Redshirting children: the first line in the defense of heterosexuality

Here’s a little something to make you barf first thing in the morning like you’re six weeks pregnant.  (Warningif you are pregnant, proceed with caution!)  In a story about “redshirting” children–mostly boys–and starting them in Kindergarten at age 6, Kristina Dell reveals this little nugget about why holding children back from starting school is an attractive idea to many parents, especially competitive wealthy parents:

But often it’s the parents, not the teachers, who insist on redshirting their sons. Besides academics, many see multiple bonuses for their boys to be bigger. “A majority of boys’ parents that I have spoken to feel like the social life of a boy has a lot to do with sports,”says Debbie Moussazadeh, a mother whose daughters are in kindergarten and third grade at Horace Mann School, a private school in the Bronx. “A kid who is older for that year may have a bit of an advantage on the field.” Parents who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers are well aware of the Canadian hockey study he cites, which found that the number of players who made it to professional hockey leagues was disproportionately composed of people who were the oldest in their grade. “I had parents say to me, ‘Don’t you want Holden to get a sports scholarship?'” recounts [parent Holly] Korbey. “But I would say, ‘He is four years old and I don’t even know what he’s good at.'” What’s more, parents see it as a good thing socially if their boys have an extra year to grow, so they won’t be shorter than the girls in their class down the road. “People were seriously concerned that Holden would drive later than everyone else and wouldn’t get to go on dates,” says Korbey.

But the incentives to push back boys often work in the opposite direction for girls. Parents don’t necessarily want their girls to undergo body changes while their classmates are still playing with American Girl Dolls. “Many parents don’t want their girls to be the tallest and hit puberty first,”says Aimee Altschul, a doctor in Fairfield, Connecticut who has two daughters (whom she did not hold back) in pre-kindergarten and first grade.

Apparently, everyone knows that boys have to be taller, stronger, and better at sports than girls, and everyone knows that girls who grow boobies or use deodorant in third grade are disgusting pigs!  Otherwise, how will we reproduce heterosexuality, especially now that women earn more college degrees than men?  We can’t have a World Turned Upside Down with tall, academically successful, basketball-playing girls dating shorter boys!  If the boys are shorter, the girls might not understand who they’re supposed to date turn out lesbian or something!  Horrors!

(Does anyone else find this interest in children’s bodies and development creepy, vicarious, and more than a little prurient?)

I have noticed that children are a lot older when starting school than they were back in 1973 when I marched off to Kindergarten immediately after celebrating my fifth birthday.  Many teachers and school districts encourage this I think because of the pressure of assessment tests–having 9-year old third graders probably boosts their scores above what a bunch of barely-eights might achieve.  Elementary school seems a lot more serious than it used to back in the 1970s, when Kindergarten was half a day and more about literacy readiness than literacy.  There’s even homework in Kindergarten, when I can’t remember any homework until fifth grade.  So I can understand why schools want older, more mature students in their classrooms.  (But as this story suggests, what happens when it becomes the norm to start school at 6?  Will 7 be the new Kindergarten-ready age?  How about ten?

Childhood in America is rapidly coming to resemble womanhood in America:  fraught with impossible contradiction.  We want children to be innocent, yet we sexualize them at ever-younger ages with the toys, clothing, and media we produce for them.  We want them to Achieve Great Things, but we want to delay the start of their school years.  We want them to dominate the playing field, yet we devise more electronic games that encourage physical inactivity.  Can we just let children be children and stop programming their brilliant careers and sex lives for them?  At least until they’re fourteen year-old sixth-graders?

0 thoughts on “Redshirting children: the first line in the defense of heterosexuality

  1. That’s gross indeed, H. Seriously? A sports scholarship? WTF? I think there can also be a reification of the idea of boys as “less mature” than girls as a reason to red-shirt them. Though I have to say, as my own worthless data point, I’ve read many mothers agonizing over whether or not to red-shirt on the interwebs, and all of their reasons seemed sensible (or at least worth thinking about – unlike the examples cited in the article above). Which of course doesn’t mean there might not be less-sensible reasons lurking below the surface. . . I wonder if the difference in the kindergarten ages (5 vs 6) has something to do with what’s expected of kindergarten children these days – sit still! learn your standardized testing formula! no recess! Were children of our generation given more latitude to move around? Or shorter days? (Is kindergarten still half day?) The sad thing is that the Powerful Impulse to Force Achievement is driving the whole school delay, because parents seem to fear that their child will be the one who will Fall Behind, especially the boys, because the boooyyyyyssss! they are failing!!!


