Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Delay of Game

Jan 18, 2013 08:42PM ● By Anonymous


It’s called “redshirting,” and if you haven’t heard of it, you probably don’t have or know of a child on the cusp of kindergarten.

You may not even know that it is mandatory for all Maryland students to attend kindergarten. (That wasn’t the case until the late 1980s.) The Maryland State Department of Education states: “The mandatory kindergarten attendance law requires a child who resides in Maryland to attend a public or nonpublic kindergarten program regularly during the school year before entering the first grade unless the child is enrolled in an alternative Program or is receiving home instruction.” The child’s age is also dictated.

“A child admitted to the kindergarten program in the public school,” Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ website states, “shall be 5 years or older on September 1 of the school year in which the child applies for entrance.” However, COMAR (Code of Maryland Regulations) 13A.08.02-2A allows for a one-year waiver to postpone entrance. (A written request must be submitted to the school system prior to the start of the school year.) In 2011, 67 students in Anne Arundel County took advantage of this policy; 69 in 2012, showing a very slight increase in participation.

The term “redshirting” has been co-opted from college athletics wherein a student can play for four years while at school but can chose to “practice only” (presumably wearing a red shirt for clarification) during freshman year and then actually compete for four more years. (See sidebar on page 36 for some changes to this long-honored tradition.)

Getting back to five-year-olds, the number one reason for requesting the redshirt delay, according to Patricia Saynuk, coordinator of early childhood education and school readiness for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, is lack of maturity. But, she points out, you needn’t go into much detail on the waiver request. “In the child’s best interest,” she explains, will suffice.

This “lack of maturity” is often a calendar thing—rather than a judgmental pejorative. According to a paper published by the Educational Resources Information Center, “Academic redshirting for young children refers to the practice of postponing entrance to kindergarten of age-eligible children in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This kind of redshirting,” the paper continues, “is most often practiced in the case of children whose birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class.”

Age was definitely the deciding factor for Erika Robertson, a Maryland-educated (from Crofton Woods Elementary to Towson University) mother of two, including a boy with an August birthday. “My mother had often said she wished she had started me, my brother, and my sister a year later because of our late birthdays [October, November, December respectively]. But no one did it then.”

Robertson, too, wishes she had been delayed. “I always felt less mature and less confident. I even wished I had been a bit older to have begun college—so I was already open to the idea when my son came along,” she explains. “I also know as a former teacher, and knowing many teachers, that they can pick out who has a later birthday quite easily—there is a difference in maturity between a January and an August birthday. I always felt it was easier on a child if they turned that age by the end of the school year—five by the June before kindergarten starts.”

An Eastern Shore mom took a different path to the same conclusion. “I ended up having the first child repeat kindergarten in a private school—The Country School,” Melissa Peterson says. “She should have been delayed to begin with, but since she has a June birthday she was within normal entrance age. However, she was young socially so at the end of the kindergarten year, we kept her there for another year.” Peterson did a variation on that theme when her two other children came along—public kindergarten followed by enrollment in private school kindergarten. This also delayed private school tuition payments.

Erika Robertson’s plan was just the reverse. She started her son in private school then moved on to public. “He attended a half-day kindergarten with other five-year-olds; the program was already offered at his pre-school, so many of the four-year- olds from his previous class were in there—some with birthdays later in the year like his,” she says. Did Robertson have any qualms about the delay? “I didn’t want him to be bored in school—he was a strong reader, for example, so would he be slow to grow in that area, I wondered?” Robertson’s son John is now a thriving eighth-grade honor student, and a voracious reader.

According to a 2012 report on CBS’ 60 Minutes, nearly a quarter of some kindergarten classrooms are populated by six-year-olds. Kindergarten redshirting has more than tripled since the 1970s. And boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls.

Parents we spoke with admit that gender did play a part in the decision. “Boys are less mature in general,” one mother explains. “My decision had to do with anticipated maturity in middle and high school, rather than the short term of elementary preparedness. I was hoping to provide more opportunity for him to become a ‘leader’ and not a ‘follower’ because of the age advantage.”

There are many options to consider and available professionals with whom to consult…and other parents who have faced this same dilemma. If, after much research, you are still undecided, AACPS’ Saynuk suggests giving the child a 30-day tryout in kindergarten. “It doesn’t hurt to try,” she says.