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Debate Club: Is Academic Redshirting Helpful or Harmful

Harmful : Some people are just gaming the system

By Kate Rosin

My friend, Amy, needed some advice. It was April and her daughter, Emma, had just turned four. Emma’s preschool teacher had assured Amy and her husband that their extremely bright little girl was more than ready to start kindergarten in the fall, but Amy wasn’t sure if early enrollment was the right decision. She wanted my opinion.

“Don’t do it,” I told her firmly.

“Why?” she asked. “Do you think she’s too young?”

“She is young, especially when you consider the age of the kids she’d be in classes with for the next 13 years.”

“I know she would definitely be one of the youngest kids in her grade,” Amy acknowledged. “But she’s pretty mature for her age.”

“Even so, you have to be aware that if you enroll Emma in kindergarten this year, some of the kids in her class could be up to two years older.”

“Wait, what?”

“Redshirting,” I told her. “It screws up everything.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, academic redshirting is the parental practice of postponing kindergarten for a child who meets the enrollment age requirement and, technically, could begin attending school. (The term “redshirt” originated in collegiate athletics as a shorthand designation for an athlete whose participation in a sport has been intentionally delayed in order to extend the length of his or her eligibility period, providing the player with more time to develop skills and mature.)

Academic redshirting is, without a doubt, the right and sensible choice for children who are genuinely not ready to begin kindergarten. A kid who has a late birthday or a disability, or lacks the emotional maturity to handle the more structured kindergarten environment, should absolutely wait another year. These are the very reasons – the very legitimate reasons – parents have always had the option to hold their kids back.

Like most policies that emerge from legitimate reasons, however, the option to delay kindergarten has been distorted and abused by parents who are essentially gaming the system. Instead of basing their enrollment decisions on valid developmental concerns, some parents choose to postpone the start of kindergarten for their children – even if they are physically, emotionally, and intellectually ready – solely so they can enjoy the long-term advantages that come from being older.

What advantages do older children have in school? Like the redshirt college freshman who got an extra year to hone his skills on the football field, an academically redshirted child has more time to develop emotionally and intellectually, which may translate into greater success in the classroom. Kindergarten teachers, meanwhile, must then differentiate instruction even more than usual to accommodate the considerable gap between the maturity and ability levels of five- and six-year-old students.

Older, redshirted kids who had another year to grow physically also have a clear advantage on the athletic field. Physically larger boys or girls who are stronger, more intimidating, and have a better cognitive grasp of strategy often stand out in youth athletic programs at a very early age. Stronger athletes tend to get more playing time, better coaching, and more opportunities to play on elite teams.

While offering numerous advantages to some kids, redshirting, a kind of a luxury available only to families who can afford to keep their children out of kindergarten and in preschool for an additional year, puts other children at a distinct disadvantage. Children from low-income families who enter kindergarten with no previous school experience, for example, must then compete with redshirt students who have at least 12 months of additional educational and cultural experiences.

Still don’t think redshirting is a big deal? Think ahead to the vulnerable 14-year-old girl in class with 16-year-old boys, or the underprivileged high school athlete who needs an athletic scholarship to attend college, or the college graduate losing a year’s worth of earned income to a decision his parents made when he was five. Academic redshirting skews the American education system, increases disparity among students, and alters outcomes for all kids – redshirted or not – with consequences that can extend well beyond the kindergarten classroom.

Helpful : Some kids really need that extra year

by: Tina Donvito

My birthday is November 19. When I entered school, I made it in just before the cutoff of December 1. I excelled academically, but socially I struggled. It wasn’t until I had my own child and read about the debate over “redshirting,” the practice of holding an of-age child back for a real or perceived advantage in school, that I realized my age might have had something to do with it.

As I came to understand how the timing of your birthday can affect your school experience, I realized the crippling shyness and social awkwardness I faced in my youth might just have been immaturity, because I was one of the youngest students in the class.

My son’s birthday is August 26, with a school cutoff of October 1. As if the lateness of his birthday wasn’t enough of a concern (especially since boys notoriously mature slower than girls), Sam is also a small guy, usually coming in at the 10th percentile. But he has a strong personality, so I was less worried about him being bullied for his physical size and more worried about how he always seemed to meet his milestones late. A hearing check at the request of our early intervention team revealed that he does, in fact, have hearing loss, which accounted for his delayed speech.