  2. Around here, Kindergarten is a mixed bag: some half-day, some full day. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but for children from families who don’t have an adult available at home for half of each working day, I can only imagine what a pain in the a$$ half-day K is.

    I’m deeply suspicious of those “legitimate” reasons for redshirting boys, which just happen to have the advantage of making their kid bigger and stronger than his classmates. Aren’t any of these people concerned about the dangers of a bored preteen or teenager? That seems to be a pretty big risk especially among families who are very achievement oriented.


  3. Yes, half-day kindergarten is a major PITA$$ for working parents. On the other hand, I think it’s about right for your average kindergarten student (my kid goes until about 1:30, which is a decent compromise). I’m looking forward to next year, when school lets out at 3:00, which might make it possible to cobble together short and long working days and pay less for after school care.

    Here in California, until recently, the kindergarten cut off was around the first of December–as in, turn five by. Which means that in my kid’s K-1 classroom, there are Kinder students who are barely five, kinder students who turned six in the fall (held back a year) or in December (not held back), first grade students who are the same age as the older kindergarten students….

    Recess etc. varies by school district, I think. I’m happy with the amount of recess time we have; the kids also get PE a couple of times a week. And the little public alternative program within the elementary school also offers a healthy group snack mid-morning (provided by parents, but still).

    I never gave much thought to red-shirting, mostly because we were really over the high cost of daycare and preschool. But in any case, my kid’s birthday is mid-December, so it’s a moot point. She’ll be the tall, academically successful basketball player, perhaps. 😉


  4. It sounds like kidhood is being hit by the perfect storm of stakeholder-group agita and agenda. Every constituency has a different reason, but I just moved some of my TIAA-Cref money into cotton and red die futures. Where to start? For one thing, in the “real” world of red-shirting (college athletics) you still have to be in school, and even on the practice field, you just can’t suit up on Saturdays. Even if we buy the “scholarship” logic, if the kid gets one eighteen years out and proves draftable the ‘rents could save a hundred thousand or so on tuition but the linebacker’s actual pro career gets shortened by a year and that could be millions foregone. There goes the high-end nursing home.

    I was on the calendar bubble for K-admission at five, made the cut, screwed up in jr. high school, had to repeat ninth grade at a much better school, worked out fine. The girls still generally beat up or outmaneuvered the boys at most of the points noted in the literature. And Debbie R– ran me off the court in the summer rec program when I came back after freshman year in college. Sometimes you just hafta go with the flow.


  5. I started kindergarten early and was always one of the youngest in my grade. From what I hear, someone with a September birthday like me would no longer be allowed to start a year early the way I was, so a kid with my birthday now would wait a year to start and would be on the older side for his/her grade. I think that they’re much more strict about when kids can start school now.

    The idea of holding a boy back so that they will be relatively old and have a competitive advantage in athletics over their peers doesn’t really surprise me. On the other hand, I’m sure some parents have legitimate concerns about whether their boys are mature enough. My own parents have on several occasions told me that they wished they had not started me early, because in hindsight they felt that I wasn’t ready (which from what I can remember is probably true).


  6. This is yet another development that will serve to further reinforce class distinctions in American society. The children of the top 5% elite are being educationally optimized for their lives as plutocrats or the managerial/professional class that serve them and live luxuriously on their table scraps, while the children of everyone else are warehoused in shitteholes that–at best–prepare them for lives of crappy menial corporate labor and–at worst–prepare them for lives of poverty, crime, and prison.


  7. In my fourth grade class, we taunted a boy who was held back until he cried at least once a week. I hated that boy and his parents. I don’t think the teacher liked him much either. He was an arrogant little jerk and used words that a lot of us didn’t know the meaning of. It didn’t start out like a conspiracy. At first, we were all living in our world of admiring the youngest student in class because he had tested well enough to skip a grade. That was our gauge of worthiness, —if one could skip a grade or not. When the older “held back” boy tried to change the dynamics and act as if he was superior to us all, we ganged up on him and reminded him that he was a big stupid failure. He was not with us in fifth grade. I suspect his parents found another school that was more willing to stroke his ego.

