Should You “Redshirt” Your Child?

So “redshirting” – holding back a child from starting kindergarten so that they can be amongst the oldest, rather than the youngest in their class – is in the news again and being debated again. For many kids, it’s not particularly relevant – like if they have a winter birthday, there’s usually no debate on when they start kindergarten. But if your kid has a summer birthday, you can decide if they will be one of the younger kids in their kindergarten class – or wait a year so they can be one of the older kids in the class. So the question is, how do you make that decision? 

Well, typically I invest in examining the research on a topic to date. I like to go through the studies, see if there are good reviews of studies, and if possible find analytic approaches that are applied to a number of studies (known as meta-analysis). But on this topic, I’m really not interested in the data that are out there. Why? Well, the data most frequently cited involve looking at birth dates – to determine kids who, at a given point in time, are older or younger – in either highly selected samples (such as hockey players) or in large data bases that track academic performance. The basic idea is that the younger kids are less likely to get put on “fast track” (academically or athletically) because they are developmentally behind the older kids – the younger kids may not be as precocious as readers, or the biggest kids in the class. And this “small effect” (statistically the idea is that this is empirically not a whopper effect but it accumulates over time) thus eventually prevents the younger kids from achieving as much as the older kids.  But here’s the thing for me. Anytime you look at either selected samples or very large samples you have to be very wary of drawing conclusions from correlational data – and not just because of the usual disclaimers. To me, you really need to show – empirically, with real data, and not with after the fact inference – that there is a process going on, after taking into account a whole lot of other variables. And for me, until I see process data (which, by the way, I’ve been collecting as a researcher for more than a few years now), I don’t really buy into anything or assume a take-home message. Especially since there are so many other factors (uh, like, genetics, environment, etc) that influence a child’s physical and cognitive growth and shape the vast individual differences you see in a group of kids that are independent of a few months worth of age difference.

So here’s my (obviously) very biased take: I’m not interested in the data that are out there yet. I don’t believe that, for the vast majority of kids, being the oldest or youngest in a class has a profound influence on the rest of their lives. Does it have some immediate impact? Maybe for some kids it does. But so do lots of other factors – factors that are much more connected to process than structurally being older or younger than the rest of the kids. If I’m a parent, I want to get some feedback from educators on my child’s social and academic readiness, which can be quite separate from where they are at in terms of chronological age. Will my child be bored in kindergarten, or find it stimulating? Will my child be able to integrate socially? Will my child have the behavioral control necessary for the change in structure? Are they ready to take off on their own? Will they possibly need some support in some areas? These are the questions every parent should consider – whether or not they have a choice in terms of when their kid starts kindergarten – and should be the rationale platform if a decision on “redshirting” needs to be made. Parents have to bring their resources to help their child develop to their full potential – at every developmental stage – given their unique set of skills and, yes, issues (every kid will have some). And sometimes there are very real structural barriers when a kid is growing up that may be related to their age, their height, their weight, their academic skills, or their social skills. Parenting is all about taking that on – it’s called preparing your kid for the real world. And to me, that’s a much more important focus for parents than trying to find some type of structural advantage to set up a kid to capitalize on the (questionable) probabilities for excellence as determined at age 5.

For more discussion on the topic of redshirting, check out this link – it’s a very good and informative read.

Image of red shirt via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by JLB

    On March 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Very interested to see comments on this. We have 2 August birthdays, one a boy(2 years) and one a girl(6 months). I have always heard that typically girls are ready to go and boys are held back. I’d be curious to see what other parents(especially those of late summer kids) have to say about this or what they did.

  2. by J. Beebe

    On March 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I think parents should be the decision makers when it comes to deciding if their child is ready for school. As the author says, some children do mind being older or younger than their classmates but most don’t seem to mind unless a big to-do is made about it at home or school.

  3. by Kandice

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Our daughter has a July birthday. She began kindergarten “on time.” She was one of the youngest & definitely the smallest (she is small for her age anyway). However, she finished the year on a end of second grade reading level, a end of first grade math level, and was very well liked among her peers. I think that if I would have held her back that I would have stifled her academic growth.

