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To Redshirt or Not To Redshirt

To Redshirt or Not To Redshirt

By Amalah

Amy,

I’m hoping you can give me some advice. I have four kids, and my third is a 4 year-old boy. His birthday is in March, so I assumed he would be the easiest for me as far as entering school. I have two that are September birthdays and another who is a late summer kid. My four year old is great. He is so much different than my other ones. He’s funny and energetic, definitely the family clown. I know a lot can happen in a year, but I don’t know if he will be ready for kindergarten next year. He is pretty immature, has a hard time sitting still and concentrating, and basically just goofs off all the time. I’m sure that describes a lot of 4 year olds.

I just had two years in a row of having a kindergartner and spent a lot of time helping out in the classes. We only do all day around here, and it’s pretty serious business. This past year my daughter had a lot of kids in her class that just weren’t ready and it made me really sad. These kids have to sit and do a lot of work. They are expected to be pretty proficient readers by the end of the year. My little guy knows his alphabet and sounds, and most other things they are expected to know. He doesn’t like to write and can’t really color in the lines. Those aren’t my concerns as much as just the maturity.

What should I be looking for? I will talk to his preschool teachers, but I just don’t know if they will be the best judges. It’s a great school (really the only option since we live in a VERY rural small town). As long as they can do the kindergarten checklist the teachers are happy. I really am fine with holding him back a year, but he will be quite a bit older than some of the kids if we do this. I am a former high school math teacher and my husband in an engineer. We both love and value learning so much. I want him to start off well and for it to be a good experience for him. Any advice would be really appreciated.

A

This is a really tough, loaded call to make. Like you, I had two kids with early fall birthdays so the kindergarten question was not even up for debate: They missed the September 1st cutoff and I had no interest in pushing them for early admission. So they did another year of preschool despite turning 5 years old just weeks into the school year.

It was 100% the best thing for them. Both of them! My oldest has ADHD and is on the Spectrum (though we had neither of those diagnoses at the time; he was in special education for general developmental delays), and my middle son is “typical.” Which still means he is a high-energy, goofy, easily distracted, wiggly, crazypants of a little boy. They both entered kindergarten closer to their 6th birthdays and the transition was STILL pretty intense. Our kindergarten here is exactly like yours: all day with very high academic expectations. Lots of sitting and concentrating and reading and writing. My older son had the benefit of an IEP that pulled him into a smaller, self-contained classroom; my middle son did not, and probably had more behavior “issues” reported to us as a result.

By the end of the year, however, both underwent a pretty dramatic transformation. They both learned to read and write, developed close friendships and were able to operate within the rules of the classroom and came home with glowing report cards and awards for good behavior.

And now I’ve got my 4 year old, with a June birthday, who is a total unpredictable firecracker-slash-question-mark of a child. Uhhh. Crap.

My son’s preschool teacher says he’s doing just great and will make amazing strides next year, but the school has its own kindergarten program and I know if I ask, she’ll push for him doing the full three-year Montessori Primary program. (He did one year in Toddler and will do two years of Primary before he turns 5.)

My mom pushed my older sister ahead (August birthday) and regretted it.

My son’s kindergarten special education teacher told me, “Nope nope nope. Redshirt a June birthday. Redshirt ANY kid you’re not sure about! It’s just not worth it.”

My husband is pretty much, “Oh my God we’ve been paying for preschool for almost a decade now stop stop with the preschool we need a breather before college noooooooo.” (He was a late June birthday who wasn’t held back and did just fine, FWIW.)

My son is like, “KINDERGARTEN KINDERGARTEN PLEASE I WANNA GO NOW.”

The good news is that you have time to wait and see and avoid making any sort of commitment — you don’t need to notify either school about your intentions for the next fall for quite awhile. And the difference a year makes at this age is pretty mind-blowing. See what happens by the end of this year of preschool and make up your mind then.

That’s pretty much what I’m planning to do this year. Wait and see. It’s too early to be stressing about it and I don’t want to spend this year frantically and constantly “assessing” my youngest in terms of his academic/social skills. He really (REALLY) wants to go to kindergarten and to the same school as his brothers, so for now I admit that’s the plan, unless I spot too many developmental red flags as we near his birthday. I probably won’t commit to a school (preschool or public) until next summer, when I’ll go with my own personal gut feeling as to his readiness.

