Have you read Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell? While it’s not a parenting book it is a great read for parents – an enjoyable and thorough analysis of what it takes to succeed. One of the points he makes is how much of a difference a few months can make in the physical, emotional and mental capabilities of children.

Recently I read this newspaper article about the increasing number of parents “redshirting” or holding back their kids from kindergarten. These are kids who are otherwise ready for school but instead of having them be the youngest in their class, their parents have held them back to make them the oldest, and thus, they believe better positioned to succeed.

In recent years kindergarten has become less play and more instruction-based. Maybe parents see the standards for attention and focus are higher. If a child isn’t socially or cognitively ready then holding her back makes sense. It’s a tough decision and I respect each parent’s choice.

However, if the kid is ready by all accounts to go to school then why hold him back? Sure, I want my daughter to succeed but what’s wrong with making her work for it? I was one of the younger students in my grade and school was never easy. I wasn’t the kid who figured it out while taking the test. I struggled. Sometimes I cried, but I learned to work hard and be persistent. Isn’t developing a good work ethic as important as succeeding? Isn’t it more important than appearing to be smart because grades come relatively easy?

Besides, do you really want your child to hit puberty first? Do you want her entering her senior year of high school at the age of 18?

What do you guys think? Did any of you make a tough decision about when your child should start school? Someone disagree with me. Please.

17 thoughts on “Redshirting

  1. Barb

    I can’t disagree with you. Sorry. I am so happy to see someone say just this. It’s what I’ve always thought and yet been afraid to say. My sister’s son DID struggle for 1st and 2nd grade because he was the youngest in his class, but guess what… by 3rd grade they all even out. And this year her son (4th grade, I think) is actually in the gifted program.

    Several decades ago, the summer before my 2nd grade year of school, our family moved, and in the fall I was placed in a classroom with 1st and 2nd graders. I was mortified when my mother went down to the school and made a big deal about moving me into the class for 2nd and 3rd graders instead. But it made me work harder and learn faster, and I probably would have been bored in the other classroom. I’m with you Katherine… I’d rather have my child hanging out with children who are more mature than him than less than mature than him… children who will pull him forward and encourage him to grow and try harder.

  2. Anna

    I will be honest and tell you I feel lucky that my kids have Feb and April birthdays – so they’re starting at 5 1/2. There is no question about when they’ll start K. 1st one started this fall and it’s wild to see how different 24 kindergartener’s look all lined up. Granted, my son will looks smaller no matter what, but there are some very very tall K’s in his class.

  3. Lani

    My best advice is: know your child – go with your gut. I held one child back and not the other. Everything told me he would do better being held back – his older brother was a hard act to follow and I didn’t want him to be compared to his brother. It worked out well. He was a middle child and socially adept. The youngest I did not hold back. Even though he did everything his older brothers did and seemed just as capable of academics it was the maturity that mattered in the end. I didn’t recognize it and it had an effect. He would slowly slide out of his seat and sit on the floor under his desk. He SKIPPED SCHOOL in kindergarten. Another flag. But I was already committed to having him in school. I think if he had stayed another year in pre-school things might have been different. Long story short, he never liked school. He tested very high on his competency tests and wasn’t ADD or any of the other disorders. He dropped out and eventually got his GED and is a positive and happy person but I still wonder…

  4. Peggy

    Great post, Katherine, and an important one.

    Let me preface my comments by saying that one of the biggest regrets of my parenting life was that my husband and I DIDN’T delay our son’s entry into kindergarten. His birthday is August 1, and as a kindergartener, he was 5 years and one month when he started school. Though he was socially precocious, he was not adept from a fine motor stanpoint and he lived in his own imaginary world–far from the practical sit-down-and-pay-attention expectations of school. He has hated school his whole life and now, at 20, is still struggling with what the heck he is going to do with his life.

    This being said, it is important to understand 2 very big points:
    1) Holding a child back merely because of age, or because of ‘social immaturity,’ is not well advised. Several studies in the last 5 years have shown that 1) the school environment IMPROVES socialization for those kids who are socially immature and 2) kids who are OLD FOR THEIR GRADE have been shown to have more problems in high school with delinquency, diagnoses of ADHD, early pregnancy and drug use.

    2) If a child is truly ‘ready’–and ‘ready’ boils down to fine motor skills, ability to comply with instructions, and for-age cognitive skills (see this link, which is helpful: )–then you are probably better off putting your kid in school with their age-appropriate entering class.

    In other words, parents who ‘redshirt’ with the intention of giving their kid (usually boys) an advantage because their kid is older than the rest of the class are not necessarily giving their kid an advantage. I think Lani above said it well: “know your kid.” If he/she is small for his age, or not the most socially adept kid on the block but is otherwise cognitively and fine-motor ‘ready,’ you’ll do better by putting him/her in school. If he/she can’t hold a pencil and doesn’t understand the margins of a piece of notebook paper then maybe you wait a year.

    Another aside: ADHD cannot be diagnosed until a child is in a school environment. Therefore, a ‘suspicion’ of ADHD as a preschooler is not a valid reason to hold a kid back. Fact is, every preschooler in the world has ADHD–that’s what preschoolers ARE.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Katherine Post author

    Wow, you guys are the best commenters ever. Lani, knowing your kid. That’s so wise and so true. I’ve been so humbled by parenting that I really should know to respect every parent’s choice. Peggy, you’re so right that there are different kinds of “ready” socially and cognitively are not the same thing. Very good point.

