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Academic Redshirting: should you hold your kid back?

By Alice Bradley

I’ve been thinking about the practice of redshirting: postponing your child’s entrance into kindergarten to give him or her an academic or social edge. I’m not considering it for my son, mind you: we were spared that decision, because Henry just missed the cut-off date in New Jersey; we’re paying for another year of preschool and that’s why we can’t afford food or socks. I’m thinking about it because whenever I complain about all this tuition we’re forced to pay and all the great socks we’re missing out on, everyone congratulates me—because giving your child an extra year—especially if your child is a boy child—is seen as the smartest way to go. Usually when people tell me it’s for the best, boys need that extra year, I like to respond by shouting, YOU CALLING MY BOY AN IDIOT? And I wonder why people run from me at the playground.
Now, If we had stayed in Brooklyn, he would have been well within the cut-off date and he would have attended kindergarten. Am I disappointed that he had an extra year of preschool? A little. Financially, I’m disappointed, of course. But also I’m not sure the extra year has done him a service. He’s expressed a great deal of impatience with preschool. It is, according to Henry, a baby school with baby activities. For the first time, he doesn’t want to go to school because it’s boring. I was excited for him to be the oldest– he was the youngest for two years in preschool, and I watched the older kids leaving him out of their games and it broke my heart—but he doesn’t actually get that much out of it. The thrill of having all the younger kids look up to him has worn off, and now he just thinks they’re, well, boring. (Sorry for being redundant, but it’s a word I hear all too frequently.)
On the other hand, I wonder whether the extra year will pay off in the long run. I must admit that I’m glad Henry won’t be the smallest boy in the class when he enters public school. I mean, he’ll be able to handle his switchblade so much better next year. (Ha! Heeerrgh. Ahem.)
Let’s face it, kindergarten isn’t what it was when we were youngsters. Here’s what I remember from kindergarten: we ate paste while the teacher wasn’t looking. I got into trouble for blowing bubbles in my milk. We played follow the leader, and I got distracted and wandered off. Is it any wonder I almost failed? My kindergarten report card is still a topic of amusement in my family. Knows full name and number? NOPE. Can tie shoes? NUH-UH. Follows directions? ALMOST NEVER. Calls the teacher Mommy? WHY, SURE! If kindergarten were still like that, hell, Henry could have entered at age 3 and blown my record right out of the water.
But these days the children are expected to learn, you know, things. They’re learning how to read and write, they’re getting started on foreign languages, they’re expected to sit at desks, and I’m fairly certain that they learn how to drive. Henry’s getting an extra year of running around, and given his energy level, that’s a good thing. I’m especially glad we switched him to a preschool that’s a little more sedate and rigid (and, well, boring) than his last one, which was an action-figure-strewn free-for-all. Had we not had this extra year, kindergarten might have come as a terrible shock. What do you mean, there are no Power Rangers here? What circle of hell have I descended to?
So yeah, the extra year might do him good. And I know plenty of parents whose kids just made the cut-off date, but were smaller statured or shy or just needed more time to mature, and in that case waiting does make more sense. But it’s when parents use redshirting as some kind of strategic move for their child’s future greatness that I start to wonder where they’re coming from. Your kid was ready, but you want him to be readier? Or you just want him to win? Why don’t you wait four years? Five? THEN he’ll have the real advantage. He’ll kick those five-year-olds to the curb! Literally!
And according to some experts, leaving your kid behind a year doesn’t put them at a long-term advantage. Beth Graue, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Curriculum and Instruction, says that the advantages the older children enjoy disappear after a couple of years. “Meanwhile, ‘redshirts’ have higher-than-expected placement in special education and more social, emotional, and disciplinary problems.” In other words, they become the understimulated, oversized bullies.
Then there are the larger ramifications, which are summed up neatly on this site. First of all, people who hold their children back are more like to be well-off. What does that mean for the poorer families, who can’t afford not to send their kids to public school for an entire year? It means that children who are already at risk face a further disadvantage. Also, the older the children entering kindergarten become, the more the curriculum will alter to serve them, leaving five-year-olds in the dust. The long-term result: “The kindergarten program will become developmentally inappropriate for the very young children it is meant to serve.”
But then, it’s hard to factor in what’s good for Society when your child’s well-being is at stake. So what did you do think? Do you leave your kid back, or throw him in when the district says he’s ready?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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Mom to 1, 1 on the way
Guest
Mom to 1, 1 on the way

I have a little girl who was born in April, so will be on the young side. I am pregnant, due in September, who will be on the old side. I’m not worried about either of them. They’ll catch up. As you pointed out, there are benefits and drawbacks to both.

