Marie Masterson)
Studies show that the practice of "academic redshirting" does not have lasting impact on the academic or social development of young students. (Source: Marie Masterson) Studies show that the practice of "academic redshirting" does not have lasting impact on the academic or social development of young students. (Source: Marie Masterson)

(RNN) - Each school year, a small percentage of parents choose to keep kindergarten-age children out of school for an extra year in hopes of giving them an edge.

The practice is called "academic redshirting," a term borrowed from college sports for when student-athletes sit out a year to hone their skills and improve their chances for playing time.

Statistics show the practice is unlikely to improve children's academic performance or give them a social or physical edge for very long.

But that doesn't mean it might not be the right thing for your kid.

Lee Jackson, an eighth-grade teacher in Anniston, AL, repeated a year of kindergarten when she was a child.

"It worked out wonderfully," she said. "I was a June birthday, so I was either really young for my class or really old for my class," she said.

"I'm small, physically. My first year, my mom said she looked out over the playground and some of the girls would be carrying me around the playground. She thought it could lead to security and self-assurance problems, especially for a girl."

Jackson said she did fine academically but lacked maturity. She was an ideal candidate for repeating kindergarten, and she believes it made her a happier, more productive student.

"Some kids just aren't as mature," she said. "It affects them as they get older - their grades, friends and communications skills. If a child seems like one of those who'd be better off held back a year, they should be, and I'd do it with my own child in a heartbeat."

Making a choice for the well-being of the child is one thing. But super-competitive parents who think starting kindergarten late will help their kid get into Harvard or earn a college scholarship to play sports are almost certainly making a mistake.

An expert on early childhood development said some parents feel a sense of panic that their child is not ready for formal education, even if they're barely out of diapers.

"The world is growing more competitive," said Marie Masterson, an author and teacher at Dominican University in Chicago who holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education. "States have learning standards for 4- and 5-year-olds in science, reading, math and social studies, just like they do first grade."

Parents perceive an achievement gap, she said, and believe if their child is not reading by the age of 4 or 5, they're already in trouble.

Chances are they are not, Masterson said. Finland, whose students consistently outperform U.S. students on tests, has a more informal, enriched learning program for youngsters and doesn't stress reading until kids are about 10.

Parents who try to prepare their kids for school should do it the right way, Masterson said. Sitting them down and drilling them on word and number skills isn't the way to go.

"It's more important for parents to read, talk and play with their children," she said.

Once the kids do start kindergarten, the structure and methods used there are significant, too.

"Enriched play and enriched learning work the best for young students," she said.

The parents who choose to hold their kids back are usually affluent and have a stay-at-home mom or dad. Those parents will also probably have the finances to make choices about what kind of school and should couple that choice with any decision to "redshirt."

"None of that matters if the child doesn't have access to high quality, developmentally appropriate education," she said.

Parents should visit the schools before their kids enroll and make sure it's the right environment.

 "Choose a high-quality kindergarten where kids aren't made to sit still, or made to write before they are ready," she said. "In highly structured environments that are teacher-directed, children tend not to develop as well."

While being younger than all her classmates wasn't the best environment for Jackson, there are some children who are much younger than their classmates will benefit from being around the older kids.

Masterson said children develop so quickly at that age that gaps in reading and math are usually made up in a matter of a few years at the most – social development happens more quickly than that.

Every child is different, and parents should make decisions based on the welfare of their child, Masterson said.

It's also important to remember that "tiger moms" and "helicopter parents" don't tend to produce well-adjusted, happy kids.

"Parents shouldn't fear that if we don't give our children every opportunity in life, they won't make it," Masterson said. "We do need to be responsible for developing our children's talents, but not to be paranoid about it. There are plenty of opportunities that do come from life in regular, old school.

"Parents can't control everything, and that's really not in the child's best interest," she said. "Your parents might want you to be an athlete, and you might want to play the violin. It's important for parents to be sensitive to their child's responses."

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