As a child with a disability, my son might be the exception to the redshirting rule, even among those who are staunchly opposed to it. (Children with disabilities definitely benefit from early education but the question of whether to push them forward is still up for debate.) But I sometimes wonder: What if my son just had a run-of-the-mill speech delay? What if he was, as I initially thought, just hitting his milestones at the late end of normal? What if he, with a late summer birthday, just wasn’t at the maturity level of most of his peers? Strict cutoffs do not allow for the variety of growth that even typical children experience.

I’m not advocating that every student with a late summer birthday be redshirted. If a child is ready, he or she should be sent to school. The issue of “readiness,” though, is not always black and white – if a parent wants to hold a child back, who’s to say if the reason is legitimate or if they just want their kid to be bigger and better at sports?

Cutoffs, by their very nature, are arbitrary. When I was in school, the cutoff was December 1, but my son is up against October 1. Still other districts have a September 1 cutoff. These are crucial months for young children to mature. Although redshirting could just, in effect, shift the cutoff (so now those with spring birthdays would be the youngest), parents should still have the option to do what’s in the best interest of their child.

I know there are other issues at play, but these are less about redshirting itself than reflections of larger societal problems. For instance, there is the argument that redshirting is unfair particularly to disadvantaged kids whose parents might not be able to pay for another year of preschool; so they get sent ahead while more well-off children are given the benefit of one more year to mature. This may very well be true, but I think it speaks more to the unfairness of the American education system in general rather than the individual decisions of parents.

I also heard one mother freak out that her daughter, who had a late summer birthday, would enter high school on time at 13 and potentially be in contact with 19-year-old seniors – “men,” as she called them – who had been redshirted. But this would probably be rare: Most redshirted kids would still graduate at 18. And even though that’s still a big age difference, I believe the fear is misplaced, and has to do more with rape culture and the way boys are brought up than it does with their age.

The concern for parents of younger kids entering school is also growing because of the increased pressure on kindergartners. Parents fear that if their kids don’t have all the right skills entering kindergarten, which has turned into “the new first grade,” they’ll fall behind and won’t do as well on the tests they are now required to take.

And it’s hard for teachers, too, who could potentially have a wider range of abilities to teach to, with some kids practically reading while others not even knowing the full alphabet. Again, blame the American school system for this conundrum.

Perhaps a solution, one that would doubtless require additional resources from already thinly stretched school districts, would be to evaluate children who have birthdays within a “grace period” around the cutoff, if the parents wish it. This would allow for a more individualized education plan for every student. Decisions about a child’s future should be made between parents and teachers together in good faith – neither to give a child an unfair advantage, or to deny a child the right to school readiness before being thrust into kindergarten.

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We're a busy people, this family of mine. And we like it that way. But we're still always looking for simple ways to reconnect.

And most of the time, those moments happen around the dinner table.

I'm not embarrassed to admit we've become homebodies—we vastly prefer nights in watching movies and meals at home to the stress and cost of evenings out. While my husband and I still try to schedule a few legit date nights out now and then, by the end of our busy days, we like relaxing at the table as a family, then putting our daughter to bed to spend time together catching up on our shows or watching a movie. Most of our dates happen on the couch, and we're okay with that.

Dinner itself is a tradition I grew up valuing. As one of five kids, it seemed to be the only time our family was really all together, catching up on our days, making plans, or even just being physically present together. (This reminds me so much of the table we would gather around every night!)

Now that I'm my family's connector, I make sure to prioritize that time (even if most nights it's all I can do to get my wiggly toddler to sit still long enough to get a few bites of her dinner).

Whether we're relishing a home-cooked meal or simply noshing some pizza (because mama is tired, folks), nothing can replace the feeling of reconnecting—or leaving the table with satisfied bellies.

Because something strange happens when you have kids. Suddenly, time seems to enter a warp. One day (usually the days when nap time is short and the tantrums are long), time will drag on endlessly, making each minute feel like an hour until my husband gets home and can help with the kids. But most of the time, when I stop and really think about where we are in this busy season of life, I feel like time is flying by.

I look at my daughter, and I feel like someone has snuck in during the night and replaced her with this big-little girl because I swear she was just born a few months ago. I hug my son, unsure where the time has possibly gone because didn't I just take that positive pregnancy test yesterday? And I marvel at this rapidly growing family my husband and I have built because, really, wasn't he just asking me to be his girlfriend a year or two ago? (Try 10, self. That was 10 years ago.)

As fast as time races by, I don't have any answers for how to slow it down. If anything, the pendulum seems to swing quicker and quicker as our days fill with new activities. With jobs and responsibilities, with more and more activities and play dates for the kids.