Slim
Guest
Slim

Holy moly, how did a child with an April birthday become “on the old side”? What is the cutoff where you are? Here, it’s September 30. My kids have summer birthdays, and they’re going on time. As in, at 5. Our school district, bless its heart, believes that it is the school’s job to deal with the kids who appear in kindergarten, and not the parents’ job to see that they are prepared (to some magical level) for kindergarten. Our school district doesn’t even expect all kids entering first grade to be reading. Which — listen up, all you annoying… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I’m currently at university and most of my friends were at the top of their class in high school. Coincidentally, most of my friends (including myself) were the youngest in the grade. Now we are all girls and it’s not an exact sample, but I say put them in when they seem ready and don’t worry about age(whether they will be older or younger).

Katherine
Guest
Katherine

My November misses the cutoff. I spent the last year researching every way I could find to get her a chance to start K at 4y9m. It’s not going to happen and I think that will be fine. The challenge was finding a program for that interim year to keep the momentum up (she’s in full time pre-K and has been since 3). I worried that she would be older and bigger (she’s a tall glass of water) and “readier” but – I took a look – with all the kids being redshirted – she’ll be among a group of… Read more »

Arwen
Guest

Thanks for presenting a balanced consideration of this issue. It seems to me that a lot of people think red-shirting is a no-brainer, because why wouldn’t you want to give your child a better chance to Succeed? But why should it be a given that being older means being more likely to succeed? It’s clearly not, given the understimulated, oversized bullies.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Here where I live, it’s almost always boys who are held back or started late, but not for the reasons you cited. #1 Reason? Athletics. We have friends who are holding their 5th grader back this year so that he will have a better chance to excel at athletics, and are secretive about it at all. I was flabbergasted. Not only does he not have a late birthday, he is also not a small kid who might benefit from a year of maturity. He’s a good head taller and 30 pounds heavier than my 5th grader. I hope he does… Read more »

SuburbanCorrespondent
Guest

This issue really depends on the child. And the school system and its expectations for kindergarteners. So there is no one-size-fits-all answer available. In general, however, 5-year-old girls make 5-year-old boys look like Cro-Magnons. They are so far ahead socially, it’s a joke. When I was growing up, we had a pre-first grade where they put all the kids who had finished kindergarten but weren’t ready for first grade. And guess what? Every single one of the students in pre-first was a boy. Obnoxious boys, who would chase us around the playground and pull our hair. Not like the suave… Read more »

Slim
Guest
Slim

“In general, however, 5-year-old girls make 5-year-old boys look like Cro-Magnons.” See, this is what makes me crazy. And I suspect most people who believe it are actually illustrating the principle (can’t remember what it’s called, or even if it has a name, frankly) that we notice and remember data that back up our assumptions and gloss over the information that doesn’t. And while I don’t care whether an individual parent chooses to believe this about the general population, I think the attitude in general tends to further the trend toward redshirting. Yes! My boys are exemplars of perfect, non-gender-specific… Read more »

Mel
Guest
Mel

Like you, the choice is made for us virtue of a Sept. 1 cutoff & an early October birthday. I’ve been fretting about my son waiting the extra year, mostly because of one of the points you touched on – that the lack of stimulation will trigger the “class clown” (aka troublemaker) potential that exists in my darling boy. Geez, I know what he is capable of after fifteen minutes of boredom, let alone an entire school day!

Johnna
Guest

I threw my first son in when the system said to. He’s one of the young ones because of an April birthday, but he’s very smart (of course!) and one of the most well behaved (obviously!). He’s thriving and learning and not “bored.” My second son will be one of the oldest due to a November birthday. I’m not concerned about that either. Kid’s are pretty capable of going with the flow and adjusting, I believe.
I enjoyed your interesting post. I feel lucky to be in Georgia where there is state funded public Pre-Kindergarden!

braine
Guest

Schmedshirting. I bet the “it’s boring” thing is the result of Henry’s age and the intelligence he’s picked up from his alpha parents, and not so much about the school environment. Our son was born a couple of weeks after Henry, but we’re in New York so he’s in kindergarten. It’s Montessori, taught in the same room where he spent pre-school, only now he gets to do all the Big Kid activities: Japanese and Spanish, reading, writing, working with the “bionomial chain” and the “trinomial cube” (I DON’T KNOW), and creating a legion of hydrogen-powered droids to perform simple farming… Read more »

msg
Guest

luckily my march born boy is off the charts in the growth department so he actually doesn’t feel like the runt of the class even though he is the youngest…unfortunately his brother was born in November and he will be a head taller than everyone and (because he is a genius of course) i have a feeling he will be coming back with a whole lot of “I had a borrrrrring day mom” but I guess he will at least be an athelete! the cutoff date is silly unfortunately it is also hard to imagine placing kids dependent on their… Read more »