Anecdotally speaking, I met plenty of little boys with late winter/spring birthdays in my son’s kindergarten classes who did just great. Or who made incredible progress between September and June. (I also, like you, spotted the kids who Were Not Ready Not Even Close That’s A Damn Shame.)  But the reality is that not every family has the luxury of redshirting and paying for another year of preschool, and a good school can balance out an academically rigorous day with an understanding that these are very little children coming in at a wide variety of maturity/socialization levels.

That said, if YOU hold him back, understand that there’s NOTHING wrong with being one of the oldest kids in the class. I stressed about this with my oldest, who had the wonderful trifecta of a September birthday, special needs AND being tall for his age. I worried people would expect him to act older or more mature, when really he was more on par with his younger peers. He entered kindergarten as neither the oldest or tallest kid, thanks to other families making the call to hold their kids back. Your son will be 6 on the first day of school, but I’ll bet he’ll fit in maturity-wise, and probably be one of a few 6 year olds, or kids who turn 6 early in the year. (Plus, hey! In high school he’ll get his driver’s license before anyone else and SCORE MAJOR COOL POINTS.)

But really: You know your son better than anyone, and you have all the right instincts to make this decision. When it’s time to make this decision, that is, which is totally not right now. Give him another year of preschool and let the academic/social stuff fall where it falls by next summer. (Although if your preschool has a full-day option, consider upgrading him to that for at least one semester. We did that with our middle son and it helped a LOT.) And then hey, write me back next June and let me know what you decide, as I’m sure I’ll be less level-headed and more freaking out about our decision.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Rebekah

    I have never met one parent who has regretted redshirting their preschooler. However I have met many parents who have regrets because they sent their child to kindergarten and they weren’t ready. I am a preschool special education teacher turned stay at home mom. 

  • Erin

    I love that the early-drivers-license factors in, Amy! I’ve been thinking that my August baby will be able to buy all of his college buds beer earlier. (Also: That it’s wildly inappropriate since he’s not even two yet.)

  • Jean

    My son was a march boy. He was 5 when he started kindergarden and it wasn’t redshirting. All of his friends who had February, March, April, May birthdays were 5 when they started Kindergardent too. Hope this helps.

  • Karen

    Would like to suggest an option that I never hear mentioned. I have an August bday kid who was was reading and writing when she started K as a fresh five year old. Socially though, it just wasn’t working out and I witnessed the struggle of having such a broad range of competencies and behaviors. I ended up taking her out of school at Christmas and we spent the rest of the school year playing, doing cool stuff, and about 30-60 min a day of reading/phonics/K level math. We did some grade one age camps this summer. She is now fully ready for first grade. Best decision ever.

    • Karen

      And for working moms who can’t just pull kids out of school, there are lots of options springing up in our area to offer an alternative to K for kids who aren’t ready for full on K, half day or full day, but don’t want to hold back a year either. Many are extensions of existing daycare/preschool programs.

  • Jen

    When is your school cutoff date? I think that makes a big difference, as well as how frequently people red shirt in your district.
    My younger child’s birthday is on the cutoff date. At 2, we chose to keep her as one of the oldest in her preschool class because she was a very late walker and talker, and very shy. We figured if we needed to, we would have her skip a final year of preschool and go to kindergarten right as she turned 5. For her, it has been the right decision to remain one of the older kids, but I would never have considered it if she had a spring birthday, and probably not with a mid-summer birthday either. There is a huge range of maturity in the early grades, and having the age spread be 18 months rather than 12 makes it that much harder for teachers and students.

  • Paige

    I wish more states would create a program like the one we have here in California. We have “Transitional Kindergarten” for those children with fall birthdays. My daughter, with her October birthday, did TK last year, and will enter Kindergarten this year.

    A friend’s son, who has a June birthday, started Kindergarten last year. Within the first month of school, his teacher, principal and parents were able to agree to move him to the TK program. He’s not repeating Kindergarten this year, in his mind, he’s just going to the next grade. TK … K… 1. His parents liked it so much that they applied for a special waiver to get his younger brother, with a late July birthday, placed in the same program for this year.