    A friend of mine held her daughter back in first grade because the child made a C in Math. She was afraid the girl would never be able to catch up with her peers. She is 17 now and hates Math.


  8. Um, yeah. . . I definitely see this. Hell, I’m (unintentionally!) living it with my son.

    As Leslie above points out, had we stayed in California, my son, who was born in early September, could be in kindergarten this year. Here in Boise, however, the cut-off birth date for enrollment is September 1. So my son gets another year of preschool, which actually is fine with me, as since they’re giving homework in Kindergarten now, I don’t want to rush him there. Plus, preschool/daycare is all day, and Kindergarten is only a few hours, so preschool is more convenient for me. Even had we secured a waiver and enrolled my son in Kindergarten as a 5-year-old, he’d likely be the biggest kid in the class, so he’s going to tower over the Kindergartners next year as a 6-year-old.

    My former colleagues at UC Davis often waited until their boys were six to enroll them in Kindergarten, and they were motivated by a desire for greater intellectual maturity. Here in Boise, it’s more about sports and body size. A kindergarten teacher I know in California warned those of us with boys born in August and September not to enroll them as young 5-year-olds; she said that even in middle school, teachers can identify (through behavior problems, mostly) boys who were born in the late summer and early fall who started kindergarten at age 5–but the same apparently doesn’t hold true for girls who enroll as young 5 year-olds.


  9. Why would younger boys (for their grade level) have “behavior problems?” I don’t get that.

    Another consideration with all of this redshirting: Who wants a high-school Freshman–especially a male Freshman–to have a driver’s license? I sure as hell don’t!

    Dickens Reader: your story about the big boy makes me really sad for you and your classmates and for him. It wasn’t *his* fault he got held back, but it sounds like he absorbed ideas his parents had about his perceived superiority to the rest of you. If parents didn’t make such a big deal about size, don’t you think that the kids wouldn’t pick up on it as a reason to admire or to detest someone?


  10. Yes, it is an ugly and sad story. For hindsight narration, I try not to paint anyone in a better light than another, including myself. None of us was old enough to understand any of it, so I do believe it was his parents fault. I don’t believe he sprang out of the earth believing he was better than the rest of us in class. Yet, that is what his words and actions implied, thus, that is what our behavior inferred. When adults meddle, children pay.


  11. Right here is one reason (among many) why I do not speak to or have any relationship with my stepmother. She did this to the older of my two half-brothers when he started school. As you might imagine, he’s a super awesome basketball star now! And he’ll be one of the first of his friends to drive! Because those things really matter for a boy! (Seriously, when she told me that she was doing this and I questioned it, she said that “for boys it’s different” and that “it really matters to me that my children are popular.”)


  12. Everyone in my family except for me has one of those tricky fall birthdays. My husband’s birthday was the cut-off date, he ended up always being the oldest. My sister ended up skipping Kindergarten because by the time she was old enough, she had mastered the whole curriculum (not hard). When we moved, the cutoff moved and she was no longer the youngest in her class. There was a boy in my first grade class who repeated the grade, not because he was particularly challenged but because he and the school thought he needed more maturity (or something like that). I suspect he had ADHD, but that’s just because my mother is friends with his parents.

    I wonder why parents seem to have a rougher time letting go of their boys. There is the perception that classrooms are inappropriate for boys. Do older boys really have less behavior problems after spending another year home?

    My whole family is also short and I’m wondering how much taller all these boys will be. I better red shirt him TWO years.


  13. No, just drop out and homeschool him, wini. There’s lots of gender essentiallist bull$h!t curricula out there that will completely support your decision to keep your son out of the feminized, politically correct atmosphere of modern elementary school classrooms which punish boys for just being boys!