But at the dinner table, I feel like time slows down enough for me to pause and look at this little family. I imagine us two, five, 10 years down the road (gathering around a table just like one of these). More little (and then not so little) faces peering at me over the table, asking for another piece of bread or more milk as my husband makes them giggle with a silly face or story.

I imagine them as teenagers, telling me about an upcoming test or asking if they can borrow the car after dinner. I even see them as adults, coming back to visit with their own kids for the occasional family dinner. (Hey, a mom can dream, right?)

No matter where life takes us—or how quickly—I'm grateful for this time and this place where we can always come back together.

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It happens to the best of us. Even to the GOAT. When you have a baby it's so easy for your home to just fill up with brightly colored plastic. Just ask Serena Williams.

Her 1-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.'s things seem to be taking over the house, as Williams shared with her Instagram followers.

"Sometimes I have to throw my hands up in the air. #thismama used to have a living room. Now I just have a play room. When did that happen?" she captioned the relatable pic.

We've all been there, Serena. As Motherly's minimalism expert, Juli Williams, previously wrote, when so many kind family and friends gift your child with playthings, it's easy to forget where the toys taking over the living room even came from.

"By the time my daughter was 8 months old she had so many toys that we had filled two huge chests with them," she explains. "Plus the activity gym, bouncy seat, swing and walker that were sitting in our living room. Oh, and don't forget the bag of bath toys hanging to dry in our bathroom tub."

The clutter began to get to Williams, who was tired of picking up toys her daughter wasn't even playing with. When she got rid of almost all of her toys, she found herself "more at peace, with less to clean" and she noticed her daughter was playing more with the toys she did have.

Williams isn't the only one to notice this: Scientists have, too.

As Motherly reported last year, researchers at the University of Toledo found that toddlers play longer and more happily when there are fewer toys around. Their study involved setting toddlers up in a room with either four or 16 toys. It turned out, the kids with just four toys engaged "in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively."

Bottom line: You don't have to sacrifice your living room (and your sanity) to bright bits of plastic when you become a mama. If you're overwhelmed by the number of toys in your space, your baby probably is, too.

If you are feeling the same way Serena is, consider Team Motherly's tips for keeping toys from taking over:

1. If you're moving soon, don't take all those toys 

When Motherly's co-founder, Elizabeth Tenety, packed up her playroom for an interstate move, she didn't bring 75% of the toys to her new house. She had the same problem as Serena, and didn't want to bring it with her.

"Our playroom was often unusable because—you guessed it!—the toys were E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E and all over the floor, all the time. (No room to play.)," Tenety previously wrote.

Before the big move, she donated a ton of toys and found it has been "absolutely incredible to see the impact of living with radically less—on me, our home, and especially our kids."

2. Consider packing even if you're not moving 

Take a look at your living room or play room (wherever the toys replicate in your home) and consider what you would bring with you if you were moving (even if you're absolutely not).

Pack up anything you wouldn't take, and move it to Goodwill or another charity.

3. Prioritize experiences over material goods 

As our children grow, they're going to remember the memories we make together—not the toys cluttering up the house. If you can let grandparents and aunties in on this secret, you can keep your living room from looking like Serena's.

When Tenety decluttered her kids' toy stash, she asked her family not to gift the kids with any more toys, suggesting a weekend at grandpa's house, some art supplies or swimming lessons would be more meaningful.

Minimalism expert Juli Williams did the same. "For my daughter's second Christmas, we asked our family to gift us a registration to a toddler class instead of toys—and my daughter loved it," she previously wrote. "I took photos at the class and sent them to our family every week to show them the exciting new things she was learning—and so they truly understood that it was a gift that kept on giving."

4. Consider a no-toy Christmas this year

For a lot of families, a pile of toys under the Christmas tree is a holiday tradition, but more and more parents (including Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher) are opting for no-toy Christmas celebrations.

Motherly's own Rachel Gorton has also opted for this minimalist tradition. "Christmas in our household represents so much more than toys under the tree. I don't want our children to be distracted from the real reason we celebrate this holiday by a shiny new toy they don't need," she previously wrote.

"I want them to learn about giving without the concept being tied only to possessions in their mind. I want them to understand that giving doesn't always come in the form of an object."

Like Kunis and Kutcher, (and Tenety and Williams) Gorton emphasizes meaningful gifts and gifts of experience in her family's holiday rituals. Serena might want to hop on this trend, too.

