Prev Next

Redshirting, from the Other Side

By Chris Jordan


I hear a lot about people holding their kids, particularly boys, out of school for an extra year. My son should be going to kindergarten next year and I wonder if I should consider this? What do you think about this trend? Do you have any experience with it that you can share since your kids are older now?


Confused Mom


I remember when I was a kid, skipping grades in school was a big deal. My mother had skipped two grades and when I was poised to go into kindergarten early and then asked to skip first grade, my mother steadfastly refused. She believed that being developmentally ready was more important. At the time I remember family and friends being outraged. How could she hold me back? She was stifling my future! Skipping grades would give me an advantage!

Oh, how the pendulum has swung. School has changed. No longer are kids skipped ahead. Now, many people are holding their kids out of school for a year in order to gain an advantage or a leg up on their peers. Not because they think their child isn’t ready, but because they think that holding them out an extra year will turn them into a leader, an athletic phenom among their peers, or automatically qualify them for gifted programs at school.

Redshirting was a term used to describe college athletes sitting out their freshman season of athletics so that they could maintain their four-year eligibility while getting in more practice and becoming stronger. It is now used to describe the act of holding children out of kindergarten, though they fall within the age for starting.

Typically it is boys who are held back. And the children that I have personally known, have autumn birthdays in states where the age cut-off is January 1st, which means the child spends the first four months of kindergarten as a 4 year old.

Contrary to what the popular media would tell you, I know no one who did it for athletic reasons. To suggest that is the primary reason parents are holding back their sons is silly. Anyone with kids who play sports knows that until high school the cut-off is based on birthday, not your grade in school. I would hope that most parents realize you are far more likely to be eligible for a scholarship based on grades than you are based on athletic ability. I read a statistic recently that said less than 1% of high school athletes will be offered scholarships based on their sport.

I will admit that I don’t quite understand the motivation of the parents who are holding their kids back a year when they would already be the oldest ones in the class. I wonder if it begins to infect communities where parents hear of one kid being held back and then worry their own child will be at a disadvantage and so hold him back, and a cycle begins. At some point you have to wonder where the line is that crosses from an advantage to disadvantage. I happen to think that it would be damaging to be the biggest and most mature, and possibly boring if the child is catching on to material that is being taught quicker that the rest of the class.

Having said all of that, I have three boys whom I “redshirted.

I think my story is fairly typical and so I will share it.

We lived in a state where the age cut off was January 1st. My oldest son is born in mid-November. (My other sons late November and mid-December) And though academically he could have done kindergarten–he was already a proficient reader– socially he was not at all ready. He was a very immature four year old. And he would have remained a four year old for half of the school year. Kindergarten has become a very academic endeavor. In the area where we lived, it was a common practice for parents to hold back boys who had late fall birthdays.

But what happens as the years pass? I never really hear people talk about this. What about redshirting from the other side of the equation, when these boys are getting ready to graduate and move on to college. Six, eight, ten years later are the parents still happy with their decision?

Well, thus far I have not heard a single parent complain that they should have sent their child to school earlier. Not one. I have heard a few people express regret for not holding their sons back, always for social reasons, not academic.  Not one has mentioned athletics or physical size.

I now have a 17 year old who is almost done with his junior year of high school. Had he not been redshirted, he would be heading off to college in the fall. That is crazy for me to even think about. It has only been very recently that he has stepped out of the self-centeredness that is the hallmark of teenage years. It is only in the past month or so that I have seen a real burst of maturity and had the feeling that he was able to think of other people aside from himself. My relationship with him is changing. He isn’t as intent on pulling away or rebelling, instead he asks for advice on things. He is growing to be independent.

I can now say that without a doubt, I would not feel comfortable sending him off to college in a few months. This extra year of development is critical, I believe. It is a time to loosen the reins of parenting and let him experience more freedoms, choices, and consequences before the stakes are too high. Maybe there are some kids who are ready to leave home at 17, but mine is not one of them.

