For parents of children with birthdays approaching the cut-off date for kindergarten enrollment, debates can begin almost as soon as they are born: Should we wear red T-shirts to them? Will he be ready for the kindergarten soon?
Red-shirting, which was originally created as a term for college athletes saved from competing for one year to improve their skills and extend their eligibility, is now often used to describe the act of looking after children from kindergarten to an extra year. This is most common in children who have summer birthdays or birthdays that are very close to the school district's cut-off date.
Is it really in the child's advantage to be a "red shirt" that is debated; But now, a new study shows that students born in August and who are among the youngest in their kindergarten class are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
Reporter Jenny Anderson wrote for Quartz about research, which was published this week by Harvard Medical School researchers.
Here's how a child's birthday can shape their experience at school: Imagine you live in a school district with the September 1 cutoff, which means your child must be five years old on September 1 to start school. This means that a child named Lucas, who is five years old on August 15, will register in the same class with Jack, which will be six on September 15.
Jack has lived almost 20% longer than Lucas. Developmentally, this is eternity. He will likely have better self-control and be better prepared to do the things needed at school, such as sitting still and listening for long periods of time.
"When children grow up, small differences in age equalize and disappear over time, but speaking behavior, differences between children 6 years and 7 years can be very clear," said study senior author Anupam Jena, a professor of Nursing Policy Health at the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. What is normal for five-year-olds stands out as immature for six-year-olds.
The study found that, in districts with the September 1 cutoff date, children born in August were 34 percent more likely than their September counterparts who were nearly one year old to receive a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD symptoms can include hyperactivity, lack of attention, difficulty sitting still, lack of focus or inability to follow instructions.
Personally, my husband and I wear red clothes for our son. He has a birthday at the end of September and in our school district, the cut-off date is October 1. The closer we get to the moment when we have to make a decision, the clearer it will be that he will not be ready – academically or emotionally – to transition from two preschool hours four days a week to a full day kindergarten month even before he was five years old. And the preschool teacher makes it clear that they cannot agree more.
Fortunately, we have the choice (and financial means) to include it in a special preschool program for children in this situation; it's five days a week and more academically rigorous than the usual 4-year program (but less than TK). And even now, with my son developing in the second grade, I can't imagine he will develop in the third grade if we register him a year before.
But having a choice at all is a luxury many parents don't have. Many parents cannot buy another year for child care or preschool. And one of the parents on our Facebook Offspring Group felt compelled to enroll their children in kindergarten to maintain various educational services for him.
"He received preschool therapy through the school district program for some developmental delays (gross motoric, fine motoric, speech). The therapy ends at 5 years of age assuming that your child then continues therapy through a special school district, "said Jennifer, whose child is five weeks before the school district cut-off date on August 1.
"If I make him wait one year, his therapies will stop and I have to pay a pocket for three therapists for a year and then ask him to be re-evaluated for therapy in the school district, which can be rejected. So sending him to school and making him a grandfather in therapy at the school district is the only truly sensible solution. "
Because other parents chose to delay the start of kindergarten, his son ended up in a class with a wide age range, which made him wonder: "Will he look far behind if everyone only goes when they are 5 years old? Or is he much more delayed because half of these children are lucky enough to be able to wait? "
Other parents in the Facebook group say they have – or still are – considering everything from children's social and academic skills to their physical size compared to children their age. Some parents factor in their personal experiences among the oldest or youngest when they are in school.
Or there are some, like Matt, who choose what can be considered compromise: "Our current plan is to enroll in kindergarten and see how it is," Matt said. "The worst case, he repeated the second year kindergarten. Every child is different, so every parent must make the best decision for their family. "