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Kindergarten Redshirting: The tough decisions local families are having to make this fall

Thursday night on NBC15 News at 10, Amy Pflugshaupt explores what school will look like for the thousands of kindergarteners starting their education virtually and the tough decisions families are having to make: send their child to kindergarten or to hold them back a year
Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 9:31 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -The struggle of a "Zoom" education is very real for a lot of families. For Stephanie Wissen and Scott Keffer, finishing the school year virtually was difficult for their two daughters. Laney just finished first grade and Savi just finished 4K in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

"We went through first grade last year with our daughter and there were times we walked into the room and she was playing with a doll while listening to a teacher," said Keffer.

The idea of having their five-year-old daughter start kindergarten on a screen this fall is something they weren’t sure was the best idea for her.

“With the virtual learning, when she was doing it at the end of last year, she’d be on for about one minute and then be like, ‘Am I done yet?’” said Wissen.

After a rocky end to 4K, Wissen and Keffer went ahead a made the tough decision to redshirt kindergarten. Wissen said with the way Savi ended 4K and not knowing how long she’d be expected to learn online this year, she and her husband thought it would be better to have her repeat 4K again this year.

Kindergarten redshirting isn’t a new idea. Typically, it’s used by parents to give younger children an extra year to mature physically, mentally, and socially. This year, some parents are considering it because of the pandemic with the fear of their child missing out on those quintessential experiences in kindergarten.

“I think with kindergarten, it’s being interactive with all the smaller kids, learning independence, and being in that classroom during the day – just having the school experience,” said Wissen.

For much of the state’s 56,000 incoming kindergarten students, starting school virtual is the reality. So, what will kindergarten in 2020 look like?

Kari Buer is a kindergarten teacher at Sauk Trail Elementary in the Middleton Cross Plains School District. She said teachers are not trying to recreate the school day at home. In her opinion, it’s just not possible. Instead, teachers want to make it a collaborative environment for families to partner with teachers.

In her district, kindergarten teachers are planning for up to four hours of online learning, but that is not all screen time.

“We want to be really mindful of screen time with kids,” said Buer. “We know the effect of that and mental health.”

In conjunction with online learning, teachers are offering a lot of options that are off the screen, as well. She said students and families can expect opportunities to meet online as a whole class, in small groups, and one-on-on at least one time every week.

In Sun Prairie, kindergartners can expect more live teaching, which is something Stephanie Ramos, a kindergarten teacher at Creekside Elementary, said is an improvement from the spring. Right now, though, the district is still working out those details.

“It might look something like we pop on and have a morning meeting and then you take a break and log back in for reading,” said Ramos.

Her district is also trying to figure out how to put kindergarteners into smaller groups online in the hopes that they will get to know one another and have a core group of friends if they are allowed to return to a more traditional school setting.

Ramos said in the Sun Prairie School District, teachers will be working from their empty classrooms every day except Wednesdays. She said she really appreciates this because then she can have access to all of her materials whether she is recording lessons or teaching live.

Both Ramos and Buer said they plan on doing normal academics, but things will be adapted. While many 4K students missed out on some of the material last spring or maybe just didn’t retain it because of everything that was happening, teachers plan on revisiting some of those skills.

Ramos said some teachers have met with 4K directors to see what they feel the incoming kindergarteners need a little more help with or may have missed while learning virtually.

“It will look different than a normal kindergarten year would start just because we know they missed a lot of things so we’re just going to try and do a lot of relationship building, learning who they are, and getting to know them as kids,” said Ramos.

In addition to getting to know the students, Buer said this is a great opportunity to build stronger relationships with the families. She believes by interacting multiple times through the course of the school year instead of just intermittently, it will allow teachers to learn more about the needs of each student and better serve families.

“We know kindergarteners will need help getting online or making a meeting, so you cross paths with the parents and families more often in a virtual setting than you may in a typical school year. More crossing paths means stronger relationships,” said Buer.

While a lot of adults have expressed concern that kids will be missing out on that interaction with classmates, Buer pointed out that many kids are already comfortable communicating virtually because of things like Facetime and Zoom calls with family and friends.

No matter how this school year shakes out, Buer and Ramos said they have those same pre-school butterflies and they are excited to get to learn more about their students.

Is Kindergarten Redshirting the best idea?

In an average year, approximately 9% of kindergarten-aged kids will redshirt, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, in an era of Covid-19, there’s really no way to tell right now if this number will increase.

Educators understand the concerns of parents but believe the best thing to do is to take cues from each child. Every child is unique in what they need.

Sherry Kimball is an early childhood consultant with Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. She said in a “normal” school year, there is research out there that supports both sides of the kindergarten redshirting discussion. However, in the context of Covid-19, she said that’s just a new question for everybody as to where students will be next year.

“I think in a ‘perfect’ world, that everybody would hope that for every student at every grade that we’d be able to say next year at this time this is where everyone is going to be at. This is what we are going to be doing. I have a feeling that is going to look very different than it has in the past,” said Kimball.

She said as educators look at development and supporting children, it’s possible that next year students will need support in different areas as compared to a traditional school year. When it comes to making the decision as to redshirt or not, the best advice is to use all the resources available to parents, think it through, and decide what is the best option for each individual child. She said it’s really hard to say if there is a right or wrong answer, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

Ramos encourages the idea. Her advice is if you are trying to decide whether to send a child to kindergarten at age 5 or 6, she recommends waiting. “Just give them time to be a kid,” she said.

She made sure to clarify that waiting has nothing to do with the quality of education students will get this year, despite the digital learning aspect. She said teachers across the country are working hard right now to develop lesson plans that will meet the needs of students.

“We know that kids are meant to be learning by doing and learning by being around other kids,” said Ramos. “So, if parents have the means or the time to wait, I think it’s a good decision.”

What to do if your child is struggling to focus during virtual learning?

Buer strongly encourages flexibility. She said we can’t really recreate the school system in the home as it doesn’t really fit there.

“If a child is struggling to get a task done and needing a break, then that is what they need,” said Buer.

She believes being able to identify that in one’s self is a strength as far as social and emotional learning. Being able to read yourself and knowing how to care for yourself is an important skill for the long-term. Buer said it will last a lifetime for these students.

Most importantly, Buer encourages parents to let the child lead.

Advice for parents struggling with the stress of virtual learning

Buer really believed kids would be going back to school in the fall. She understands the stress many parents are feeling right now. She recommends partnering with your child’s teacher and don’t be afraid to ask your child questions.

“If you have the ability, learn right along side your child,” said Buer.

She recommends watching the tutorial videos with them every once and while and don’t be afraid to ask them what they are learning.

Ramos said it’s important to look at your own child and the family’s situation, as each one will be unique.

“It’s not going to look the same and that’s okay,” said Romos. “And we’re not judging parents on how they are doing and we’re not grading you.”

Kimball wants parents to remember to connect with the district. This is the best way to get an idea of what the year will look like. By doing this, she said you can figure out a routine and that is helpful for both the families and the child.

“We know this year is going to look different, but [the parents] main role is to be parent, caregiver, or a guardian to that child,” said Kimball. “There will be support along the way as far as those educational pieces and not to feel like it is there responsibility. It’s important to partner with educators.”

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