Amy
Guest

I faced this dilemma 3 years ago when my son was 5. He has a July birthday and is small and although academically ready, he was a bit immature. We elected that it would be best to wait another year. I don’t regret it. He’s thriving in 1st grade b`ut far from being bored. We live in a pretty competitive school district (academically) so that was a factor as well. Now, we are faced with the same decision for our daughter who will be 5 in May. Her situation is a little less clear-cut. I have enrolled her in preschool… Read more »

Jenn @ Juggling Life
Guest

I live in California, which has an extremely late cut-off date, December 5. My youngest daughter’s b-day is mid-November, so she started at 4. She’s now 13 and it was absolutely the right decision to start her at 4. My comment is on the “graying” of kindergarten. I’d have to say that in first grade, when 13 of the 20 kids in the class were more than a year older than her (due to redshirting), my daughter did feel she was not as “smart” as the rest of the class. Well, duh, they should have been in 2nd grade! Luckily,… Read more »

Frogdancer
Guest

I don’t believe holding kids back a year has any short term benefit. However, speaking as a secondary teacher (and mother of 4 boys, two of which have been held back) the benefits once they hit adolescence are marked.
Girls far outstrip the boys in early adolescence, and it takes the boys years to catch up. The expectations to sit still, focus and be academically astute is often really hard for the junior levels to maintain. The extra year of maturity that the held back boys have is very noticeable. I wish I’d held back all four of mine.

Andi
Guest
Andi

Well, as a om who took a techer comendation about holding my son back; I can tel you i as ot helpful in he long run. My on is now 18 and a junior in high shool. He was already an older pre-schooler. He was havig a diffucult time withhis letters. So they assumed he neeed more time. It turned out he was dysleic. After doing lots of tutoring wth specilist he was great with ome challenges but geat academicly. Soial stuff has been much harder. His friends are far more inmature than he is. Fortunatly, he has started a… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

Both my husband and his younger brother were born in mid-August in a school district with a September cut-off. My MIL put them both in when they were “supposed” to go, at 5, and so both were the very youngest in the class. My BIL had horrible experiences all the way thru HS as the youngest, and positively insisted and made his wife plan that their kids be born in the winter (I kid you not) so they’d be among the oldest. My husband remembers only positive things about school, and thinks his brother is nuts. It’s all in whether… Read more »

janny226
Guest

With an early-September birthday, DuckyBoy is one of the semi-younger ones thanks to NYC’s calendar-year cutoff dates. But there are at least 3 other birthdays later than his in his class, so it’s a decent mix. He is delayed socially, and that is a certifiable fact, so for him I’m glad he is one of the younger kids so he has better role models, instead of being the older kid of the group. I know he was bored academically in his 2nd year of preschool last year, but that was more a factor of not being able to figure out… Read more »

Kylie
Guest

I think you make a pretty strong case here. Personally, I was almost held back, but pushed into Kindergarten on time, even though I was behind other children. I ended up doing quite well, academically, in the end. I think it’s more of a question of how kid’s desires form, than their actually abilities. They have to want too learn. Took me a long time to get there, but I made it!

Cynthia Samuels
Guest

I think the theory comes from the idea that boys are developmentally “slower” than girls, and that the extra year helps them to keep up with expectations. It was good for my second son, because he was the youngest at home and got to be the oldest at school, and because he went to an academically-oriented preschool. I can tell you though that a friend’s child, older than everyone all through high school, found it tough, embarrassing and hard in weird ways. He had the only driver’s license etc and was expected to “put out” when kids wanted rides and… Read more »

Sar
Guest
Sar

I think that sometimes people forget that there can be an advantage to being young. I skipped a couple grades in high school, started at an early college, and transferred to a mainstream college as an 18 year old junior. It kept me stimulated and motivated because I felt I needed to prove I could compete with the older students. I developed a great group of mostly male friends who were very protective of me, and when it came time to apply to graduate school I was accepted into several elite programs, in no small part (I’m convinced) because my… Read more »

Sar
Guest
Sar

Forgot to say that I’m also a summer baby so I was always a leetle younger to begin with and apparently didn’t have problems because of it. But the whole dropping out of high school, starting college at 16? That was a decision that I was obviously an active participant in, so different from ‘redshirting’