    On the other hand, my husband, who was red-shirted due to a June birthday, always felt academically far ahead of his peers. This would be mitigated by parents who are (clearly!) paying attention to where their child is academically and striving to find the best environment for him. OP is already doing a great job!

  • s

    I was the oldest(without failing) in my grade. With a first day of school or before birthday. At the time it was done it was necessary(I’ll admit that). We moved into our house a couple days before 5 which was also the first day of school. I was extremely shy. Like… selectively catatonic shy. They wouldn’t let me in to kindergarten. So I did a nursery school that year. I ended up being one of the only kids with my license in my grade… but it worked out for.the next year too,when they changed the rules about when and how newly licensed drivers could test/ drive. Those were probably my only advantages. I was an extremely lazy student who never had to work to make grades even in advanced classes. So please. If you hold him back,be willing to reevaluate if needed and possible to push him forward. And for what it’s worth. My son was born 2 days before my birthday. So I’ve thought of this deeply too especially after experiencing it.

  • the grumbles

    We have a September birthday boy, and our local cutoff is Sept. 30th. We decided to go ahead with Kinder right after his 5th birthday, because even though he was not reading or writing, he was very verbally advanced. I definitely had worries! But watching his transformation that year was amazing. He did great and rose to the challenge. It helped that it’s a Montessori program, so we were able to work with the teacher to make sure he was engaged. I know many people favor red shirting these days, and definitely do what feels best, but for us it made sense to take a risk on a more challenging learning experience.

  • Jenny

    Up here in the Vancouver area in Canada, there is no such thing as red shirting. People just send their kids to K the year they turn 5. However, I think our K may be a lot more play based than what you are all describing.

  • Diana

    Something I haven’t seen addressed is that by redshirting, my August birthday girl gets another year of childhood. Kids don’t really grow up and leave until they graduate so she gets one more year to mature before she is out making life changing decisions. She has another year before facing peer pressures.

    She is going to kindy in the fall and I’m fully confident she will be fine.

  • Autumn

    My daughter has a late August birthday.  When the time comes, she will be 5 for just over a week when she starts kindergarten.  She goes to preschool 3 days a week, and I look at what the kids in pre-k are doing, and I know she will be bored and into mischief if I hold her back a year.  It will be tough at first, but I have confidence in her.  (I have a late July birthday and was one of the youngest and and the valedictorian. . . I might be biased)

    My other suggestion is to contact your school district.  Ours (in MN) requires all kids to be screened between 3 1/2 and 5 prior to starting kindergarten.  They looked at all kinds of developmental stuff, and the screener was very helpful with  identifying some areas we should address to get our daughter more ready.  And since she sees LOTS of kids, she was able to say that based on what she was seeing, we would be good to go at 5.  

  • Stephanie

    My kids both have fall birthdays.  In our state, at the time (they’re both in high school now), the cutoff was December 1st.  I struggled mightily to decide what to do with our oldest.  She was definitely ready academically, but really shy.  We ultimately opted to send her to kindergarten as a 4 year old (she turned 5 in October).  It was a bumpy start of the school year, with some issues with the teacher in particular, but by Christmas, she was thriving and doing very well.  Still shy, but very much less so.  With our youngest, it was a no-brainer: he started kindergarten at 4, too.  
    With the perspective of hindsight, many years later, I think that there are many kids who really truly aren’t ready to start kindergarten at the traditional time and benefit from waiting a year.  But I also think that it’s easy to assume that you’ll be giving your kid an advantage by holding them back, just to give them a bit of an edge or a leg up.  I think that kids rise to our expectations (to a point, of course–I mean realistic expectations), and need to be challenged. There have been studies done regarding the negative effects of red-shirting (I think I read something about it here on Alpha Mom a while back).  A big danger in holding kids back when not really necessary is boredom and ultimately, maybe even laziness in school.  Look at both sides of the question before making a decision.  And you do have time to watch how your son does in school this year. 
    For what it’s worth, my kids are both high achievers academically, and play several musical instruments each.  And by the time they were in first grade, you never would have known that they were among the youngest in their class.  (So I admit that I’m biased–do what you think is best, but consider the value of putting your kid in a situation that may be challenging, but also, ultimately rewarding.)

