why we decided to redshirt ethan

I think Ethan was turning one when I first heard the term "redshirting" in the academic sense. To those unfamiliar, it means choosing to start your child in Kindergarten a year later than their birthday dictates. Through talking with friends, I have realized that every state has their own age cut-offs when it comes to the school year and that so far none of them have been as atrocious as Florida. With an August grade level cut-off here in Florida and an end of June birthday, Ethan is supposed to be entering Kindergarten shortly after his 5th birthday. To me, it always felt so young and the idea of redshirting him was always fresh in the back of my mind. As Ethan turned three and Pre-K became "next year," I decided to submerge myself in research while interrogating my teacher friends (and anyone I overheard was a teacher in passing) and surveying our oh-so-patient pediatrician. While my choice to do things one way in no way means I am judging someone else's choice to do things differently, it has always been important to me to keep Ethan home with me where I believe he is being taught, enriched and given the best childhood that I can muster the energy to give him. Because we are huge cheerleaders for our local public school system and most specifically our zoned elementary school, sending Ethan to traditional school one day was something that we looked forward to in terms of his education and socialization. Still, it was very important to me to keep him home with me until the year before Kindergarten when he would attend Pre-K part-time for a school year to warm up to a classroom setting and prepare himself for a lifetime (so it feels) of schooling.

As Pre-K became "next year," I began to dig my heels into the sand to try to slow things down because it became very apparent they were moving too quickly. Too quickly for my liking, anyway. While my leaning towards redshirting Ethan received mostly praise and thumbs up from many teachers, not everyone had something nice to say about it. When we made it clear that we had made our decision and Ethan would be starting Kindergarten at just-turned-6 instead of just-turned-5, I realized that those negative opinions -- no matter how few there were -- didn't really matter. In the end, we know our son and what is best for him and the future we would like to give him. Like most things in life, there is no one size fits all to parenting. However, for me, the decision to redshirt Ethan for a year has filled my mind with a huge blast of clarity. I hadn't realized all of the anxiety that planning for Ethan to start Pre-K next school year was causing me until I made it official that he wouldn't be -- I mean, he's still in diapers. I am more than confident that we have made the right decision and here are a few reasons why.

You only get one childhood. I believe that a boy who just turns five years old should still be entitled to childhood. While most of his classmates will be six or turning six in Kindergarten -- not to mention a great deal of his friends won't be starting until six because of their birthdays -- Ethan would have just turned five. He would be among the youngest in his grade to spend his days sitting at a desk trying to adapt to a formal education instead of doing what I believe five year olds should still be doing: chasing lizards, splashing in puddles, visiting the zoo, watching the sun rise at the beach, playing make believe on the playground. Fast forwarding, he will be a passenger unable to drive in the cars of all of his friends who already have their license. Scarier yet, he would be seventeen years old going off to college.

I can teach my child. Make no mistake, I'm sure Ethan's mathematics skills will surpass mine by the first grade. However, I have always been committed to teaching my son at home and I think that I've been doing a good job at that. The one argument from the naysayers when it came to our decision to redshirt was that "Ethan is so smart, he has to go to school on time!" I'm not trying to take all of the credit at all, but the bulk of what Ethan knows is because it is something that we have taught him as parents. He has never been in a school setting other than our Tot School and I think it has done well for him. If I have taught him this much at three, enough that he is "academically prepared for Kindergarten," I am eager to keep teaching him and setting the foundation for his educational future. As a stay-at-home parent, I feel that is my job to do so. I like teaching him. I like working with him. I feel confident that at five he will rock his Pre-K expectations and that at six he will be as prepared for Kindergarten as everyone says he is now.

There is more to preparedness than academic preparedness. There is more to being "ready" than knowing your letters, numbers and how to cut in a line. Is a newly five year old ready to sit at a desk for a full school day away from his parents? Maybe that's a hot button issue. I've long since felt that our society encourages parents to disconnect from their children as much as possible, to prepare them for independence before they are even mobile or verbal. On the other hand, I have found it far more natural to continue the bond of attachment and to nurture said bond along as Ethan grows. I see nothing strange with a three year old boy wanting his mommy or needing me to hold his hand if he is frightened. I see nothing wrong with a three year old wanting to be held or carried. There are many people who do and to each their own, but I prefer Ethan and his development to be what dictates our level of attachment. His heart knows when he needs me more, when he needs me less and what he is capable of on his own. I mean, when Ethan was the youngest in his swim class, it took about fifteen minutes for him to be a behavioral issue and all he was truly guilty of was being three years old among kids four and five years old. When acting one's age and being a behavioral issue become entwined, it's time to step back and rethink things. As a parent, my heart believes that my son at newly five years old should not be expected to maintain the maturity and behavior as a child older than he is. One of my friends who I admire very much as both a parent and a teacher mentioned that he feels it is a great idea to give Ethan more enrichment time with me at home before starting school and I held that sentiment close to my heart. The true enrichment period between parent and child is one that is often overlooked and one that I feel is sort of necessary for growth.

People are seriously crazy about formal education. I never understood it. I mean, I went to college. My husband graduated college (way more college than I did). My parents graduated college. My grandfather was a dentist when most of his generation had to skip out on the whole college experience for the workforce. I'm not a complete rogue hippie who devalues education -- quite the opposite, really. Education is important to me. Without education, we never would have the home we do in the neighborhood we do -- the one we picked because of the schools because we care about education. I've noticed an increase of parents who believe that one or two years old is the time to start school so that their children aren't "behind" when it comes to Kindergarten and it catches me off guard each time. Ethan's pediatrician has been my biggest cheerleader in that outside of the home preschool is in no way a necessity but yet I'm always the token sideshow act at any given mommy and me class when I reveal that my three year old is still at home with me. In choosing to redshirt Ethan, I get that I'm amping up my act. For my grand finale, my child will start Pre-K at age five and Kindergarten at age 6 (cue gasps from the crowd). Snark aside, I can't help but sigh at the pressure put on children these days. I recently learned there are actually Pre-K tutors. More than that, I met someone who uses one at a mommy and me class and they are currently being tutored in learning to color in the lines. Literally, metaphorically, whatever, I hope my kid never colors in the lines and I don't care how rogue hippie that makes me. If he decides he wants a college education, I have no doubts he will succeed as everyone else in our family has. As a trusted teacher friend said, how could someone with a supportive family and all the love in the world not succeed in their endeavors? I'm choosing to go with that and the common sense that chronological age does not dictate academic success. See also: my child is not doomed for tacking on a year to his carefree childhood.

It's just the right choice for us. At the end of the day, everyone can have their own opinions but ours as Ethan's parents are the ones that get to matter -- and no one else has Ethan's best interest at heart quite like his mom and dad.

1 comment:

  1. I have to make that same decision as well. My daughter's birthday is at the beginning of June. She just turned 4, and I have registered her for Pre-K this year. She is begging to school, and so I feel comfortable sending her. I am a bit nervous sending her to Kindergarten when she just turned 5 though. I think we will because I think it is what will work for my family, but I will see what the year of Pre-K will bring.


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