LuLuBoyer
Guest

I haven’t taken time to read all of the comments yet, but we have hit a very real problem with the decision to hold our son back, now that he is in his senior year. He seemed young emotionally, and we never thought again about our decision once it was made (proof is was the right one). He’s 18 now and I just asked him how it felt to him. He said that he never felt “older” in age, only in emotion. Also, he never seemed older in appearance. Some of his grade level were as much as two years… Read more »

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

Got to the party late, but here goes. My older son was placed in Kindergarten in January 2007. He NEEDED to be there. His birthday is the day after Christmas, and the cut off date in CA is 12/05. I know this child. If I had kept him in preschool where all he was doing was review of what he knew, there would have been hell to pay in Kindergarten. He would have been bored and acted out (which was already happening in preschool) which would have labeled him a “troublemaker”. In fact, when his teacher first got him (she… Read more »

BlackOrchid
Guest

Just wanted to pipe in to say that, like Sar, I started school at 4 (November birthday) and then skipped a grade in elementary, so I began college early as well. Never had a problem, would have been completely and utterly bored if I hadn’t done these things. As it was I was pretty bored most of the time! I’m sick of the redshirting around here (and most teachers I ask agree with me). Not to mention the pressure other moms (who have redshirted or are planning to) keep putting on ME to hold my July-born daughter back next year.… Read more »

Belle
Guest
Belle

My son’s birthday is September 21st. the cut off date for our district was September 30, so he made the cutoff. I could not afford the extra year of day care so we made the decision to send him to Kindergarten. He was 4 when he started. We had alot of trouble the first year. The teacher even recommended he wait another year. But I told her I couldn’t afford it. He got kicked out of his after school day care because of his hyperactivity and we had to switch schools because I could not find other day care that… Read more »

Andrea
Guest

If school curriculum were geared toward ability and not age this would not be an issue.

skg
Guest
skg

Both of my kids miss our state’s deadline by five days. Five days! After talking to his teacher and the director of his preschool, I’ve decided to let him take the test that will determine if he is ready (or not) for kindergarten. This is a decision that has kept me up many a night. I hope I’m doing the right thing. I’ve reserved a spot for him at his preschool for the fall just in case. His teacher thinks he’s ready and will do fine but yikes! I guess I won’t know the outcome until he’s 30 and either… Read more »

Amanda
Guest
Amanda

My mom is a preschool and pre-K teacher here at a local Catholic school. If a child has a birthday that is in that tricky cut off area AND the child is not developing or at the developmental stage where he or she should be for that age, she and the other teachers will recommend another year of preschool or, if applicable, that the child attend pre-K. They don’t force it on the parents but do make a strong case for the child’s social and educational development. Hearing her talk so passionately about it has led me to agree with… Read more »

kym b
Guest

Wow, I guess I’ve never even thought that this happened. I have an October birthday and started K when I was 4. My 1st is April and 2nd is February so there were no questions about when they would start. My 3rd is a late September birthday and I have never even thought of “redshirting’ her. She will start when she is 4 and turn 5 about a month after school starts. She will be fine, she is a smart little cookie and 2 1/2 and will be more than ready by then. Kids born in the summer not going… Read more »

Shannon
Guest
Shannon

My son will be 5 on 7/24 with a Kindergarten cutoff of 7/31 so he will be a new 5. He attended PreK this past year. He was placed in a Title 1 PreK program due to his delays from prematurity. In February, we were told to not even consider advancing him but two months later, his lightbulb turned on and he mastered all areas and scored above and beyond their Kindergarten expectations. And I’m supposed to be comfortable placing my baby on a huge bus with older kids! As it turns out, the elementary has a summer school program… Read more »

maine626
Guest
maine626

I have twins – boy/girl, with a b-days in Nov. We just had our K screening day and they said the kids would be fine (our cutoff is Dec 31). BUT the pre-school teacher said they would benefit with an extra year going to a pre-K program. We’re leaning towards sending them and if they need an extra year, we’ll have them repeat K. But the decision to send them or not to send them, sends me over the edge. Do you send them, do you not send them? They could definately benefit an extra year of maturity but when… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

I have twin boys and they just turned 5 August 18. They are in kindergarden. We have talked about holding them back instead of going on to 1st grade. Of course my husband want to do it because of athletics and he has the same birthday and was not held back and did not like being the youngest one in his class. I am tore between the decision because I have talked to the teacher and they are doing very good with their work, plus the fact they have said that they do not want to stay in kindergarden they… Read more »

DNA
Guest
DNA

Where I live, the cutoff is March 1 (the latest I know of). My daughter was born at the end of Feb. She started K when she just turned 4.5 years old. She is advanced academically but a bit delayed socially (okay, she’s a bit shy and dorky, like me). Now she is in Grade 1 (probably the youngest) and is keeping up academically, but still behind socially (i.e still dorky – but probably always will be – like me). She does find the school days long though (K is half days here, while Grade 1 is full days) and… Read more »