  • Julia

    Please take this only as an outsiders opinion: 
    I’m a neuropsychologist with course and internship knowledge but not personal experience (my kids are too young) with red-shirting, and I do not have any personal experience with the american school system, as I live in Europe. 
    But here is what I learned: There is no advantage, and if anything an academic disadvantage for children who are older than their classmates, compared to children of the same age and similar circumstances who went to school “on schedule”. 
    I personally believe that academic skills are not the only important part of school, social skills are important as welll. School is not over at 7, it goes on and on for about twice as long as the kid has lived at that time. And – this IS from personal experience – always being the oldest is not as much fun as it might sound.
    Being red-shirted has an effect not only on the first couple of years, but also on the the rest of their time in school, maybe even college. There is no scientific evidence that these kids do better than “comparable” children who were not held back for an additional year, but rather that the latter kids adapt quickly, usually during their first year in school. 
    Finally, if people who can afford to hold their children back do that, and others who can’t don’t, that raises the age difference between the (economically) disadvantaged kids and the rest of the class. It also creates tensions for the teachers, as the overall age-span increases. So neither on a personal level, nor on a “group” level, are there any reasons to red-shirt a child without explicit recommendation by a professional.

  • Rachel

    I don’t remember this much fretting about when to start kindergarten back when I was a kid. I turned 5 in August, so in September I started school. My husband was born at the end of October, my SIL was born at the beginning of November and so was my best friend. They all started kindergarten when they were 4. And they went off to college at 17. Everyone was fine.

  • Sarah

    As an elementary school teacher, I recommend paying attention to your instincts to have your child wait, especially if your child is the type that will have trouble sitting still, listening, and doing required work. It’s heartbreaking to me to have children who are immature in this way in my classroom, because what they hear all day long is their name coupled with a redirection or a consequence for disrupting, which is difficult for them to control. They can easily end up hating school or feeling like a bad kid when this is their seven-hour-a-day experience. As far as gaps between kids being a problem for teachers: academic gaps are far, far easier to deal with than behavioral gaps; it is the immature, disruptive kids who make it hard for the teacher to attend to everyone’s needs because they are very time-consuming and distracting. If you feel like your child will be better able to stay on task and benefit from the academics in another year, it may well be the best thing for him. I would much rather have a child start school by enjoying, not resenting, it. That’s just my perspective. 

  • Sarah

    Additionally, some other commenters have had high-achieving children or family members who went early and did fine. The thing that stands out to me in the original post is that the child is the family clown. High achievers are motivated by the good job that that do and by earning the approval of the teacher. “Funny guys” are motivated by the entertainment they give others. They aren’t going to push themselves to show how brilliant they are. Conversely, it can be hard to tell how brilliant they are because they’re usually off- task and getting into trouble. It’s a different game, and you need to consider the personality of your child. 

  • Rachel

    But the child in question here would not be “starting early,” he will be five-and-a-half! I’ve never heard of keeping a kid born in March back in pre-K for an additional year. He will be 5.5 in pre-K with fresh 4-year-olds!

    • yasmara

      I agree with @Rachel – this question totally confuses me. Holding back a March bday isn’t redshirting…it’s actually holding them back to be *behind* their age-appropriate grade.

      Now, there’s nothing wrong with that if there’s some kind of legitimate learning/developmental issue, but it’s not redshirting. Redshirting (and I think it’s a stupid name since it’s supposed to apply to *college sports* not kindergarteners) is not sending a kid to kindergarten who is right on the cusp of the age cut-off. In our district, that cut-off is September 1st (kid should be 5 on/before September 1st to enter kindergarten). So, although my December bday kid is one of the older kids in his class, he was not red-shirted, he was sent the year he was supposed to be based on his bday. Our next door neighbor kid WAS red-shirted. His bday is in August, but he wasn’t sent to kindergarten until he was 6, even though he made the cut-off date.

      • MJH

        Right? This makes me wonder where it stops. Are schools going to have to start implementing a “no child older than 6.5 can start kindergarten without an approved developmental reason for waiting” policies because people are taking red-shirting too far? 