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As the royal tour of Australia continues, it seems the Duchess of Sussex is feeling some jet lag—but it's not necessarily from traveling.

During a visit to Bondi Beach to participate in an "anti-bad vibe circle" with members of the OneWave surf community mental health support group, Markle talked with circle participant Charlotte Connell who is also pregnant, about 23 weeks according to news reports.

Cornell says Markle told her that her own pregnancy has been making her tired, and keeping her up at odd hours. Mamas around the world are nodding in agreement.

"Meghan told me that pregnancy was like having jet lag," Sky News quotes Cornell. "She said she was up at 4:30 a.m. this morning doing yoga in her room as she couldn't sleep."

It's not surprising that (on a two-week tour with a mind-boggling 76 planned engagements) Markle is feeling a bit tired. Fatigue is so common in pregnancy, we hope someone on the tour is making sure Markle can sneak in a nap now and then (seriously, research suggests pregnant women who regularly nap are less likely to have a baby with a low birth weight).

As for being up at 4:30 in the morning doing yoga? Well, if you can't sleep (and so often pregnant mamas-to-be struggle with this) self-care though yoga may be the next best thing.

It's a great way to relax, and a recently published study found working out during pregnancy can cut your labor time down significantly.

Meghan may have pregnancy-induced jet lag, but it sounds like she knows how to take care of herself, something all pregnant mamas should remember to do.

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Although my youngest is approaching a year, I'm still inspired by cozy, but minimal nurseries—especially those that can grow into toddlerhood and beyond. One that has always caught my eye was my sweet friend Lauren's little sweet space for her darling little boy, Graham. Graham's nursery is clean, modern and has just the right amount of warmth added to it.

I asked Lauren what inspired her with this little space, what some of her favorite items were and what feeling she was trying to evoke with the space. Here's what she had to say...

1. What inspired your nursery?

Lauren: I wanted to create a modern, neutral and warm space. His room honestly doesn't stray too far from the rest of our house, which is where I pulled the colors from when I set out searching for a rug with burnt orange, gray and green in it.

I also knew I wanted to include some house plants—again like the rest of our home!—and a few cacti. But I was careful not to get too theme-y, as I knew I would regret it. Rather, I stuck to a color scheme to go with the white walls, natural wood and modern furniture I had in mind.

2. What was the first item you bought for the nursery?


The first item I purchased was a bassinet basket from Design Dua, which actually lives in our room now, but is probably my favorite piece for baby. I also already had a large sheepskin rug given to me as a birthday gift and knew I wanted to save it for the baby's room to do layered rugs since it is a small cozy space.

3. What is the most meaningful piece included in the room?

The most meaningful items in his nursery are the crocheted play blanket made by my mom. It was technically for my oldest, June, but perfect for all those early baby days spent playing on the floor around the house. And the heirloom Willaby blanket, as they are such a beautiful keepsake. I guess I really like blankets!

4. How does the space make you feel when you spend time there?


Relaxed and cozy.

5. What "must have" items did you decide to go without?


With him being our second, we already had all the necessary baby gear, so my nesting was mostly all about creating his modern little nursery. I prefer not to have a crowded home with baby stuff everywhere, so we chose not to invest in a pack 'n' play, baby swing, baby activity center, double stroller or even a true changing table—or any other baby furniture really, besides the affordable IKEA crib! Rather, I got pieces I can arrange around the house in the future.

6. What are the most-used elements of the nursery?


The rocking chair and the sheepskin rug. I discovered with my daughter you spend a lot of time playing on the floor, so a fluffy rug was a must—as is a comfortable and stylish rocking chair for rocking those babes to sleep daily for the next couple years. And, currently, his handmade baby gym is a hit daily!

Although I was inspired to create a baby gym that matched, I was mostly motivated by wanting one that was foldable to set out the way in his small room when not in use. We made one by combining a couple Pinterest DIYs, using leftover wood from our garage and a few leftover pieces from his DIY mobile.

7. What advice would you give any pregnant mamas planning a nursery?


It's easy to impulse buy or get overwhelmed with giant lists of must-have baby items, so it helps to plan it out. Or, at least, that is what I enjoy doing as I tend to be an online shopper. That way you can take advantage of sales or coupon codes after you've thought about what will work well in your space. Also, pick items that can grow with your baby or have multiple uses.

Thank you so much to Lauren for giving us a peek inside her adorable nursery! Graham sure is one lucky guy.

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