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I 'Redshirted' My Kindergartner & Never Regretted It

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?

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nonmember avatar Kristi

My son has a July 15th birthday and we knew we had to hold him. He still had a pretty short attention span (even for a pre-kindergarten kid) so we did another year of preschool. As it turns out he is not the oldest, smartest, most well rounded kid in his class either. He is doing great. I am happy with our decision. My second sons birthday is September 3. I would have to petition to have him start at 4. Except for his size, he would definitely be ready!! Not sure what we will do with that one. We have a year to decide.....

Lovin... LovinJerseyMama

I had a constant internal battle before sending my daughter to kindergarten when she wasn't even five yet, her birthday is September 11th and they started school on the 5th. Our cutoff is in October for five year olds though. I was nervous that she would be too young and not mature enough to handle being around so many older kids (due to redshirting being a common practice here as well). But she is so smart and has been socialized really well that I didn't want to keep her home another year when she could be learning and playing in that school setting. So I sent her, and it's been a great experience :) She did excellent with only a few rough spots in the beginning. I don't regret my decision and I am glad I sent her when I did because she made so many friends and learned many valuable lessons that I couldn't have taught her if she was at home with me still. 

nonmember avatar Stacey

My July 29 birthday five year old will be starting kinder in September. I'm a first grade teacher and believe he's ready. I think every child is different and parents need to use their best judgement.

Freela Freela

Be glad you have the option!  In my province, the cutoff for kindergarten is December 31... kids start junior kindergarten if they are 4 by December 31.  There is no option to hold them back (well, technically JK is optional, but the following year they will start them in SK, not in JK.)  My youngest was born in late December and also has some learning disabilities... she is now 7, going into grade 3, and struggling academically.  She is really not that far behind where my other kids were at seven (particularly my oldest, who also has learning disabilities) but she is a full grade ahead of them at the same age so she appears further behind.  I feel bad for her.  I wish the option had been mine because I would have held her back a year in a heartbeat and it would have been the best option for her. :(

the4m... the4mutts

I made the call with 3 of my 4 kids to go ahead and send them to kinder, and it worked great! All their bdays were very close to the cutoff, so they were all 4 when they entered. This year though, my youngest is 4, and we're in a different district, where they require 4yr olds to start in TK (transitional kindergarten) if you choose to enroll them at all.

I do NOT think that he is ready. At all. Intelligence wise, yes. But size, maturity, and sociallly, he's not. I wanted to wait a year, but he is so, so excited to go.

I decided to suck it up and send him. I figure, if it doesn't work out, I can pull him out and just enroll him in regular kinder next year, since, by law, he doesn't HAVE to be enrolled in any schooling until he's 6 anyway.

nonmember avatar BostonBob

Our son was one of the youngest in his Kindergarten glass (7/25), so we had him repeat kindergarten. A great decision, no regrets at all. He acted "young" and in K2 he fit right in. Academically he could have gone on (he's a smart kid) but socially he would have been behind. He went to a "nature-based" preschool too on a farm, so he wasn't used to a classroom setting like a lot of his peers who already two years of academic preschool. Now he's really ready for first grade. (he's really into science; particle accelerators, black holes, plate techtonics,supernovae and the like, so we joke "He wasn't ready for first grade, but he was ready for MIT").

The choice to hold him back was a joint decision between us and the school (teacher and a range of specialists). Our school system typically doesn't allow parents to decide to push early or hold back without a formal evaluation. They don't want any "gaming" of the system and refuse almost all requests. Any action have to be initiated by the school.

Paike... Paikea1974

Here in The Netherlands a child goes to school on his or her 4th birthday. Depending on their birthday they either have to repeat tthat first year in school or they go to the next year. For example: my son's birthday is October 6 so he started that exact day and because he only officially missed a little over a week that schoolyear he went on to the next schoolyear. THAT schoolyear however he was hold back one year as he was still soooo not ready for the 'real'  school-tasks of reading, writing, concentrating etc. It's very common over here to hold a child back in the second year of Kindergarten (over here we don't have Kindergarten as such, it's just the two youngest years of Big School) if the child is born anywhere between October 1 - December 31. lf the child, however, is very eager to learn to read and write and shown been ready for it, they will go on to the next year. So it IS possible that a child born after Christmas (but before January 1st, because then they always are held back one year) will go to the next year whilst his friend that is a few months older is held back. (as happened with my son and his friend)

Age-wise my son is a year or so older than his classmates now, but emotionally, socially and especially physically he is the same age.

l rather had him repeat his second year in the Kindergarten-years rather than if he had to repeat now or in the near future when he's much more aware he's been held back.

Senia... Seniahmom

I wish I could start my child early. He is ready but won't be 5 until winter. We've already been told by people who work in our school district he will be bored.

sylph... sylph_ironlight

In Ontario, you don't have the option to hold your child back. You can choose not to enroll them in kindergarten, but all children start grade one the year they turn 6. Both my kids were born in November, so they will both be among the youngest kids in their grade.

nonmember avatar Maggie

Here in Michigan the cutoff is December 1st! My daughter's birthday is Nov. 2 and we made the choice to send her to kindergarten when she was still 4. She had been in full day preschool for a couple years and we just figured the transition would be seamless (also no more child care costs, yeah!). There are many days I wish we had made a different choice though, while she is academically at the top of her class, she really suffers socially and has had some behavioral issues. I also think it bothers her that she is the youngest. On the other hand, she may have been bored academically and being one of the oldest might have bothered her too (she is the oldest on her gymnastics team and she hates it). Regret is a pointless feeling anyway because we can't change it only deal with our decisions in the present and now that she is going into 4th grade the age differences aren't as pronounced as in the earlier years and will continue to be less so, I imagine, except maybe when everyone gets their license and she is still too young. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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