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Hold Up

Warren Alfson realized his chances of playing football as a freshman were pretty slim. So the University of Nebraska Cornhusker asked to practice but not play, buying him another year of conditioning and time for better players to graduate. In 1937 he slipped on a red jersey (Nebraska’s color) without a number and became the first recorded “redshirt.”

Today, redshirting describes students who put off their athletic pursuits for a year in order to mature physically, socially or academically. But does the concept work in a young child’s favor to delay starting school as well? Should you slip a redshirt on your kiddo, or send him to kindergarten along with peers his own age?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 9 percent of America’s kindergarteners will first start school after age 6. But entrance test scores show that those who delayed attending school typically performed only 1 percentage point higher in reading than their on-time peers and 4 percentage points higher in math — a gap that narrowed by spring of the school year.

We asked local families for their opinions: Does redshirting help or hurt a child’s chances for success?

Evelyn Hall and her husband opted to hold back their middle child, Josiah, when he was ready to enter kindergarten. “Josiah had some behavior issues we wanted to work on,” she explains. But when he finally started school, the kids bullied him. “He was tall and it was obvious he was older. The teasing just made his behavior worse,” Hall laments.

Dr. Richard Rivera, pediatrician at KidsDocs Carrollton, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, had a different experience with his own son, who started kindergarten at age 5 but wasn’t ready for first grade the following year.

At their Lewisville school district, they took advantage of an alternative program known as developmental first grade or D-1. “He had difficulty reading and writing,” Rivera says says of his son, who was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia. The program allowed the boy to catch up and mature without the stigma associated with repeating a grade. “He ended up being a role model and possessed the maturity to make good decisions,” Rivera adds.

According to Kelly Seepersad, director of The Goddard School in Keller, some kids process information a little slower and have trouble staying on task at age 5. “Then they start out school behind and spend the year trying to catch up or end up repeating kindergarten,” she adds.

She’s a fan of implementing similar programs to Lewisville. A recent transplant from Kansas, Seepersad loved her former school district’s K-1 program, which also offered a year to bridge kindergarten and first grade. “The class reviewed those skills taught in kindergarten and then built upon them,” she shares.

But for those families without alternatives, Rivera advises that there is a tipping point in determining your child’s classroom readiness. “Once they start school, they learn rules such as: Thou shalt sit in thy chair. Thou shalt not bother thy neighbor,” he says. To determine if your child is ready, look for cues that he’s eager for structure.

“If he can verbally communicate his needs and wants; if he’ll sit and look at a book, turn pages and make up a story; if he can sit quietly; he’s probably ready,” counsels Rivera. But if he’d rather run and jump and bounce about? Think twice. “A child who is pushed will push back,” he warns.

Hall sought the advice of her pediatrician and her son’s preschool teacher but says her doctor didn’t provide any helpful input. The teacher thought redshirting might help the boy mature. Ultimately, Hall regrets their choice. “Josiah eventually sought out older peers,” she says, a decision his mom believes led him to run with the wrong crowd in later years. Now 21, he’s trying to build a life for himself, working three jobs. “He wanted to join the military because he loved ROTC in high school, but he wasn’t able to get in because of his history with drugs,” she bemoans.

The most important reminder Rivera offers parents who are considering their child’s first foray into formal education: “Every child is an individual,” he stresses. Approach your decision with that foremost in mind.

Published August 2015