Hindsight (and red shirts) - FamilyEducation

Hindsight (and red shirts)

May 08,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

About once a month or so I meet for coffee with a group of women from a parenting group. My husband and I are both closely involved with this group, but the coffee mornings seem to belong to the moms. These mornings are not regularly scheduled events, but about once a month someone will send an email out to the group suggesting a meeting at one of the many coffee shops in this area. Sometimes the invite has a desperate tone to it and comes out of a feeling of being overwhelmed and overburdened, and sometimes it just comes out of a truly social need to just get together for an hour or two with other moms who share similar parenting challenges and experiences.

At our last coffee meeting earlier this week, where we rehashed some of the same old parenting issues we deal with in the light of new ones, we talked about the practice of "red-shirting" rising kindergarteners. This practice, for those without school-age kids, describes holding back your five-year-old for one year and having him or her enter kindergarten a year later, at age six, or about-to-turn seven, as in some cases. I have mixed feelings about this practice in general, as do many, because I think it has created a disparity in the elementary school classrooms that's becoming increasingly difficult to overcome. Others argue that red-shirting really doesn't provide the kids with any long-term advantages and that, by third grade, most kids are on a level playing field regardless of whether they were held back that year or not. Personally speaking, however, I do sometimes wonder if we should have held our son back one year (yes, I know it sounds like I'm acting on a double-standard, here, but there's a difference in red-shirting kids who have real academic and social needs that can be addresssed with extra time before kindergarten, and red-shirting a child just because he or she is "small" or shy, or because the parents hope that down the road he or she will be the best athlete in the class).

By some standards, L. seemed the perfect candidate for red-shirting. He has a late summer birthday and wasn't exactly taking off socially at that point. But, intellectually and academically, he seemed perfectly ready for the challenges of kindergarten. He seemed bored with preschool, and inattentive when at school, and the thought of having him bored and inattentive and unchallenged for one more year just didn't seem right. Of course, if we had known then what we know now, then we would have realized that while L. was/is so very advanced academically on such a different level from his peers, he really could have used another year to help bolster the basic academic and social skills he still struggles with so very much. This is why early interventions are so very important--they provide you with knowledge you can use during the tricky process of making decisions about your child's education. Perhaps if we'd had another year at preschool, we might have "seen" what we started to see when he started kindergarten, and addressed those issues sooner, rather than later; perhaps his diagnosis would have come earlier, and we could have done more to ease the transition into school.

Hindsight is, of course, always clear and uncomplicated. Someone once told me years ago, when L. was in his last year of preschool, that you never would regret delaying your child's entry into kindergarten (retaining a child in a grade is a different matter), but that there would be lots of room for regrets if you made the other choice; if you sent a child who just wasn't ready, academically and socially. Maybe she was right, maybe not. It's somewhat futile to take the clarity hindsight affords you and go back and revisit parenting choices you made or didn't make. L. has a wonderful group of kids he's been with since kindergarten and he's been lucky to have amazing teachers along the way. We can never predict how things might have turned out for him at school if we'd waited a year before sending him to kindergarten. As parents we can only do the best we can with what we know at the time, and look to the future, not to the past.