PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There’s a growing trend where parents are holding their children back to start kindergarten when they’re older.

Whether it’s for academic, athletic or social reasons, many parents think that by being older, their kids will have an edge.

However, there’s debate over whether it’s really a good decision for the individual children and for school children as a whole.

All parents want their children to succeed and these days, that often means holding them back to start kindergarten when they’re 6-years-old instead of 5-years-old.

It’s become known as “red-shirting kindergarteners,” taken from the sports term of waiting a year.

“I’m thinking of sending him when he’s six because I know he’ll be fully ready. I won’t have any reservations,” Carissa Werner said,.

At Hampton Elementary Schools, it’s become traditional for many parents to hold back their kids, especially if they’re born in the summer months and would have been the youngest in the class.

“I think the parents we have of 6-year-olds do that knowing they want their kids a little older, know how difficult it is coming in — that it’s highly academic and not as much play as when they were younger and they were in kindergarten,” Poff Elementary Principal Dr. Michael Mooney said.

Dr. Mooney helps parents evaluate whether their child is ready for kindergarten.

“I think they feel that if they’re a little older they have a chance to have that edge,” Dr. Mooney said.

One convincing argument for holding kids back is made in the best-selling book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.

In it, he shows statistically how birth date, specifically being older, can have a huge impact on success in sports. However, it can translate to other areas as well.

Being that many boys mature later than girls, boys tend to be held back more.

KDKA-TV’s Kristine Sorensen sampled seven public school districts to find out how often this trend is happening in our area:

At Hampton Schools, 22 percent of this year’s kindergarten class started at age six, which was the most of the seven districts.

At Pine Richland, 17 percent of students started at age six.

At Upper St. Clair, 15 percent of entering kindergarteners were held back on average over the last three years.

In Mt. Lebanon, about 10 percent of those eligible to start kindergarten wait a year.

At all these schools, the numbers also include children who may be held back for disabilities and other reasons.

At three school districts, they are not seeing a trend of holding kids back. Those districts are Pittsburgh Public Schools, Penn Hills and North Allegheny.

Dr. Julia Ann Williams, an expert in elementary education, said red-shirting usually happens more in middle and upper-income areas where parents can afford another year of preschool or childcare and that can mean underprivileged kids are at a disadvantage.

“There’s a wider disparity. I believe that will continue to happen if schools allow parents to decide when children will enter kindergarten,” Dr. Williams said. “And I don’t believe it’s going to help us with the overall achievement.”

Dr. Williams also said red-shirting may not be necessary because kids develop so quickly, they often catch up in the first few months of kindergarten.

The big question is the long-term ramifications.

The research is conflicting.

Some shows older kids have problems down the road because they’re older than their peers and are not challenged enough.

Other studies show kids who are older do better academically and athletically.


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