  14. My older son has a June birthday, and we had people telling us he should be held back a year so he wouldn’t be so young for his class (school cutoff here is Sept. 1). We thought that was ridiculous, he went ahead, and he’s been fine. And here’s the funny thing about those insane people who framed it to us as a sports question, which people did indeed do–his sport of choice is gymnastics, at which he excels, and it’s all about being light, lithe, and strong, not tall and bulky!

    My younger son has a Sept. 5 birthday so will be extremely old for his class if we still live here when he starts school. The funny thing there, he’s way more mature now at 3 than the older one was at the same age. So I totally expect he will be ready to start kindergarten a year before he’s allowed to do so, unless we can find a way around the rules (which we may, since he’ll likely go to private school if we’re still here in FCAT test world).


  15. Private schools permit some fiddling with start dates, but the public schools here (and elsewhere, from what I hear) permit no exceptions. There are good and bad things about both systems: on the one hand, you can have private school Kindergartens with still-4s, 5s, and fully 6-going-on-7 year-olds. That seems like a crazy age span to have in one room and teach one set of lessons to. OTOH, the ridigity of the public schools limits the age variations somewhat (although it doesn’t prevent parents from redshirting their kids, of course.)

    Whatever happened to the intellectual work that’s supposed to be at the center of school? Or do we now all view elementary school as just place where football, baseball, and basketball recruiters are trolling?


  16. I think the age thing was talked about in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. He actually did find the students who succeeded in sports were either those who were older or had the correct body type from an early age. I think parents have a tendency to overestimate their child’s success at things that are extremely selective as are sports, sports scholarships, or for that matter intellectual scholarships. My inlaws haven’t saved a dime for college because they are certain their kids will get scholarships. They are smart, but my college application experience not too long ago proved academic scholarships are incredibly difficult to get and that a 3.5 GPA is usually not enough these days.

    I started as one of the older students, progressed academically, skipped a grade and became one of the younger students. At that age it was tough and I got bullied a lot for being younger and smaller. Later it was semi-frustrating not to have my license, but I always felt the much older kids had it worse. At about middle school it becomes obvious that the boys who can grow beards were probably held back and I always felt it was more embarrassing to be older rather than younger. Plus thanks to a short college experience I started my first full time job at 20. I couldn’t go to happy hour for a while, but that meant I started my 401k at 20 and started saving at that age. It also left time for a switch to a second career and the ability to get my career and financial life off to a good start. Maybe parents should be thinking much further ahead!


  17. There are good and bad things about both systems: on the one hand, you can have private school Kindergartens with still-4s, 5s, and fully 6-going-on-7 year-olds. That seems like a crazy age span to have in one room and teach one set of lessons to.

    Actually, multi-age classrooms can work well, so long as the teacher is up for it. As I said, my daughter’s public school alternative program has that age span in the classroom. The idea is that the older kids can help the younger ones (for example, the first graders will read the “morning message” to the kindergarten kids), but that all the kids can work at their own level. The teacher has to develop lesson plans that have multiple levels of complexity, so that kids can be taught where they are, without having to have completely individualized lesson plans. If we stick with this place–three classroom, K-6–the current division is K-1, 1-3, and 4-6.

    As for behavior, eh–there are both boys and girls in that classroom with attention span issues. Some of it is temperament; some of it age.


  18. Having three boys, we went through the experience of kindergarten and early school three times. I find redshirting a misplaced and selfish approach. My kids are doing extremely well in their professional and personal lives without convoluted considerations on our part.

    These varied approaches to rig or cheat reality seem naive or stupid. The goal you as parent have to achieve is to enable your kid to be a happy person. Football scholarship, better math scores, enough height are all frosting on a non existing cake. (My wife is 3 inches taller the I am; it slightly bothers her only.)


  19. Leslie, that’s interesting. The 4s and 5s are probably spurred on to read by the older ones.

    FrauTech: I think all of that talk about sports scholarships is just a cover for the fact that some parents want their boys to be the biggest and the tallest and better at sports among their immediate peers. It’s about getting an edge locally. Either that, or they’re delusional if they think that they can know what their children’s interests or abilities at 16-18 will be when they’re 5 or 6 AND the approximate chances of translating those fantasized abilities into big buck$ $cholarships.

