Should You Redshirt Your Son For Kindergarten?

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Should You Redshirt Your Son For Kindergarten?

During February and March, K-12 independent schools across the country will be notifying parents about whether their sons or daughters have landed a spot in the upcoming kindergarten class. (Good luck to parents awaiting this news.) One of the issues which frequently comes up as parents consider applying their children to an independent school kindergarten is when they should apply. If their son has a Spring or Summer birthday, and applies in the year he will be turning 5, this is likely to make him one of the younger children in the class. If he has a fall birthday, which will cause him to miss the standard cut-off of September 1, he will have to wait another year, and will turn 6 shortly after kindergarten begins.

The park bench wisdom, especially for boys, is that it is better for your child to be among the oldest in the kindergarten class than among the youngest. Older kindergarten boys are thought to be more mature, more in control of their bodies and impulses, and better able to sit still and pay attention to what is going on in the classroom. Although the applications for many independent schools in New York City include the standard September 1 cut off, some schools may even infer during the admissions process that they are less interested in boys with birth dates in the Spring and beyond. These circumstances have led parents to promote and follow the practice of holding back or academic “redshirting” their sons who turn five well before the September 1 cut off.

But is being the oldest always the right answer for your son? Research studies are inconclusive on whether starting kindergarten at 6 makes you a life long better student. A 2008 Harvard University study, concludes that while in the early grades there is a strong positive relationship between a child’s age and his performance relative to his peers, there is little evidence that being older than your classmates has any long-term positive effects on IQ or educational attainment.

Donna McClintock, COO of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. and the mother of three, wrote an article for recently in which she urges parents to focus more on their child’s needs and development than on automatically following the current redshirting trend. In her article, found here, she gives parents a series of questions to consider when thinking about redshirting. Among them are : “If you hold your child back, what will he do during this time of rapid growth and learning?” It is critical that he continues to be inspired, challenged and motivated during this time of rapid growth and learning. If your child stays in a pre school program for that additional year, make sure that the program will provide actual age appropriate learning experiences in the classroom, and won’t just re-do the 4’s program. She also asks parents to consider whose needs are actually being served by having your child sit out a year: Are you doing it because all your friends are, or because he is likely to perform better in sports, or because you are not quite ready for him to start school? These reasons may ultimately serve you more than they are serving your son.

We faced this dilemma years ago with my sons born in July and August. Although we heard the park bench perspective loudly and clearly, we decided to send them on to kindergarten as young 5 year olds rather than wait out the year for them to start at 6. We felt that they were ready to move on developmentally, and had the attention span and control to make it through a day of school. (It helped that we took their preschool’s all-day option in the 4’s program, which made them comfortable with the longer school day before they got to kindergarten.) This did make each of them one of the youngest in their grades in the early years. But as the years progressed, and students from other schools joined their class, they were no longer the youngest, as public schools generally follow a December 1 cut off. Moreover, we have seen that they have adjusted well in their grades with no learning gaps. When they were in the early grades, they complained a bit about being the youngest (which was most obvious when birthdays were celebrated in class). But as they reached middle school, and I watched some of the older boys struggle with the effects of being much more physically developed than their classmates, I understood that both sides of this issue had its challenges.

As Donna McClintock notes, the most important thing a parent can do when making this decision is to carefully consider your child’s individual needs and development rather than blindly follow a trend. What works for your friend’s child should not dictate what will work for yours. GCP readers, if you faced this issue, what did you do? Did you hold back your son, on send him on, and what was his experience in either case?

By |2013-02-09T14:54:22-05:00February 9th, 2013|Academics, Ages 0-5|5 Comments


  1. Jennifer Vermont-Davis February 9, 2013 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    As usual, another informative piece of work! Thanks for sharing Carol.

  2. ginaparkercollins February 10, 2013 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Great blog.
    I guess you can say we experienced defacto “redshirting”. Because our son has a November birthday, among our school choices we had to wait a year to apply to independent school for Kindergarten.
    The “Metro North” conversations added another perspective to the conventional wisdom of the park bench. Parents of color, in particular, felt strongly about not holding their child back for a year. Culturally, the term “holding back” is a tough one to swallow. Like you, they felt their children were ready. Since many indie schools won’t succumb to the pressure from parents to apply for K past the birthday cut off, some parents decide to delay application until the later grades to avoid this restriction, but then face the challenge of fewer seats available (unless they wait until middle school to apply) and miss out on the wonderful K experience at an indie school.
    Not willing to risk applying in later grades, we decided to apply for K the following year and placed our son in our neighborhood public school. A second year of K at an indie school would be a vastly different experience he could look forward to. We knew this as his sister had already experienced it.
    He is now among the oldest and confident, benefitting from another year to mature. Although we felt we did not have a choice in “redshirting”, we also were not encumbered by the idea of “holding him back”.

