Why your child should start kindergarten a year late

A study by Stanford Graduate School of Education professor Thomas Dee suggests that delaying kindergarten by one year, known as “redshirting,” can significantly reduce hyperactivity and boost attention spans.

The benefits can be traced as late as age 11, and do not seem to come with attendant academic liabilities. “The reading, writing and other academic skills are more easily learned when a child is able to better self-regulate, even if that happens at an older age,” Dee said in a Stanford press release. “At that age, play is learning — it’s not an either or.”

The research centered on Denmark, where children enter kindergarten in the calendar year they turn 6, with Dec. 31 as the cutoff. A resulting survey of over 50,000 parents of 7-year-olds and of over 35,000 parents of 11-year-olds provided the data.

“This is some of the most convincing evidence we’ve seen to support what parents and policymakers have already been doing — choosing to delay kindergarten entry,” Dee said.

Already, the report notes, many parents hold their children out an extra year, with roughly 20 percent of American children entering kindergarten at age 6.

Dee seems to be reacting, at least in part, to academic pressure now reaching into kindergarten in the United States. His alternative to kindergarten for the first year is a high-quality play-based preschool. In other words, what kindergarten once was.

A 2009 report by the Alliance for Childhood, called “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” warned of growing academic pressure squeezing out “developmentally appropriate learning practices” of play and socialization, calling for a “reversal of the pushing down of the curriculum that has transformed kindergarten into de facto first grade.”

“Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” asked a research team at the University of Virginia earlier this year.

“Kindergarten teachers in the later (recent) period held far higher academic expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten year,” the report concluded. “They devote more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction and assessment, and substantially less time to art, music, science and child-selected activities. Changes were most pronounced for schools serving high proportions of low-income and non-white children.”