    I think you’re right that junior high is where it all falls to pieces. I remember that there was a kid who came to our seventh grade 7th period English class–and only to English class–and then blew our minds when he walked outside into the parking lot, got in a car and DROVE IT AWAY HIMSELF!!!

    That was impressive, but also sad, because we realized that he at 16 was in a class designed for 12-year olds. I don’t know if he passed or not–but you have to give the kid credit for showing up to that class knowing that he was so out of place and likely the object of curiosity to the rest of us.


  20. As someone with a December birthday, I was always the youngest in my class and I really hated it. In retrospect, I wish my parents had waited a year to send me and my twin sister to school. I think we would have enjoyed school more.


  21. Dangit! I should have strapped bricks to my girls’ heads to stunt their growth. They’re both taller than average and in their age-appropriate classes.

    That said, we kept youngest out of junior kindergarten and in her preschool an additional year. Given her autism, she was struggling with behaviour issues and age-appropriate milestones. Preschool was a much better place for her to master those than the school. Fortunately, junior kindergarten wasn’t mandatory so the choice was up to us. She started senior kindergarten with her peers and hasn’t looked back. But we’ll take at least an extra year in high school for her to continue to build those non-academic skills.


  22. With the sports scholarship talk, some of what’s going on is an interaction between beliefs that intelligence is innate (ie, either the kid is going to be good at school or not, nothing to be done by the parents) and that people who aren’t academically gifted have two career paths: sports and the 7-Eleven.


  23. sounds extremely sexist to me. Like parents are afraid to let their sons compete academically with girls. Boys apparently MUST be given some kind of inherent advantage or something.

    As I understand it, behavior and ability gender differences have such huge ranges within the group that the differences are negligible when comparing individuals, and any advantage the girls might have even out by puberty, so why the gender essential hubbub?

    Oh yeah, because boys must be given an advantage, so girls have a harder time gaining equality, in the classroom and the playground. I agree with all who say this practice is creepy.


  24. We are kind-of, sort-of red-shirting our son. The cut-off for our school district to start kindergarten is Sept. 30, and his birthday is a month later. So, he was five when he entered kindergarten. They tested him and offered to let him skip a grade (meaning he would skip kindergarten and go directly into first grade), which we declined. The compromise is that he takes reading and math with the upper grade, and spends the rest of his day with his “proper” grade. In third grade there is a separate gifted track that he will go into.

    We have agonized over this decision and we certainly didn’t do it so that he owuld be the biggest or have an advantage at sports. We did it so he could have a little time to mature, both now and at the other end–so he doesn’t start college at 17.

    We figure that as long as he is happy we made the right decision. If he gets bored with school and needs the challenge “skipping” a grade would provide, then we would revisit it.


  25. In the interests of full disclosure, I should also add that my husband was a younger, smaller kid in his grade and was bullied terribly. He is very adamant that our son not be put in that position, if it can be helped.


  26. Back in the 70’s a good friends held their son back for a year because the father wanted him to have the athletic advantage. It turned out that the son, while athletic, had no real interest in sports. I don’t know that he had any problems socially. We all thought they were off-base with this hold-back.


  27. Great post! This has been on my mind a lot recently, though not in terms of heterosexuality. But I can believe that’s an underlying reason.

    After reading about 20 million books on giftedness… we’ve decided to start our 4 year old a year early (technically 3 months early because our state has an early deadline). You would not believe the pushback we get on this IRL, even though the preponderance of evidence (even since the report A Nation Deceived came out) shows that accelerating gifted kids can remove a lot of the behavioral/social etc. problems that come with gifted kids at grade level (insert justification here about his abilities and social preferences so I don’t get more pushback from the internets… turns out most parents who think they have “gifted” kids actually DO have high IQ kids).

    Thankfully one of the private schools in town (the only one that does any acceleration at all) was willing to work with us, and the k-teacher is a dream. After his observation day last month (required for early entrants), DS spent the entire rest of the afternoon trying to convince us he should start in K that week instead of waiting until Fall. Given the sports culture and high rates of teenage sports-injury paralysis around here, I’d be just as happy if he was too small to participate.

    Another argument we get is about them going to college too young. I figure if that is a problem, he can always do a gap year saving the world or something. But we will worry about that then if we need to. In the mean time I hope he continues to love learning and to seek and conquer challenges, even if it doesn’t always come easy to do so.