    • groundcontrolparenting February 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comments, Gina. Sounds like things worked out very well for your son. I agree that parents can be resistant to the concept of holding back their sons, and that in many instances it can be beneficial to the child to be more mature and confident. I just want to encourage parents to make that decision by focusing on their child rather than the park bench. It can be tough to go against conventional wisdom!

  3. Three February 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm - Reply


    Having just experienced the “maneuvering” of a school wanting to Red Shirt my son, I was both frustrated and confused. While I understand the general idea, I do not agree with the practice. Yes, some children could stand to use an extra year to allow them to mature a bit more but in the case of my own son and some of his peers in his particular Pre-K program, the need was not there.

    There should not be a blanket assessment or cut off for children based on when their birthday is. I do think each child should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Every household is different in how parents prepare their children for school. Some parents don’t focus on the educational aspect of “educational” children’s television and instead use the TV as a babysitter, other parents communicate with their children and ask them what they have learned in watching the television shows (If they let them watch television at all). Some parents ask questions about what they have just read to their kids, and others do not.
    I believe firmly that this type of interaction helps to mentally prepare a child for school and even before that, the interview process to get into school.

    I also noticed that my oldest son has a bad case of “just like his father” in that, he becomes bored quickly and needs to be challenged regularly. He honestly enjoys doing puzzles and working on writing and learning in general. He was not going to get what he needed if he stayed another year in the Pre-K program. Thankfully, he was accepted into an excellent school (high five to his Mommy and Aunt) which I am certain will challenge him for the next 13 years or so. (He starts Kindergarten in the Fall.)

    While it may be a bit harder for him during the earlier years, with caring and supportive parents, I do think my son will do just fine. He may not be ready for the Harlem Jets Tiny Mites football team but I am certain he’ll eagerly raise his hand in class and do his homework each night.

  4. JGRogers February 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    In North Carolina, our kindergarten cut off is September 1. My son has an August birthday. Had we chosen to hold him back, his small stature would have eased related social stigmas.

    Our choice to keep our son with his same age peers was a social justice decision. Elementary school is what a parent makes of it. A comittment to social and intellectual capital will go a long way in making the experience successful. We knew our kid was going to be fine either way.

    The kids we worried about were those who did not have the option of “maturing” for an “extra year.” For most, preschool and daycare are not free. Therefore, entering the school system is a necessity for working parents. If all of us who do have the resources to fund another year of pre-k choose to do so, where does that leave our children whose parents do not have that option? It leaves them in classrooms with older children who are starting school as 6 year olds. 6 year olds who have more mature executive functions and self-regulation. 6 year olds who have more developed fine and gross motor skills. 6 year olds who are more adept at communicating with adults and peers. 6 year olds who have an entire year of rapid brain development over the 5 year olds.

    Standards of learning move with the pack. If kids are more advanced, more is expected of them – regardless of their age variance. Honestly, we could not stomach the idea of raising the bar unfairly for all kids just because we could. That’s not how brain development works.

    If drop out indicators can be traced as far back as first grade, far be it from me to cause someone else’s child to have a less than stellar first grade experience due to lack of academic success or inferiority when compared with that of the older red-shirted student. Studies show that academic advantages afforded to red-shirted kindergartners even out by mid- elementary school anyway.

    We are happy with our decision. Sure, sometimes I have to remind the teacher or myself that he IS young, lest we start labeling “problems” that aren’t likely there. He needs to work on cutting with scissors because he is a five year old boy who plays soccer sitting next to a six year old girl who loves paper dolls; he does not have a fine motor disability. He’s wiggly because he’s a five year old boy sitting in a classroom 6 hours per day; let’s shelve that attention disorder discussion for a few months. Still, he’s right where he needs to be behaviorally and developmentally. Thoughtful, collaborative communication is key.

    I love my own child more than anything in the world. However, as citizens of the world, it’s important to remember that they’re ALL OUR children.

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