Tuesday, January 29, 2008

DCMM: Is Red His Color?

Ah, the joys of a baby born in late summer or early fall...pushing the stroller on crisp fall days, taking your baby out in the Baby Bjorn without having to worry about either of you getting heatstroke, having an excuse to stay inside once the weather starts getting cold.

A downside: making the decision of whether to redshirt or not to redshirt.
If you have a child whose birthday is anywhere near the kindergarten cut-off date—September 30 in DC and Virginia and September 1 in Maryland—chances are you have already had a conversation or two about redshirting, the practice of keeping your child out of kindergarten an extra year to give him or her a chance to get more "ready" for school.

(For an excellent account of some pros and cons and an interesting discussion of the issue, read this  New York Times Magazine article published last summer.)

I have a six-year-old who has an October birthday. Therefore, while not technically redshirted because he wouldn't have been allowed to start school last year, he is still one of the oldest in his grade. And I am so glad. He started kindergarten this year and is doing really well. But even with his success, he has anxiety and issues that would have been even more profound had he started elementary school last year. His extra year of preschool made a tremendous difference in his readiness to deal with kindergarten—both academically and socially.

This has been on my mind recently because I've started considering redshirting my middle child, Jack. Jack will turn five this May and will be expected to attend kindergarten in the fall. Jack is also developmentally delayed and is on a path to being diagnosed with autism. He is incredibly smart, but some of his weaknesses lie in the areas of following directions in class and interacting with his peers. He is also far more likely to interact with younger children.

I wonder what will happen to him if I put him in kindergarten next year. Will he become a "problem child" that gets in trouble all the time because he can't follow the routine? Because he can't sit for 45 minutes of floor time? Because he will refuse to transition from one project to another if he's not ready?

Will he become the loner—the weird child that acts different so no one wants anything to do with him? If he does become that kid, will the stigma follow him through his whole school career? I still remember those kids from my elementary school. They didn't recover socially, even through high school. It's sad and wrong, but it's true.

If I send him to kindergarten and he's not ready, will he be so damaged by the experience that he will suffer for years to come?

Or if I keep him in preschool for an extra year, will he be so bored by the academics when he finally gets to kindergarten that he will act out and become that very problem child I was hoping to avoid? Will the teachers expect him to be more mature because he will be older than the other children? Will he resent the fact that all of his peers are moving on and he is not?

One of the quotes from the Times article resonates with me: "Early failure begets later failure." I don't want to choose the wrong option and create such a situation for my Jack.

Redshirting is also fraught with other land mines: class issues, rich vs. poor, manipulative parenting. Author Elizabeth Weil writes in the Times article, "The last thing any child needs is to be outmaneuvered by other kids’ parents as they cut to the back of the birthday line to manipulate age effects."

I don't intend to use my child's delays as an excuse or a reason why we should not be judged for redshirting. I use it to illustrate how I think this practice might be particularly helpful for him. I know that, bottom line, I have to do what's right for my child. But still the egalitarian in me worries that by pushing Jack up I am pushing another child down. And even without those concerns, I'm still not sure what will be best for my son.

It's only January. I have some time to decide what to do. Jack may make great leaps in development that will make the decision clear to me. Or just the opposite. For now I'm just registering him for everything and I will figure out later where to send him.

What would you do?

You can visit Jean's home-blog, Stimeyland, to read more things about Jack than you might ever want to know.

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