When we sent our oldest to preschool for the first time, I remember how tiny she looked. Her chipmunk cheeks and petite frame were ever-present in that first-day-of-school photo. Three didn’t look old enough on her. Or at least I didn’t think so.
As we settled into our new routine, I started to really think about what I wanted for her education. I had selected that preschool more than a year and a half before for its play-based curriculum. The benefits of play for children and adults alike is undeniable across the board.
Before we moved here, I had a front row seat to the way education was changing in my hometown. Rest time in kindergarten was becoming a thing of the past and recess time cut to the bare minimum. Kitchen sets and activity tables were replaced with pencil to paper activities, computers, and tablets.
The importance of childhood, and just how fleeting it had become, weighed heavily on my mind.
So I began toying with the idea of redshirting my preschooler in favor of another year of play. I knew it was common among summer birthdays, but she is a spring baby. So I reached out to some veteran mamas for advice and was surprised to learn that it is also common.
So, as her third and final year of preschool comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect and share my thoughts on our year of redshirting.
Our purpose for this additional year was based on the importance of play. For us, this included ample unstructured play time as well. So, while my daughter’s preschool does have a 5-day program, we chose to repeat the 3-day. The teacher assured me that she wasn’t the first student to do this. So in an effort to keep the curriculum from being repetitive, she switches out her materials regularly. I also knew she would be one of the oldest in the classroom, and I wasn’t sure how the age gap would impact her. It hasn’t. She enjoys playing with everyone, and her teacher differentiates instruction when necessary.
The power of play is undeniable. Researchers have said it time and again that children learn best through play. I didn’t have to push her math and literacy skills based on a classroom curriculum. She was able to develop those skills at her own pace, allowing it to be a more enjoyable experience. She often runs to me, giddy with excitement, to show me all the new vocabulary she has taken upon herself to write down. As math problems become her latest obsession, she is busy grabbing any and all objects she can get her hands on to aide in her endeavors. It’s exciting to watch her dump an entire bag of pompom balls onto the floor just to work out what 1+3 is, or 2-1.
I don’t believe her own thirst for knowledge would have reached its full potential without giving her the opportunity to go at her own pace.
Childhood is all too often boxed into categories with a list of certain criteria that must be met on a specific time table. It is this antiquated idea whereby we force our children to grow up too quickly, based on a demanding box of academic guidelines. In turn, their foundation is left only half-poured, leaving creativity and imagination in the dust.
As I reflect on our year of redshirting, preparing to send her to kindergarten in the fall, I am grateful for the ways in which her critical thinking skills have flourished. Reconstructing empty boxes into magnificent rocket ships. Creating 3-D art projects from anything in the recycle bin. Building and rebuilding cities, roads, and skyscrapers with magnatiles, wooden blocks, and legos. Assessing risk as she learns to climb the tree in our back yard.
The power of play has been the most valuable benefit of this year. It’s through play that she has begun to read words and complete simple math problems. It’s through play that she learned the value of team building skills. Through play, science experiments have fueled her curiosity. Because of play, music and movement have ignited her interest in classical composers. Through play, art has ignited her creativity and critical thinking skills.
Redshirting doesn’t work for everyone, but it has worked well for our family.
I have seen my daughter flourish at her own pace, and I am confident she will be ready for kindergarten in the fall.