  28. Nikki, you’re not redshirting your child if he misses the cutoff date. Like I said above, it seems like public schools are really rigid about that these days. But even if you’re going private, it seems completely reasonable that you wouldn’t rush to get him into K at age 4. I’m sure there will be other kids with Haloween-to-Christmas birthdays in his class.

    I think the “gap year” phenomenon is a good thing. Who says everyone should go to college if they have a high school degree and they want to? I frequently think that eighteen or nineteen is too young. Gap years don’t need to be posh or involve volunteer work, either: working full-time for a year or two at crappy jobs is a good way of illustrating the value of a college degree to the young.

    When I was in college, there was a girl in the dorm who was only 16. She was famous for being only 16, and although she was really bright and academically capable, she didn’t come back for sophomore year. I don’t think anything tragic happened–but looking back I wonder how many kids are capable of handling the challenges of living semi-independently in college, and dealing with the drinking/drugs/sex part of it. I know I didn’t always make great choices at 18, 19, 20, or 21, and I KNOW I would have made much worse choices at 16 or 17.


  29. My son’s birthday is mid-September, so he was one of the younger, and smaller, kids in his classes for years. It was recommended that he do a “pre-kindergarten” year, and then that he repeat kindergarten, both options which we declined. I thought a lot of his social issues (slightly disruptive in class) had to do with boredom, and the worst thing would have been to have him repeat kindergarten – I thought he needed more intellectual stimulation. I still believe I was right.

    Turns out that his smaller size was an advantage later, when he was sought out by the wrestling coach in high school, since they needed more boys for the lower weight classes. The ideas about larger size and male sports really applies only to some sports, as the gymnast’s parent noted above. Now my son is in his 20s — he’s a law school grad and a lieutenant in the Marines, and all the debate we had back when he was 4 and 5 seems completely pointless.


  30. Barf indeed!

    I don’t know what the opposite of redshirting is called, but that’s what my parents chose for me; even though I have autism and was very, *very* much delayed in my social development, I was kind of precocious academically, so they thought I’d be massively bored if they waited a year to start me.

    (Despite being a year younger than everyone in my class, I was generally among the tallest students in my year until high school.)

    At least they aren’t attenuating tall girls’ growth anymore, to prevent them from reaching an unfeminine height …


  31. We were graduate RAs at one of the more demanding universities in the country… we had a lot of very bright and hardworking 16 and 17 year old freshmen, and most of them did very well…some of them (particularly the girls) better than our regular age kids. I think the fact that they were still pretty young meant they didn’t feel like they had to be perfect in the way that many of our 18 year olds did (and they were more capable than our red-shirted 19 year olds, a few of whom sadly dropped out sometime after turning 21). They weren’t afraid to ask for help.

    Of course, this is a university that is used to having very bright socially awkward kids that they put in a pressure-cooker academic environment… our main job as RAs was preventing suicides, not policing. So there was a lot more infrastructure in place to help students survive than most universities have.

    The one young person on our hall that didn’t do so well socially was also on the autism spectrum (and he did graduate with a respectable GPA), and by the time he was a senior was a lot more integrated because of the intensive counseling the university was able to give him.


  32. I have a late November birthday and my parents decided not to hold me back, so I was always the youngest in my grade. It didn’t seem to make any difference, but I am both tall and female anyway. I also finished high school in 3 years instead of 4, starting college at 16. So far I don’t regret it, though I’m still only in my junior year so I suppose it’s possible I’ll see things differently in retrospect. My college is on the opposite side of the country from where I grew up, meaning going home for a weekend if I had a problem was never an option, but because freshmen were required to live in dorms and buy “meal plans” that allowed us to eat at the cafeterias 10 times per week it was an easy transition into living on my own. The cost of both the meal plan and the dorm was tacked onto tuition, and the dorm fee included utilities, so I didn’t have to worry about paying monthly bills or budgeting groceries and was able to start dealing with those more practical parts of living on my own in my sophomore year, after I’d already gotten used to being away from my parents. Several of my friends from high school who either didn’t go to college or who enrolled at a school in the area had problems because their parents didn’t really want them hanging around the house anymore and they didn’t really want to be living with their parents anymore. They would move out or their parents would kick them out and they’d find themselves staying on friends’ couches because they couldn’t afford their own apartments on the wages from their jobs at fast-food places or Walmart. Compared to that, college offered me a lot of stability and made it easy not to screw up too much.

