Thursday, March 08, 2012


Parents have taken on a practice they call "redshirting", holding back their sons from Kindergarten until the age 6 to assure a competitive advantage in school. The practice got its name from college athletics. Colleges often allow new recruits to practice with the team for one year without play, to allow them to develop greater strength, skill and maturity without effect on eligibility. The notion of redshirting was strengthened by Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, which noted that young hockey players born in January or February of the year were stronger, more mature and competitive than those born later in the cut off period for forming leagues. The recognition and greater attention given those players at an early age is just the beginning of a cumulative lifelong advantage in the professional leagues. The speculation among parents leading to redshirting their sons is that the same advantages of greater maturity extend far beyond the physical capabilities of their children having effect on academic performance and success as well.

Given the design of modern American education, one cannot blame young mothers for gaming the system to give their own children a competitive advantage in schooling. Dr. Ann Densmore EdD in an article in Harvard Health pointed out that many parents are responding to the shift in what kindergarten has become.
“Standardized tests and other pressures have changed the trajectory of elementary education. This isn’t your mother’s kindergarten! Gone are the days when kindergarten teachers hold up a letter and ask the class to name it. Today, kindergarten is drawing, writing, literacy, reading, and science and math and all those subjects that kids didn’t used to get until first or second grade.”
They have made such a mess of American education. Gone are the days when learning was a gentle, playful thing. The following is also from the article in Harvard Health by senior editor, Nancy Ferrari:
Dr. Densmore doesn’t believe that holding kids back from kindergarten entry is the total solution. It isn’t necessarily better to have kindergarten classes full of 6- and 7-year-olds. One way parents can help prepare their children is to ensure that there is adequate facilitated play in preschool. That means adults engaging with children during play to help them develop negotiation skills or to share complex ideas. “Research shows that play actually leads to improved academic skills. In this fast-track world, it may be hard to believe that play is critical for brain development, but it is. Play, which is really a child’s ‘work,’ contributes to cognitive, physical, social, and emotional growth. And it is the cornerstone of a child’s well-being,” Densmore told me. The National Association for the Education of Young Children offers lots of information about the benefits of play and how parents and teachers can help facilitate it.

On the community level, Densmore encourages parents to take an active role. Parents should talk with teachers, principals, and other parents. Look for preschools with facilitated play as the center of their curriculum. Challenge school committees to reconsider whether standardized testing in the lower elementary grades is a good idea. Pressure to prepare kids for these tests starts as early as kindergarten.
I was one of those children with a late birthday, being born in November and beginning Kindergarten at age 4. That starting age was a thing my mother frequently said that she regretted, because it was long known in education circles, even before the popularity of redshirting, that age and maturity at the start of kindergarten could be a significant factor in student success. But when it comes to our own kids, we do have a competitive advantage to offer them even without gaming the system. Regardless of what month our children are born, as parents or grandparents, we can infect them with our own creative passions at a level appropriate to their own developmental interests and abilities.

The simple rules are as follows: Start with the interests of the child. Move gradually from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. What better place is there to put these principles in play than in our own woodshops?

Make, fix and create...


  1. Its coincidental timing that you posted this. My daughters birthday is in late june. she is in pre-k and her teacher mentioned just watching her to see if she is handling kindergarten well. Recommended us letting her go another year if she is in need otherwise letting her move on. the recommendation was based on how she personally was maturing and absorbing the information. Her teacher uses play to engage the students and feels confident she can handle it. Ive since she was two taken her to home depot to build things and she enjoys it. at four what kind of involvement can she have in my shop? I enjoy more hand tools than power tools and have a basic compliment of hand tools. suggestions for projects?

  2. Fred, a fun starting point at 4 is to have a low work table where your daughter can assemble things from your scrap, glue and her imagination.

    We still have a box of things in the attic that my daughter made. Also at 4 sh can learn to hammer nails. A round end grained chunk of pine firewood with some roofing nails can provide near endless engagement. Don't forget the safety glasses. They make great ones for little ones. A small hammer like the Vaughn Little Pro would fit her size now and also be useful when she goes off to college as the only student on her floor whose parents have remembered to equip her with real tools.


  3. Particularly sad is the prevalent belief that education is a competitive exercise. I see no reason why grading, let alone standardized testing, needs to be a part of child's education until maybe senior years of highschool. More valuable than any grading scheme is giving kids qualitative feedback which more directly targets students' strengths and weknesses. Having said that, and I propose with some reluctance, introducing grading in senior years of highschool would be a good tool for post-secondary institutions to manage volume of applications.

  4. Geoff,
    If children were encouraged to do real things in school, those things would stand in place as real measures in place of grades, and students going off to study after high school would do so with real objectives rather than the obscure notion that college is supposed to be good for status and earning potential. But then colleges would have to offer real things for students to do (real research, real work) and would no longer get away with charging hundreds of thousands of dollars o each student for seat time.

    For that reason, I think getting away from artificial measures like grading (enen in high school) would be a great thing.

  5. We are homeschooling and held one back a year from starting kindergarten even though he wanted to start. Actually, we did start and even though he was intellectually ready, he didn't have the attention span, so we put aside the books until next year.

    We did have him do "school" using other stuff.

    More than we want our kids to learn, we want them to learn to love learning. If they love it, they will learn.

    By delaying the start of more formal studies for a year, we hoped to avoid discouraging him and keep him inspired.

  6. Emotional maturity is not the only reason for delaying kindergarden.

    If I had waited an extra year to start my late birthday son in school he would have avoided many years of being picked on and bullied by the kids bigger than him in elementary school. He was small for his age when younger and it only got better when he suddenly shot up to 6'3" and put on muscles as a teen. Before that he hated going to school.

  7. Karin,
    I had my own time of being picked on and being bullied, but that is not so much a factor of size and age but of school culture. Bullying can be avoided. Being 6'3" for the rest of his life should make at last partial amends.

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