My sister’s birthday falls on December 25th and she missed the cutoff date for kindergarten by just five days. My parents faced the dilemma of holding her back or putting her in a private kindergarten to keep up with her peers. Fast forward 32 years. My sister is now facing a similar dilemma herself as she decides whether my niece should spend a bonus year in preschool strengthening her social skills.
Holding kindergarten age children back a year is known as redshirting. Originally a term used in college sports, parents began redshirting their children to have the advantage of being the oldest and, therefore, smartest children in class. Statistics show that boys and affluent children are twice as likely held back as their peers. However, what do you do when nearly a quarter of the students in some kindergartens have been redshirted? (60 Minutes, 2012)
What is Redshirting? Mixed Age Groups and the Montessori Advantage
Does redshirting make a difference?
Associate professor at USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development Gary Painter has found that the only significant advantage of redshirting is found on the varsity football team. He states there is no significant academic or social benefit to redshirting. (Kelmon, 2013) Most research indicates that any academic gaps experienced between younger and older children are bridged by the third grade, unless there are significant learning disabilities. (McClintock, 2012)
Opponents of redshirting state that the dynamic of kindergarten is changing, giving some children an unfair advantage of being older than their peers, while others discuss the social and emotional impact of being physically larger than the rest of the class. Older children who remain in the preschool classroom also change that environment. As well, there has been evidence that adolescents tend to misbehave more when they feel they are too old for their grade. (Williams, 2012)
The Montessori solution
Dr. Montessori saw a great advantage to grouping children in three-year age groups. While the preschool Montessori environment is for 3, 4, and 5 year olds, the boundaries stop there. Each child, no matter his age, is given work that is developmentally appropriate for him. Children are respected as individuals and are not compared to each other, removing the idea that one may be ahead or behind another. Dr. Montessori understood that children grow and mature roughly along the same planes of development, but there are individual variances. The Montessori three-year cycle allows children to learn and grow as a community of learners who nurture and learn together rather than race and fight to the top.
Donna McClintock, chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, states clearly, "No matter WHAT you decide to do, we know for sure that parents must understand that a child’s brain cannot be redshirted or held back. The child’s experiences during the fifth and sixth year of life are extremely important because the brain continues to develop and form synapses, and learning is at an all-time high." (McClintock, 2012) This is evident in the Montessori preschool environment. Five-year olds start to show signs that they are ready to move to the next level: they are not content with the same materials, they show more ability to think abstractly, and they start to ask more questions beginning with “Why?” and “How?” Holding them back would be a tremendous disservice as they would become restless and bored, which often leads to misbehavior and can discourage their love of learning.
Ultimately, my parents decided there would be no harm in my sister staying home another year. And while she graduated high school at 18 with her peers, I was the one of the youngest in my college freshman class at age 17. We both excelled academically and socially. And now, my niece will spend next year developing additional social skills that will help her succeed in a larger environment. I can only wonder what difference being in a Montessori environment would have made.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, May 16, 2013.