Recent studies have shown that teens do not use the frontal cortex of their brain, the area that is responsible for planning and reasoning, the way that adults do. They do not think through the consequences of their actions the way that adults do. Anyone who has ever parented a teenager and asked them, “What were you thinking?” knows this to be true. They don’t know what they were thinking. Their brains are still immature and developing. They believe themselves invincible. I suppose once upon a time these were good evolutionary traits, but now, not so much.

Did I even think about this when he was four years old and I was unsure about whether or not to send him to kindergarten? No, I did not.

I am not sure that had someone brought it up to me I would have even been able to fathom what a 17 year old was like developmentally or emotionally. The only reference I had at that point was my own teenage years and, in my early twenties, I wasn’t that far removed from seventeen. I would have thought seventeen, eighteen, what’s the difference? It is only upon viewing the teenage years from the perspective of parenting that I realize how slowly they mature into adults. They physically look like adults way before their brains catch up.

So the advice I usually give to people, when they ask me, is if you think your child is ready, the school thinks your child is ready, AND they will be 18 years old before they head off to college, send them to school.

The irony of the redshirt debate is that the age cut-off for school varies widely depending on the state in which you live. Three years ago we moved to another state. What is redshirting in one state, is not in another.

My boys are no longer redshirted.

What do you think about the whole redshirt debate? Do you think people should just send their children when the cut-off is and stop obsessing? Do you think parents should be able to decide when they want their children to begin school even if it means they are two years older then their peers?


Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Maggie

    April 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    In MN September 1 is the cutoff date, so it was always the summer birthdays that were in question and I remember being surprised that someone had held a child with a May birthday. Years later, I wasn’t too thrilled when my son’s friend could drive as a 16-year-old freshman in March.

  • Jenni Shaver

    April 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    As a previous kindergarten teacher, I fully condone redshirting a child who is not ready for school. I have seen so many little boys who had to spend another year with me because they could not grasp the concepts required to move on to first grade. Most every one of them would have made it through the first time had they waited to start school (Most had summer birthdays – Sept 1st cutoff). Usually if a parent decided to push them through they ended up repeating a grade later in Elementary school. 

    I will do the same for my son if, when he gets to kindergarten, he is not ready. Why should he suffer at the bottom of the class if waiting a year will help him to succeed? Learning concepts at the right developmental level is would be beneficial for any child. 

  • AmyRenee

    April 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    My aunt redshirted my cousin and regrets it. He is very bright and did 2 years of headstart, but she was worried about him being able to sit still etc, so she kept him home. The problem was that since he was eligible for kindergarten, he was NOT eligible for head start anymore, so he just stayed home that year. He turned 6 shortly after starting kindergarten, and he often lies about either his age or grade because he’s afraid people will think he is dumb and flunked a grade. And as mentioned, he has to play sports according to his age, so he’s always with kids up a grade, not his classmates & friends. He also tends to get into trouble because he finishes his schoolwork quickly then gets bored. I would agree with holding back kids with late fall birthdays who like the author, but not kids who are 5 or nearly 5 when they can start kindergarten. After all, someone has to be the youngest.

  • Adriana

    April 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I red-shirted my 2 boys. Cut-off date is Dec 1, his birthday was end of July. He was doing great academically, nearly reading but socially he was having a lot of problems. I know that our story is not typical but at the time I had no way of knowing it.
    We held him back, he did a Pre-K class, started reading on his own, doing great overall but still socially was having a lot of problems. The next year at age 6 he started K. It was a nightmare. Nothing but problems. 5 months into the year he was diagnosed on the spectrum with Asperger’s. He’s now in 5th grade about to head off to middle school. He’s doing wonderful. He has a couple of friends now and doing well in school. I do not regret our decision to hold him back. If we hadn’t he most likely would have had to repeat K and I think that would have been worse for his self-esteem.
    We held back our 2nd son also, he was emotionally immature (Aug birthday). He’s now in 4th and doing great. Fits in just fine with all of his classmates, no problems. Again no qualms with our decision in holding him back.
    Sometimes I think we try to push our kids to grow up just a bit too fast. With all the years of school they have before them, I don’t see the problem with holding back a 4yr old who’s just not ready for school.