  4. by Heidi

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I have two childrne with August birthdays and they have both begun Kindergarten right after their 5th birthdays. After 2-3 years of preschool, it would have seemed odd to hold them back for one MORE year of preschool! And they were excited for school! It is true that they were small, even for their ages, they are just smaller sized kids. It did tug at my heart ot see my little girls go off to school with kids who were bigger and taller, and I did worry about whether they were ready, but they both did just fine! Now my older child is in 4th grade and on the honor roll, she gets along well socially and has several good friends. My younger child is now in 1st grade and has had a little harder time, she needed speech therapy for awhile, though now she has “graduated” from speech class. She is very smart and reads at grade level, but according to her teacher she does not read aloud FAST enough (for the state tests) so we are working on that, but she is happy in school and has lots of friends too! If I had held my girls back one year I don’t think that they would really be better off, although I guess it is impossible to really KNOW that, but we are happy with our decision.

  5. by KP

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    We are red-shirting our son this year, not because we are wanting him to be the biggest or oldest or “best”, but because he was just not ready. His birthday is in late May. Potty-training has been a struggle we still have not completely conquered, fine motor skills (such as scissors) were not mastered, and maturity-wise, he was not ready. We have moved 3 times in his short life, and making friends, focusing on work, and other factors needed more time to develop. He is now finishing his second year of pre-K and the teachers say he is much improved. We think so, too, and are looking forward to a great year of kindergarten next year. We have met at least 5 other families who are doing the same thing with their sons, so I think it is pretty common and accepted now.

  6. by mom2three

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    this article was a waste of three minutes! here’s what i got from it: i’m a really smart, well educated researcher who knows a lot of big words. if you want to know if you should send your kid to school, ask their preschool teacher if they are ready. how about an article written by an actual kindergarten teacher!? wouldn’t they be the “expert” for this topic?

  7. by TWB

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I actually just had to make this decision. My oldest will be 5 in September. He makes the cut-off for starting Kindergarten by 3 days. That being said, we have decided not to let him go this year. My husband and I discussed the pros and cons, and we discussed his readiness with his preschool teacher. We all agreed to wait. Academically, he is probably ready, but he would probably be the youngest in his class, which can wreak havoc on a child’s confidence, especially as he gets older. I think at this age he’d be fine, but now is not what I worry about. It’s when he starts middle/high school that I worry about him being the “baby” of the class. We finally decided that instead of Kindergarten, we are going to do Jr. Kindergarten. Right now he goes to preschool 2 days a week for 3 hours a day, in Jr. Kindergarten he will go 5 days a week for 3 hours a day. We felt like this was a good stepping stone to Kindergarten and was the best option for our family.

  8. by LAK

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    It frustrates me that parents of children with August birthdays have the option of holding their child back, but parents (like me) of kids with September birthdays do not have the option of starting them “early”. Because my child misses the Sept 1 cut off by a few days, she has to wait an entire year to go to Kindergarten, even though she is already more cognitively advanced than her VPK peers (according to her teachers). Parents should have the option of making whatever decision is developmentally best for their child based on the CHILD, not on arbitrary cut off dates.

  9. by Ashley

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    My son’s birthday was one day before the cut off for kindergarten so we struggled with the decision about when he should go. He had been in preschool and the only concern was if he was ready socially and his size since he technically would still be 4 when he started. So far he has done awesome! He knew all his kindergarten competencies by the first conferences. He is the top in his class, reading at a second grade level and doing first grade math! I think it just varies depending on the child if they will be ready.

  10. by JS

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Very good read and reinforced a lot of what I had been thinking so far. My son will be 4 this summer and his pre-school has told me to begin deciding if he will be starting school when he’s 5 or 6. I am leaning towards 6 since they’ve also told me they are working with him on his attention issues and social skills which are lagging. That being said, I meet with his teachers every 6 months and if their answer changes and they feel he’d be ready, I might change my mind.

  11. by Sasha

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    As the mother of an August baby, this is one topic that I have wondered about. (although I would rather homeschool) Thankfully, I worked for our district for several years AND we have the most amazing neighbor who just happens to be a retired teacher. She taught elementary for many years before moving on to middle school and STRONGLY suggested we redshirt. By the time the children would get to second grade, her class, she says it was obvious which ones were younger. Too young for 2nd grade. IF we choose public school we WILL redshirt.

  12. by Trisha

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I am a teacher and have seen many children in these situations. Each child is different and it is ultimately the parents decision. I do agree girls do better going ahead younger and boys do sometimes need some time to mature. I have a son with a Aug. 30th birthday and I held him back. He had a speech problem so this was a wonderful choice. I also have a daughter with a July birthday and I sent her on time. She is doing great. Thankfully, my third has a November b-day so we are good!