    To get back on topic: it seems strange to me that starting kindergarten a year earlier or later would make much difference in the long term. And the assumption not only that the kids will grow up to be heterosexual but that heterosexual relationships require the male to be bigger and stronger than the female is definitely creepy. If it makes that much of a difference for the boys, did anyone think about how it would affect the girls? That is, if boys are supposed to be at risk for bullying or at least to feel demoralized if they’re a year younger than their classmates, wouldn’t a class in which the majority of the boys were older than the girls put the girls, as a group, at risk? But I guess that’s the point.


  33. You would have to post this during one of my busiest weeks! From the front-lines of single sex Philly private school world your intrepid native informant prepares a hurried post. The school I work for is single sex pre-K-8 and co-ed 9-12. The boys’ lower school has pre-k, k, pre-first and first (but they are killing the pre-first program at the end of this year). The girls’ lower school has pre-k tk, k and first. Each lower school makes decisions about where to put kids based on their “school readiness” which mostly has to do with a) how well you sit still, b) do you play well with others c) how much of a nap do you need in a school day that is 8-3:30 but has a lot of recess. One of the indicators for boys that they should go to pre-1st for example, was were they still fall asleep during nap at the end of kindergarten. We are definitely seeing some red-shirting of both boys and girls. But mostly it has to do with the report about ADD diagnosis being likely in kids who are the youngest in the class and parents’ fears about that. Because the schools use behavior based criteria rather than straight age cut-offs, parents tend to feel pretty secure. I’m under the impression that the pre-first program is getting ditched because consistently fewer boys are falling into that group because there are fewer parents insisting on kindergarten when they are recommended for pre-k.

    We do practice academic redshirting in the Upper School. Kids coming from certain Catholic schools have to repeat 9th grade if they try to come in 10th. They just aren’t prepared for the workload whereas our 9th grade has a huge study skills/time management component built into it.

    We did have one kid get repeat 11th grade because JHU (!) asked him to. He had skipped a grade in elementary school, came to our school in 9th grade was very successful. But JHU wanted him to grow another year before he joined the lacrosse team there. So he repeated 11th grade taking mostly senior honors courses and then in 12th grade took the few remaining honors courses he hadn’t taken yet and some other electives. He probably went backwards academically but he got his scholarship. The whole thing was odd and nobody on our end liked it much. I don’t think we would consent to it again.

    I do see differences in maturity generally between ninth grade boys and girls that do seem to be rooted in different rates of attaining puberty although a) individual results may vary and b) they tend to disappear by 11th grade when boys seem to no longer think fart noises are quite so funny. I mean there still giggle worthy, just not stopping class guffawing funny the way they are for ninth grade boys.


  34. In my own experience (September birthday in a January 1st cut-off district) I would have benefited from being redshirted. Not only was I physically small for my year, I would have been the shortest kid for most of school in the class behind me. I generally hung around with younger kids and although pretty smart, I had some learning issues that I didn’t deal with well and in general had low motor coordination skills. I grew two inches my freshman year of college and everything eventually worked out but I would have been much happier in HS being with the younger kids.


  35. I’ve been following this discussion with interest since we’re wondering what to do with our December-born boy (and his twin sister). They’ll both be academically ready and raring to go for kindergarten at 4.75, and our district does give some leeway for breaking the Sept. 1 cutoff date in special cases. I don’t want them to be bored in school. But my kids are small and will probably always be very small for their age, and yes, this does worry me more in the case of my son than for my daughter. Maybe this is because I had the experience of always being the smallest, shortest, youngest girl in my grade and I never felt like it was a problem. In contrast my husband found it difficult to be the smallest boy in his grade, and it wasn’t a positive experience for him. It might also be due to the individual personalities of my kids, in that my daughter has a very strong will and a dominant personality, and my son does not.

