redshirting kindergarten boys

My oldest son's birthday is on August 31. When we lived in the Seattle area, that was the kindergarten entry cutoff date -- meaning, if he'd turned 5 one day later, he wouldn't have been allowed to start school without petitioning for early entry. At the time, we were faced with a dilemma: did we want him to be the very youngest child in his class, or the very oldest?

I hemmed and hawed but ultimately made the choice to keep him at home for another year, primarily because I felt in my gut that he wasn't quite emotionally ready for a full day of school. In the years since, I've never once regretted doing so. He flourished the next year, and now at nearly 9, he seems exactly where's he's supposed to be.

Our decision seemed so personal, and so obviously beneficial for him, it's always surprising to hear that holding kids back -- a practice commonly referred to as "redshirting" -- has become a source of increasing controversy.

Wikipedia defines redshirting as "the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten of age-eligible children in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This occurs most frequently where children's birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class."

That hardly seems like a nefarious parenting choice, but as Slate puts it,

The practice of keeping young athletes on the bench until they are bigger and more skilled is highly controversial. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists and the National Association for the Education of Young Children fiercely oppose it, saying that redshirting “labels children as failures at the outset of their school experience."

Wait. Young athletes on the bench? Aren't we maybe confusing the choice of not sending a barely-5-year old into kindergarten -- which, by the way, is hardly the play-and-color environment it used to be -- with the collegiate sports definition of redshirting?

Still, some claim that parents are choosing to hold back their kids in the hopes that starting them older will give them an academic and athletic leg up. I suppose this does happen, but don't lump me into that category. I had exactly zero plans to press pause on my child's kindergarten entry in order to somehow mold him into a harder, faster, stronger, better version of himself. What I was listening to was a quiet unease in my heart that told me, simply, that he wasn't quite ready.

Research is all over the place on the long-term effects of redshirting, probably because 1) people do it for so many different reasons, and 2) kids are unique beings who don't necessarily react to environments in the same way ... WHO KNEW?!!

Personally, I wouldn't care if a million studies came out telling me that redshirting was worse than letting my kid mainline two liters of sugary soda while sitting saucer-eyed in front of a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon. I know it was the right choice for our family because I see how my kid has been doing in school, which is to say: great. He's not at the very top of his class academically, he's not blowing everyone away in sports, he's not become some sort of charismatic leader ordering all the younger kids around like a mini Jim Jones. He's just ... happy, social, and pretty much right on target learning-wise. Looking at him compared to his classmates, you'd never guess he's likely the oldest one in the room.

And here's the kicker -- when I think about him heading back to school after he turns 9 on August 31, I realize that if I hadn't waited, he'd be going into fourth grade a couple weeks later. Fourth grade! That may not sound crazy to you, but it sure does to me. I can say this with perfect confidence, he's in the exact right place to be heading into third grade. If that's controversial ... well, I guess I can't be bothered to give a hoot.

What do you think about kindergarten redshirting? Did you have to make a similar choice one way or the other if your child was born close to the cutoff date?


Image ©iStock.com/nautilus_shell_studios