Transitions: School Readiness

In the third and final part to our “Transitions” blog series, we discuss how to know when it’s time for your child to transition from an early learning program to school.

We are in a blog series called “Transitions” that is designed to walk parents of children with hearing loss through the process of transitioning from early intervention to early childhood education in formal school settings. In this post we will talk about the decision to start school or delay to allow more time for development.


Ready or not: here we come!?

Once upon a time, many parents felt pressure to send children to school as early as possible. The commonly held belief was that the earlier a child began their formal education, the better they would perform over the course of their academic career. That early jump on starting school would help a child to move forward, keep up and get ahead. Sounds great, right? 

Well, in recent years, the expert conversation has turned toward the trend of giving children the gift of time. “Redshirting” is the practice of postponing school entry in order to allow more time for social, emotional, intellectual, communication or physical development. This term is most often used about delayed entry into Kindergarten and often considered for children with “borderline birthdays” (i.e. children whose summer or fall birthday would make them the youngest child in their class). The same practice may apply for children considering formal Pre-Kindergarten (PreK) or with specific challenges or developmental delays — hearing loss being one example.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he suggests that a child’s school readiness can lock them into “patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement that stretch on and on for years” — with children who are relatively older than their peers being the ones who thrive. 

Indeed, there’s much to be said for looking at a child’s development — their individual strengths and needs, maturity and gifting — and waiting if it is better for a child’s long-term educational formation. According to some research, between four percent and nine percent of kindergarteners are redshirted annually. (source: Stanford University, National Center for Education Statistics.)  

And while this happens most often with children who might otherwise be the youngest child in a classroom —  the same principle holds true for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. A child with hearing loss may have the same considerations as other kids who may be candidates for redshirting (birth month, physical, emotional, social maturity) —  in addition to accommodations that may be required for their hearing differences or growing Listening and Spoken Language skills. 

Children whose hearing loss was identified later, who experienced a gap in follow-up or who enlisted in early intervention services months or years after birth might need some time for catch-up growth. Whereas a child who began the Listening and Spoken Language journey the moment they were born may find themselves relatively on track in terms of language acquisition and development. Other children with hearing differences who were identified later or had delays in entering appropriate early intervention may need a bit more time to close the gap between their chronological age and developmental levels.  

Bottom line is this: a child’s birthday isn’t an automatic indicator that it’s time for school — and if your child needs more time, it shouldn’t be considered a failure. Each child develops at their own pace, so keep it in perspective. Celebrate your child’s gains as an individual rather than letting their birth date alone decide. 

The time to start school can truly be an arbitrary line, based on systems rather than children’s needs. Whether your child is three, four or five, in most cases you have the opportunity to decide: “What is my child ready for?” Preschool, PreK or Kindergarten may be considered or the extension of the same school placement for an additional year is also a possibility.

Consider your child’s readiness and development, talk with educators and your LSL professional and consider what assessments are providing the key information you need to make a decision.

There are a variety of resources on the subject that may help parents weigh the options for their child regarding the formal start to school. There is research on both sides of the issue. Keep in mind that research studies related to redshirting were not conducted with children who are deaf or hard of hearing; however, some LSL professionals have found this practice to positively benefit children who need extra time for language acquisition before starting school. This post was designed to identify trends in the mainstream and help parents consider all of their options for school placement.

Transitions will continue throughout your child’s LSL and educational journey. Make the best decision possible with the information you have and then continue to work diligently toward your child’s language, literacy and academic goals.