    I’m not concerned about my son having an advantage in sports or anything like that. Even if we start them late, my son will probably *still* be the smallest boy in his class, or close to it. They’re just petite kids. He’s obviously not going to be a basketball star or anything like that. It’s more that I worry about him being bullied or pushed around. I already see this a little bit in how he acts with other kids. He’s easygoing and naturally yielding to other kids, and sometime this means the bigger boys act aggressively while my kid just kind of stands there with a confused look on his face. My guess is that he may be academically precocious and socially behind at the same time, and that introduces some tensions.

    I don’t consider my concern about my kids’ development and bodies creepy or prurient, but maybe it comes off that way. I’m also not concerned with reproducing heterosexuality with either of my kids. Certainly many parents will try to mindlessly redshirt for the reasons quoted in your post from the mother whose daughters attend that private school. Others, however, may have more reasonable concerns. And of course class and race come into play here too, especially considering who has the option to redshirt, who is aware of that option, who feels entitled to take advantage of it, who has the cultural capital and the financial resources to make it work, etc. In general I might be coming from a different set of assumptions, in that I believe most parents are responsible people who care about their kids and are trying to make good decisions in the face of little social support and ever-worsening educational options.


  36. albe– My son is a total follower and we’re accelerating him. He’s actually very popular because not many kids at Montessori are followers.

    There’s lists in these books about whether or not acceleration is a good idea (because it is for some kids more than others). I can’t remember off the top of my head what’s on them, but it might be worth finding.

    The main things that were important to us were, his academic ability and thirst for learning (and that they’re running out of things for him at preschool AND he’s already working as an unpaid teacher’s assistant– see our post on that tomorrow), the fact that all his friends are going to kindergarten next year (he chooses to play with older kids), our ability to find a classroom with a great kindergarten teacher who allows for individual differences, and the fact that he has no problem sitting still and paying attention for long hours.

    The school we’re using also allows individual subject acceleration because they don’t like skipping kids too many grades. (Our local public school doesn’t allow ANYTHING until 3rd grade.)

    What was interesting was when we visited, there were 6 year olds a head and a half taller, but also kids who were even smaller despite being a year+ older, even though DS is just average for his age in this area. The height and age ranges in these classrooms is insane.

    If bullying is a problem, then I think we’re going to externally try to do something about the bullying, not hold him back academically. Bullying is always a problem, whether or not a kid is accelerated or even whether or not a kid is smarter than average. If they don’t tease a kid about size it will be something else.


  37. For my own part my mother’s decision to “red-shirt” me was based on the fact that at the time when I was five we were barely existing above the poverty line AND that she simply didn’t feel that I was ready. I suspect the reasons most mothers hold their children back is motivated by the main factors that resulted in me starting kindergarten at 6 and not for any of the ideological/elitist reasons suggested here.


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  39. The most irritating thing to me as a parent of two girls (low grade school / pre-school) is how this trend simply exacerbates the tendency for boys to dominate the classroom. In their school the practice is nearly universal for boys. Of course, this causes the few remaining to feel they must do likewise. It really ticks me off.


  40. @DickensReader “Yes, it is an ugly and sad story. For hindsight narration, I try not to paint anyone in a better light than another, including myself. None of us was old enough to understand any of it, so I do believe it was his parents fault. I don’t believe he sprang out of the earth believing he was better than the rest of us in class. Yet, that is what his words and actions implied, thus, that is what our behavior inferred. When adults meddle, children pay.”

    How are old are you now? It seems you have not outgrown your childish impression of this KID. You and your friends were quick to judge another person as being better for an equally stupid reason. Could it be that kids say goofy things?


  41. Pingback: Redshirting for K-Garden? - Children, problems, school, daycare, behavior, age, teenagers, infants - Page 2 - City-Data Forum

  42. This article sounds really naive. Males of any age 14+ will most likely taller than females of any age 14+. If you go onto a high school campus, most of the freshman boys will be taller than most of the senior girls. So boys don’t need to be held back a year to be taller than girls; especially in high school. Also, height is determined by genetics. If one boy has really short parents and, but a boy a year younger has really tall parents, it’s likely that the younger boy will be taller than older boy, especially by the time they’re in high school. Why are we only focusing on the beginning? Isn’t it the end result that matters?


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