  13. by Kim

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    First of all I want to be clear that (of course) parents know their children the best and should make their decision accordingly, but I like so many others was faced with the decision on whether to send two of my children to kindergarten with early June birthdays (one boy and one girl). My son did not seem ready so that was an easier choice (we waited a year). My daughter on the other hand was more mature, tall for her age and seemly appeared ready. When’s I talked to her very knowledgeable preschool teacher I expected this to be a no brainier “send her” conversation. Much to my surprise she was very pro waiting. These were the points that swayed this very difficult decision. #1: a teacher told us that she wishes she had a dime for ever parent that said they wish they had waited to send their child because she would be rich-but she had never in 20 years of teaching had someone tell her they regretted waiting. #2 the developmental advantages typicallymake things easier for them

  14. by Kim

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    First of all I want to be clear that (of course) parents know their children the best and should make their decision accordingly, but I like so many others was faced with the decision on whether to send two of my children to kindergarten with early June birthdays (one boy and one girl). My son did not seem ready so that was an easier choice (we waited a year). My daughter on the other hand was more mature, tall for her age and seemly appeared ready. When’s I talked to her very knowledgeable preschool teacher I expected this to be a no brainier “send her” conversation. Much to my surprise she was very pro waiting. These were the points that swayed this very difficult decision. #1: a teacher told us that she wishes she had a dime for ever parent that said they wish they had waited to send their child because she would be rich-but she had never in 20 years of teaching had someone tell her they regretted waiting. #2 the developmental advantages typically make things easier for them #3 being among the oldest allows me to set some precedence with milestones such as driving -she will be among the first to drive- how cool!!!

    Having said all off that other factors included the fact that I had a mid June birthday and seemed to struggle with things more than my peers (I was youngest) but my brother who was oldest and a juky birthday

  15. by Lisa

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I think the decision should be up to the parents. My daughter’s birthday is July,29th. She started kindergarten on time. She was a young 5 and did just fine. She had no troubles at all. She’s a first grader now and considered a young 6. She has no problems keeping up with the “older” kids. I started kindergarten at 4 and graduated at 17 and I always did fine in school. I think it just depends on the kid. My son’s birthday is Aug.14th, so when he starts kinder he’ll also be a young 5.

  16. by Kim

    On March 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    First of all I want to be clear that (of course) parents know their children the best and should make their decision accordingly, but I like so many others was faced with the decision on whether to send two of my children to kindergarten with early June birthdays (one boy and one girl). My son did not seem ready so that was an easier choice (we waited a year). My daughter on the other hand was more mature, tall for her age and seemly appeared ready. When’s I talked to her very knowledgeable preschool teacher I expected this to be a no brainier “send her” conversation. Much to my surprise she was very pro waiting. These were the points that swayed this very difficult decision. #1: a teacher told us that she wishes she had a dime for ever parent that said they wish they had waited to send their child because she would be rich-but she had never in 20 years of teaching had someone tell her they regretted waiting. #2 the developmental advantages typically make things easier for them #3 being among the oldest allows me to set some precedence with milestones such as driving -she will be among the first to drive- how cool!!! #4 our preschool teacher felt that age sometimes helps them be less intimidated by their peers which in our case mattered because she is not an assertive child

    Having said all off that other factors included the fact that I had a mid June birthday and seemed to struggle with school more than my peers (I was youngest), but my brother who was oldest and a july birthday seemed to catch onto things more quickly. My mother was convinced it was maturity due to age.

    The result: we decided to wait a year with our daughter. She would have been bored without something so she attended an academic preschool which she loved. Our school system is also great at keeping children challenged at their academic level and so I didn’t have to worry about her being bored in kindergarten.

    I feared all last year that I would regret our decision but my fears were unfounded as I watch her thrive this year in kindergarten.

    Also in conclusion an added bonus is that I have one more year to gently influence my children so that I am sending them to college a little older and a little more mature–hopefully?!?

  17. by Kim

    On March 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Living in New York, the cut off date was a little later (into the middle of September, I think) because my brother started school the year before me (9/7/1982 was his birthday and 9/1/1983 is mine). He had Asperger’s and was then held back a year (though it had been recommended for him to go ahead and start because we didn’t do preschool), so he and I graduated together. We moved to North Carolina for 1st grade where the cut-off was before my birthday, so I was always the youngest person in my grade. I was younger than some people in the grade below mine. It was never awkward. I did extremely well in school, I graduated 9th in my class, and I really should have been advanced another grade since I was always in the academically gifted classes and did very well, but because of my age, they wouldn’t even consider it. I could multiply and divide fractions and decimals as well as write in cursive in Kindergarten. I could read at a college level in 5th grade. I loved learning from the moment I started doing it, so there was no question as to whether I was going to go to school at 4. If my parents hadn’t let me, I would have rioted. But if your child *is* having difficulties with things that they should be able to do pre-Kindergarten, do them a favor and hold them back until they’re ready or else they *will* feel embarrassed that they’re the only kid in class who can’t color inside the lines.