  6. Beth

    My brother’s birthday is in July, and my parents kept him in preschool until he turned 6 (probably because he seemed “immature” or unable to sit still). Then he ended up skipping 2nd grade because he was advanced academically. Both my kids are winter babies (Jan & Feb) so I don’t have to think about it, which is nice. It’s an interesting topic though.

  7. Sarah Beckon

    My brother, now an adult, started kindergarten early. I mean really early. He is a November baby and Mom and Dad put him in private first grade so he could be with other children “his age” in the first grade. He’s a brilliant man, but socially in-adept. He grew to be 6’4″ tall. He was still growing crazily through high school. He was cut from each and every team because he did not know where his feet and arms were going to be when he threw them out. It was a real struggle. He did finally figure out his body, in college and rowed crew successfully. It was a long teenage period. Great grades, poor social skills. You never know.

  8. Katherine Post author

    A comment from Facbook that I didn’t want to go to waste:
    I just heard about redshirting last year and couldn’t believe parents actually did that. I have the opposite problem – Kayla’s birthday is Oct 2nd, and I was worried that she was going to barely miss the cutoff and wouldn’t be able to start Kindergarden until she was almost 6. I was trying to see if there was any way (if she was ready) that she could start when she is almost 5. By reading this, it actually made me feel better that it may not be a bad thing if she is the oldest in her class.

  9. Katherine Post author

    And another comment I don’t want to go to waste:
    Here in NY the cut-off date is Dec. 1st. As a 30 year retired K teacher I have strong thoughts on this subject. I have had many parents come to me for advice. Things to consider……………. the majority of students get through K jus…t fine. Where problems seem to creep up is in 2nd or 3rd grade where things get a little tougher. I have seen many “young” students do extreemely well with their academics, but they often haven’t had time to develope their confidence and leadership skills yet. My husband and I kept our own son back a year. He would have made it fine academically, but by giving him the extra year, he entered K as a leader, not as a follower. Yes, he graduated high school at 18 but we saw no disadvantage of this. Remember…..if a student enteres “young” he or she will be faced with their older grade peers driving and dating before them. And, is there really an advantage to graduating at 17? There are more and more academics being pushed down to the K level…………some good, some not so good. Are we asking youngsters to grow-up too soon in our society of today? One year when I was teaching we did a study of all 3rd graders below grade level in reading. Guess what………..75% of those students had birthdates Sept. thru Dec. I never had a parent who keep their child home an extra year tell me they regretted it. However, I have had parents of young students tell me they regretted not keeping them home another year. I could go on and on. However, you know your child best. If you feel he or she is academically, socially, emotionally, etc. ready for the K experience then go for it. If you have any doubts, listen to those doubts and wait a year. The exception is the child who might have learnig difficulties, language delays, need OT or PT. These children greatly benefit from being in school where they can receive the services and help they need. Send them no matter what the age and be sure to be a good advocate for whatever they need.

  10. Tami

    I’m so torn on this! My girl will be old for her class with a mid October birthday. She is smart and socially confident, she’d be ready a year earlier but I’m glad she will be waiting until she’s almost 6 for kindergarten. My boy is only 14 months, but with a July birthday. I lean toward waiting until he is 6 to start school. I started kindergarten at 4, and wasn’t 5 until February. I was fine with the academics, but socially I had a tough time. Early elementary was tough, lots of tears and separation anxiety. And I also felt out of it in early high school. I felt very young, which I was as a 13 year old freshman.

    Love this discussion… really got me thinking.

  11. Tami

    Another point in favor of redshirting, looks like there’s good evidence that until the age of 7 kids really should be learning through play. With early elementary school becoming more academic, I like the idea of my kids having one more year of play.

  12. Julie Kimball

    My son has an August 21st birthday and I held him back a year. Best decision I ever made!! However, like the others have said, I think it comes down to knowing your child. My daughter is an October birthday and I always liked that she was one of the older kids. I mean think about it… kids born in September vs. those born in August have almost a year more of knowledge and experiences under their belts. When you are talking about 5 year olds a year is 20% more, that’s a lot!! Someone said to me, when I was trying to make the decision, “he gets another year of childhood, can that ever be a bad thing”? 🙂 That’s all I needed to hear.


  13. Carry

    I’m not a parent, and by no means qualified to weigh in on the discussion of redshirting. There is an interesting book on a related topic, though, worth putting on your need-to-read list called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He asserts that successful people are “are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” In the end, he tears down the American myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success—and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts.

  14. Heather

    I was a November baby and always one of the youngest in my classes. I would have been small anyway, but it was made worse by me early entry, I bet! I remember my PE teacher making fun of me for being so teeny!!

    I want my extra year of play back now. 🙂

  15. danny

    wow great post and excellent discussion – we are torn about our daughter – have been even in daycare and preschool – her birthday is Dec 31 – most cut offs put her in the youngest end of the spectrum – and she is tall, verbally precocious and mature, but emotionally, and fine motor wise she is, well, at standard level – my point is that with her verbal maturity and size, expectations are high… at her first preschool she struggled, being younger and having some anxiety… ultimately tho, it seems she has really benefited from the challenges both socially and mentally…

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