      • It depends.

        In NYC, for private schools boys are enrolled when their birthdays are May 1 20XX through April 30, 20XX +1. So, my son who was a late April birthday is the youngest boy in his grade. When he was in preschool there was a child born April 1 of his same year that was redshirted. Similarly, in my son’s current class there’s a boy or two who turn a whole year older before or soon after my son because they were redshirted. Hope that helps put some context around the possible confusion.

    • Leslie

      I couldn’t agree more. Where does it stop? I completely understand this quandary when it involves birthdays that fall right around the cut-off date, especially when it comes to boys, who tend to mature later. But six months before the cut-off date? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? If held back, this child would be 6.5 when he starts kindergarten. 6.5! It just blows my mind that this is even a consideration. When I was a kid, the cut off was Dec 1 (it’s now Sept 1), and so several of my friends started kindergarten while they were still 4. Many of my best friends (and also my husband) have bdays in October and November…all the way up to Nov 30…and they are all FINE. I think one of the biggest disservices our generation of parents is doing our children is underestimating their abilities. My guess is that this child will be more than ready a year from now and would be bored out of his mind if held back for another year of preschool. I clearly don’t know him. But holding back a kid with a March birthday, unless there were clear signs of developmental delays, shouldn’t even be a consideration, IMHO. FWIW, Chicago Public Schools have a pretty strict policy about this that does not allow for redshirting. In other words, they would not allow this child into kindergarten at age 6.5 and would force him into 1st grade. Specifically b/c they were running into this type of thing too often and they wanted to keep the playing field even for all children (b/c, let’s face it, not everyone can afford the luxury of keeping their child home for an extra year). Not surprisingly, this has caused a lot of backlash, and there are many families who’ve fled to the suburbs as a result.

  • Suzy Q

    Boy, things have changed! I was 5 years old in first grade, and a year younger than everyone else after that. (I could not WAIT to get out of kindergarten.) Never hindered me, and I even graduated high school early, at 16. I am not some über intellectual nor, sadly, a rocket scientist; just a regular person with a stressful, niche-profession job. However, my relative youth has been fun at the HS reunions!

    • Bethany

      Same here, mostly. My dad was military, so we moved every 1-3 years.  When I was about to start kindergarten, we lived in Georgia, and my birthday was just a few days after the cutoff, but my parents enrolled me early anyway. (Thanks to my mom, who has a master’s degree in education, I’d been reading for a year and a half anyways.)

      I’d been at a private school where they were letting me do advanced work in 2nd grade, but when I got to third grade, the school wanted me to do all third grade work. My parents thought it was kind of ridiculous that they were paying for me to do work I’d done the year before, so they pulled me out and homeschooled me (and later, when we moved overseas, my two younger siblings).

      Eventually, my mom realized that I really wasn’t being challenged by the curriculum, so she had me do three years’ worth of work in two years. That put me, technically, two years ahead of my peers. I graduated high school at 16 (as a National Merit Scholar, lest anyone think homeschooling isn’t rigorous), went to college straight away, and did just fine.

      Socially, I was always pretty awkward, but I attribute that to my personality rather than being younger. Due to a combination of moving so often and my general tendency not to put up with drama, I didn’t have many friends in my school years. That changed once I got to college. So many smart people who actually give a rip about things that matter! I was in heaven!

      Now I’m a mom, and I have a two year old who has an early November birthday and is showing signs of being very, very bright. I think  being the youngest in your class is a much different experience for girls than boys, and since he’s such an extrovert (seriously, how did two super-introverts like myself and my husband produce such an extroverted child??), this won’t be a quick or easy decision.

  • Katie

    The real problem is that full day, academic pressure-filled K is not developmentally appropriate for ANY child that age.  Sure the majority do fine, it’s more convenient for working parents, it’s free, etc., but the expectations put on Kindergarten students (public school at least) are outrageous.  My advice would be to look for a half day program if at all possible (many preschools, churches, montessori schools have them where I live).  I don’t put my kids in public school K, though I realize that is a luxury not everyone has.  Best of luck, I hope you find an option that works for your family.