  18. by Tamika G.

    On March 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Well my son started kindergarten at 4 and turned 5 at the end of November that year. Everyone tried to bully me into holding him back because of his size and age but i made a deal with him…i told him i would do everything in my POWER to help him keep up and excel…i am happy to report today that as a 2nd grader who just turned 7 this past November he just has been awarded the honor of student of the month…he is soaring!!

  19. by Rickilynn

    On March 8, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I have a son with a July b-day & a daughter with an August b-day. I sent my son (the older one) to a program we had in NC called, TK. I did not send my daughter. According to my husband (he also has a July b-day) he hated school bcz he was the youngest. I took this into consideration as well as Preschool teachers advice. I have repeatedly educated my son on the benefits of this choice. He is in higher level classes @ this time. I believe this is bcz of an extra year for readiness. I would definately make the same decision. I wish I would have made this for my daughter.

  20. by Carrie

    On March 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I would agree that the ultimate decision should be up to the child. Being an educator, I have definitely heard parents say that they wish they had waited. Ultimately, it does depend on the individual child. My state has a program, Parents As Teachers, that has trained professionals to assess kid’s ability levels. Kindergarten screenings, pre-school teachers, daycare providers, or other trained educators can help you make informed decisions, but ultimately a parent knows his/her child the best and can make the right decision for your child.

  21. by Rachel

    On March 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    My mom started me in kindergarten at 4. I was very ready cognitively and socially. We moved to a different state the next year where the cut off date was different and the school wanted to hold me back. There was a 3 month long argument because they thought it would be hard on me being the youngest in my class. As it turns out, I had a very hard time socially. But I think that is because I was raised in California and the other children were from a small town in the Bible Belt. My mind set never matched theirs and even after changing schools in junior high I still had problems. I graduated youngest in my class and I did have some academic and social difficulties despite being very prepared at 4 for kindergarten. As you know, children of many ages have the same problems, so there is really no telling whether my age had anything to do with it, but I personally don’t think so.

  22. by Ann

    On March 8, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    My only concern with this at the Kindergarten level, is that there is no room for possibly holding the child back a year in the upper grade levels. We have been attending a small private school for years, and I see this time and time again, especially with boys. Some of these boys are 19 and almost 20 before they finish high school.

  23. by Amanda

    On March 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I’ve got to tell you, as a first grade teacher, the “young” kids
    I see that struggle are kids with fall birthdays, not summer. In our district (and in most in NY unfortunately) the children must be 5 before Dec 1. I wish we would jump on the bandwagon with PA and make it Sep. 1, or even Oct. 1. The kids with fall birthdays, 9/10 times are not ready. I’ve had plenty of kids this age reading on grade level, but will frequently cry in school from being overwhelmed. I second what someone said earlier: I could tell you dozens of times a parent wished they held their kids out, and not one single time did someone wish they had pushed them ahead.

  24. by Mary

    On March 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Do I have an opinion on this one!! I started my kid as the youngest in his grade (Aug b-day) thinking that he would be bored if I didn’t. NEVER AGAIN. I had to repeat him, NOT because of the academics. He did fine in those. But he was socially a mess and had some fine motor issues we didn’t know about, so being less developed made that issue even worse. He is now in 3rd grade for a second time and is doing GREAT. He told me this year that he was so happy because the kids are finally not picking on him. Luckily, we moved to a new area so none of the kids know he was in 3rd grade twice, but I am now making sure my other kids are the oldest they can be for their grades! Why put on the pressure?!

  25. by Heather

    On March 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    After stressing about this decision for my daughter who has a July birthday and was the youngest in her class and in the top 1 percent based on all testing, we decided to go with the kindergarten teacher’s recommendation to not move forward to first grade quite yet. She had wanted her to go on to the school’s pre-first program which many schools offer now. This class comprised mostly boys because of the “boys mature slower than girls”. We opted to change schools and repeat kindergarten so that she wouldn’t be in a room with all boys and be able to have an opportunity to learn social skills with both boys and girls. She is excelling in first grAde both academically as well a socially. We noticed when she was the youngest in class she was more of a follower and less of the leader we had seen in other social situations and playgroups. I wish I had simply started pre-k a year later for her….they bond with their friends in kindergarten so to split them into pre-first and first after that kindergarten year is tough. Especially since they are becoming aware of themselves and what others think about them. There is often the social stigma that a child may have been held back because they weren’t smart enough and that becomes a hurdle to overcome for them later…..why they were in the kindergarten class picture but not graduating with those kids. In my opinion, if you’re going to redshirt….do it before they start kindergarten so they can go straight to first with the rest of their peers as one of the oldest in the class.