  • Amy

    April 14, 2012 at 4:13 am

    I live in a state with a September 1 cut-off date and, having worked in a preschool for several years, have a hard time understanding states that have a January 1 cut-off date. Kids mature SO MUCH during those months just before and after their fifth birthdays, it’s hard for me to imagine a kid who’s four months away from turning five in kindergarten already.

    My husband and I are expecting a girl in the middle or end of August and will seriously consider waiting until she’s six to send her to kindergarten, but our reasoning has nothing to do with athletics. We’d just rather have our kid be one of the most mature in the class than one of the least mature.

  • A

    April 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

    My oldest daughter has a late August birthday and we did not redshirt her. Our cutoff is Oct. 1. She was academically ready and she is slightly more immature than some of her classmates but she’s ahead of them academically in a lot of subjects. She’s in first grade right now. I think it’s all about knowing your kid and finding the balance between pushing them too hard or not hard enough. If anyone figures out how to do that correctly please tell me how!

    I am pleased with our decision, I think she enjoys the academic challenge and would be bored if she was still in kindergarten and able to read chapter books. I can see some advantages socially to holding her back though.

    And I have no idea why a cutoff would be Jan. 1. That’s crazy! I always thought it made the most sense if the kids had to be 5 by the first day of school.

  • Jaimy

    April 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

    The cut off here is either Aug 31 or Sept 1 depending on the district. My oldest son’s birthday is Sept 3. I’ll have to see how he is maturing as we get closer, but right now it seems silly to me to hold him back a year for a couple days. The younger will be easy since he has a late November birthday.

  • E's Mommy

    April 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

    I don’t usually read posts about redshirting because i’ve seen so much anger and resentment directed toward the parents who redshirt in the posts. Your post is one of the only posts I’ve seen that addresses the fact that parents redshirt for reasons other than trying to give their kids an academic or athletic advantage over their peers. I know several families that have redshirted and none of them did it because they thought it would give their child an advantage. They all made the decision because they were concerned that their child wouldn’t be able to focus all day or keep up academically with the grade level expectations.

    The cutoff here is Sept 1 and my oldest’s birthday is in July. His preschool teacher didn’t think he was ready for kindergarten at age 5 and neither did we. So he got to spend the year he was 5 playing with friends and going to preschool 2 hours a day instead of sitting in a classroom for 6 hours (and his current school has 25 minutes a day of recess, so he really does sit in a classroom for almost 6 hours a day).

    He’s in 1st grade now, he’s the oldest 1st grader in his class (he’s in a mixed 1st/2nd grade classroom), but nowhere near the most mature, not ahead in academics (actually a little behind in some subjects), and not the biggest or the strongest or the best at sports. If he chooses to go to college he’ll turn 19 the summer before he goes and right now I have no regrets about that. I’m glad he got to have an extra year to play and glad he’ll have an extra year to mature before he goes off on his own.

  • Ang

    April 15, 2012 at 4:58 am

    The cutoff here in Nebraska is July 31, and my son was born on the cutoff day. He’s only 8 months now, so I have a few years, but my husband and I have already agreed that if he isn’t ready then we won’t send him. And it never even crossed my mind to do it for academic or athletic advantages. I’m just concerned that he may not be ready at barely 5 years old.