Lori
Guest
Lori

My daughter is a summer birthday and just started 1st grade (on time). We are realizing she is one of the youngest kids in class. There are students 1 year older due to the fact they were held back. I do worry that the curriculum will start shifting to accomodate an “older crowd”. Some of the kids in her class have lost half of their teeth and are reading novels – meanwhile my daughter hasn’t lost a tooth and is on level 2 reading books. For the record my daughter scored really well on her Kinder assessment – so she’s… Read more »

Lori
Guest
Lori

My daughter is a summer birthday and just started 1st grade (on time). We are realizing she is one of the youngest kids in class. There are students 1 year older due to the fact they were held back. I do worry that the curriculum will start shifting to accomodate an “older crowd”. Some of the kids in her class have lost half of their teeth and are reading novels – meanwhile my daughter hasn’t lost a tooth and is on level 2 reading books. For the record my daughter scored really well on her Kinder assessment – so she’s… Read more »

Donna
Guest
Donna

I agree with Andrea who said, “If school curriculum were geared toward ability and not age this would not be an issue.” That’s the problem and why academic redshirting is becoming more of a popular and sensible option for kids who may not be ready. If schools were doing their jobs and accomodating all children on their various abilities, it wouldn’t be an issue. But, kids are pressured at such an early age to eventually be ready for standardized testing. It’s sad.

Stacey Hoeft
Guest
Stacey Hoeft

I have a son that will turn 5 at the end of June, the cut off where we live is September 1st. He is doing ok academically in pre-school (hard to know at this age), but is emotionally behind in a mothers opinion. He cries and whines a lot and I am concerned about him being emotionally behind in middle school. I am unsure if I should send him to school or wait, any thoughts?

Mom i am
Guest
Mom i am

I refused to redshirt my July-born son despite all the comments of “what if he’s the youngest?” (someone’s gotta be), “you can’t do that to a boy” (yes I can, he’s my son), “boys are too immature” (maybe yours is), etc. Well, it’s been seven years now. He is the youngest in his class (quite a few are 14-18 months older than him), it has never been a problem, and he has never made anything but A’s so far. I’m not writing this to brag about my son, I’m bragging about myself for not listening to the doomsayers. Now at… Read more »

DW
Guest
DW

Why is all of this so shocking or horrifying??? I have a son who has a late June birthday and I know I will delay kindergarten for one year. I’m not doing it so he will be advanced academically or for athletics, I’m doing this so he can develop the interest and ability to be up to par with his classmates. I want him feeling confident that he can do the work he needs to and not be struggling. While I know he is smart, he doesn’t have an interest in writing much or reading (he will be 4 this… Read more »

Jackie
Guest
Jackie

We have the same dilemma. We have a daughter who has an August birthday with an October cutoff. We have not decided if we should send her or not. She is ready academically, however, socially she needs some more time.
As an elementary teacher, I want all of you to know that it is not the schools that are making the curriculum ‘no longer developmentally approperate’ it is the states and wonderful programs like “No Child Left Behind” (Insert sarcasm here) You can thank your government for their unrealistic expectations.

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

I just don’t see why there are deadlines if everyone hold their kids back go an advantage. I have a son with a June birthday, 2 with fall birthdays and one with an April birthday. I have held none of them back and find it frustrating that my April and June birthday kids really are a lot younger because for some reason people hold kids back from January on. # 1 reason athletics and size. Really? I am disappointed that kindergarten has gone from a fun place to very structured and pushed learning. Well whe you have kids turning 7… Read more »

Mo
Guest
Mo

I can’t speak for any of the parents, as you know your child better than anyone. But one thing I would caution, if your child has low self-esteem already, please think long and hard before you decide to hold your child back. I was held back in first grade, and it was a pretty devastating experience. Almost on par with loosing a parent. Just imagine that everyone at your job got a promotion except you. Then at the yearly company parties, they rub it in your face about how great it was or made fun of you because you didn’t… Read more »

Peter
Guest
Peter

I’ll chime in as well.  My daughter has a Sept b-day.  The year she started K, the cutoff date was Oct. 1 and we knew they will move up the cutoff date to Sept 1 the following year.  We could have admitted her later, but took our chances to start on time because she was academically ready.   We had informal input (the worst kind ) from her K teacher that we should think about having her repeat K because she was “less mature” (whatever that means in K) even though she was meeting and exceeding K standards and other… Read more »