  26. by Jenn

    On March 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    We have an August child, and red shirting him was the best decision we ever made. Academically, he would have been fine, but we were a little concerned with the maturity factor. He is technically the oldest in his class, by about a week. Then it rolls into September, and 80% of his peers are September to November birthdays.

    My BFF sent her August child, so her child and mine are a year apart in school, and a week apart in Birthday, and the difference was very clear by second grade. Now, her child is in 7th, and mine in 6th, and the difference is still very visible.

    I have never met a parent who regretted red shirting their child…. ever.

  27. by Christine

    On March 14, 2012 at 4:26 am

    I’m so tired of hearing people do things because they “worry about their child’s confidence and self-esteem”. Please I have an august birthday and was onee of the smartest kids in class. My april birthday daughter is the same and I wish I could send my january birthday daughter to school early! Children adapt very easily so size doesn’t matter. Our job is not to make their lives easy and comfortable it is to prepare them for the harsh reality of the real world! Not everyone is going to like them and they are going to have to struggle. I think there should be exact cut offs and the kid goes when their birthday falls into place. If there are special needs there are programs set up to help the child, whether they are just behind in reading or need a diagnosis so there is no need for that worry. Maybe, by making your kid wait a year when they should go you are sending a message at a very young age that you don’t believe in, or trust them???

  28. by Dawn

    On March 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I think this decision should be 100% up to the parents. I plan to home school my child at least until high-school, when she will be old enough to educate herself through on-line classes, or drive herself to school & work. I don’t believe that wither a person can “integrate socially” should be any hindrance to any academic achievement they are capable of. Unless the parents need school as a form of daycare, I believe that society would be better of, when it comes to “social integration”, if more children could wait longer to integrate.

  29. by NoAdditives

    On March 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    My daughter’s birthday is at the end of October. If I had my way she’d be enrolled in kindergarten early, just before her 5th birthday. Unfortunately, kindergarten isn’t mandatory in our school district and early enrollment isn’t allowed until 1st grade. So no matter what we do she won’t be starting school until just before her 6th birthday. I’m incredibly disappointed by this. It’s just one more reason my husband and I are considering homeschooling our children.

  30. by Renee

    On July 20, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    My son is turning 5 on August 3rd and the cutoof date where I live is Sep 1st. I do-not think my son is ready for kindergarten this year. He receivec occupational therapy because he has difficulty writting and focusing. I wish people wouldn’t be quick to judge someone and just assume a parent held there child back so they could be the biggest in the class or the best at sports. I’m holding my son back because I do-not think he is developmentaly ready for kindergarten. I have a daughter who just finished kindergarten last year. She has an October b-day and had an extra year, which she probably didn’t even need. I think her having an extra year only gave her an advantage. I think parents know there children the best and if you feel your child is not ready for kindergarten, you should hold them back. I want my son to have a good overall school experience, so why would I push him into something I know will be to difficult for him now.

  31. by Wendy

    On April 30, 2013 at 10:47 am

    My son’s birthday is August 1st. He met all academic requirements and I decided to let him start Kindergarten. Although he is THE youngest you could possibly be, he has done very well. However, I did not realize the trend of holding children back for sports reasons. My son is in class with 7 year olds in Kindergarten! I think every parent has a right to do what is best for their child but more and more we have children having to interact with children in their grade who are much older and that is a very strange dynamic in the classroom. We have recently moved to a new school district where it seems more and more prevalent. The coaches children being held back seemed pretty typical but now causing others to try and let their children have that same advantage and keep the playing field equal has led to more and more year to two years older in the same classroom. Parents freely admit it is sports. In our state you have to turn 19 by September of your senior year and parents are going by this guideline. When my daughter wants to on an outing with her same-grade friends, I ask her, “Are these 14 year old classmates or 16 year old classmates?” I guess the part of this topic that seems to be left out is the effect is has on the “typical” age for the grade-level kids. Now instead of just considering if it’s right for your child, now you must consider if it is right for your child if they are in a classroom full of much older children. This rising trend is almost starting a new norm.