  • Julia

    April 15, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    my brother was send to school at a time my mom wasn’t a 100% sure he was ready, and he turned out fine socially and academically (as in, is socially competend and has a PhD in math). but influenced by his rough start, she held me back a year, and I have to say I always felt too old. Not that I didn’t get along with my classmates, but the extra year just always felt too much. One year before i was actually finished with school I started to struggle because It just didn’t feel right anymore. I kept going, but had to keep myself entertained (fortunately, I like sewing and that kind of stuff, not partying ) outside school a lot. a couple of years later, I think all that belongs to me, and I can’t imagine having had a different childhood. And when it comes to sending my son (and hopefully his future siblings) to kindergarten, I’ll probably try to evaluate more individually and less on a general level whether they are ready or not

  • mary d

    April 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    I’m also in Nebraska. My son has a mid-July birthday and the cutoff when he started school was Oct 15 (they switched it because of too many redshirt kids). He’s in kindergarten now and we sent him at age 5. He was academically ready and acted like a normal 5-year-old boy (i.e. a little fidgety). We found with him that he acts like the kids in his class, so if we held him back, he’d act more like the kids younger than him, whereas with sending him as one of the youngest, he acted more like the older kids. There are kids a whole year older than him that are more immature. He’s bored with the academics (went to an AWESOME preschool). One thing that frustrates me is that by people redshirting, teachers tend to expect the kids to act like 6-year-olds instead of 5-year-olds, when in fact they SHOULD be 5 when they are in kindergarten. We have a younger son that also has a July birthday (30 days from the cutoff) and we’re planning on sending him when he is 5.

  • maura

    April 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your experience.  My son is only 20 months but with an end of July birthday and a Sept 1st school cut off.  As we’re planning daycare costs, the thought of whether to start him “on time” or wait a year is already beginning to weigh on me.  When talking about this issue with girlfriends, I’ve noticed a few moms making comments like, “The cut off date is there for a reason, follow it.”  Easy for you to say when your kids are March and April birthdays, no where near the cut off!
    I appreciate hearing from a mom with older kids what your experience has been.

  • Ally

    April 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    My son will turn five on September 4th and the cutoff here is August 30th. We are not sending him to kindergarten this year. Our district is very adamant about staying in the age range. Even if I tried to send him this year I’d have to really fight for it. I’m glad he just misses the cutoff so I don’t have to make that decision. 

  • Meg A.

    April 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    My family called it “being held back”. My mom (a teacher) decided to hold me back and I spent an extra year in kindergarten – and it did me a world of good. My birthday is in July – I think September was the cut-off in our area. I was the girl who knew the answers, but wouldn’t raise her hand. I wasn’t socially ready. Looking back, I’m so glad she decided to hold me back! I turned into a social butterfly in elementary school and my grades were great – in other words – I was MORE than ready, which to me is always better than not being quite ready. My husband, on the other hand, was not held back (we are the exact same age, 4 days apart) and he WISHES his parents had held him back! He did not do well in school, was very shy and did not participate in class. This continued all the way through high school graduation. He has told me that he’s jealous that I was given this awesome advantage. If there is ever a question with my kids… I will hold them back, for sure!

  • Melani

    April 18, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Our community must be who the media is basing their reports on because the majority of the boys were “redshirted” in order to be stronger in academics as well as athletics. These mothers readily admit it, the thing is though, that since so many of them did it…it kind of defeats the purpose.  I completely agree that some children just aren’t ready and need to wait.  However, now I have the issue of my 14 (soon 15) year old freshman feeling like a freak because most of his friends are driving already.  It’s not going to permanently damage him obviously but it annoys me that he thinks he’s the oddball because he started school at the regular age. 

  • Y

    April 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    There are parents who are holding their kids back in Jr.High for athletic purposes. Four boys who have played basketball with Ethan started high school a year later so they could have a leg up on the other kids in sports. I don’t get that AT ALL. 

  • Sharon

    April 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    My son missed the cut off for kindergarten by two days. He is finishing up 4th grade now. Emotionally he was not ready for kindergarten. He was still crying when I dropped him at preschool that year. I’m glad I had to hold him back for a year, but academically he has been a bit bored with school. I wonder if I had the choice to send him early if I would have and if he would be a little more challenged in the classroom now. I probably would not have because of his social development, but I wonder sometimes if he would have benefitted from being a bit younger and more challenged. Maybe not. Maybe he’s right where he is supposed to be.

  • Ivan

    May 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    I find red shirting to be a horrible ignorant trend!!! As a 30 yr old father of 7 I
    do regrett holding my son back in kindergarten he had a jan birthday but acted young for his age well come to find out he had a reading problems so when he started kindergarten he was 6 and turned 7 in january and still acted like a 5 yr old even though he was 7.and well he still has reading problems and was never able to get on grade level. And that killed his self esteem becouse now he’s 15 and in the 8 th grade and says tthe kids are so imeture and frankley gets into a lot of fight with other boys over girls and has to go to football practice with the 10th graders becouse he’s to old to play with the middle schoolers .he has to play with the high schoolers wich is embarissing becouse every one treats him like he’s dumb becouse he’s 15 in the 8th grade.oh yah he’s in 8 th grade with his 13 year old brother who we did not redshirt.Ihave 2 other son’s who have late summer birthdays.and they were hyper in kindergarten but by 1st and 2nd grade had matured out of the wiggles and are doing vry well I’m SO GLAD I DID NOT RED SHIRT MY OTHER SONS!!!! If u really wanna do right by your kids give them a chance to suceed before u fail them!!!!

  • Ivan

    May 23, 2013 at 8:05 am

    I read my lil statement it sounds very negative to my oldest son !!!!he does realy good in math and athletics he’s always a cut above but me & my wife both wish we just would have let him start at 5 yrs old instead of 6 becouse kids can take years to emoitonally mature with peers but he matured when we put him in football he fianally got to be around kids his age and that’s when he started behaveing like a young man mind u he started football at 8 and was with other 8 & 9 yr olds but in school he was with mostly 6 yr olds .Now when.JR high started that’s when real problems started he hit puberty early around 10 or 11 and by 13 he’s into girls and dating and going out except.a lot of the girls he’d talk to their parents thaught he was to mature and well u knw would’ not allow their daughters to date eric.this got worse with each year girls like him he’s mature but mom & dads often think he’s a high schooler and when Ido tell them he’s in 8 th grade they think he’s slow or ask how many times did he get held back I say once we redshirted him. And have regretted it ever since he realy should be in 9th grade right now he would have been one of the older kids in his class regardless being born in Jan we just should have let him start and gave him the chance to do well.Now on the flip side my other 3 sons all have late birthdays and 2 of them are in school now and my youngest starts this year .and my 13 year old is in 8th grade also he was born Dec 15 he is the youngest kid in his class but hey he’s very mature for his age and is taller then his 15 yr old brother he ‘s a boxer and you knw it plays football he developed on time with all his peers and is quite populer becouse he looks older but is younger then his class mates.when he started K we lived in VT for about 18 Mos wich has a cut off of DEC 31 after he finished we moved back home to SC and in our home state the cut off is Sept,1 so he went into first grade at 5 turning 6 and yah he was littler then a lot of kids until 2nd grade and then I noticed he was about the same hight as most the other boys.and by 8th grade he was 6 ft 3inches and 175lbs and a solid student so yah I’m glad we started him young becouse he caught up to his peers just fine and at 13 in 8th grade he is done awsome remeber a quick fix when their young might have long lasting negitive impact on your child becouse ur kids don’t stay in grammer school forever!!!!!

  • w w

    May 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Don’t do this. You don’t know what the future holds. My nephew was very bright, eager to learn. Sister missed deadlines to put him in private/public schools. Already year late.Middle of 8th grade, moved across country, didn’t meet standards and held back. 10th grade, moved back, held back again. Had to fake age and residency to get a school to accept him as an over-age senior. Summer schools weren’t enough, he was denied graduation and now has to pay for GED at 20. Please prioritize education enough to keep kids on their normal age and grade track.