Why I Chose to Redshirt My Son


Red Shirt With Heart

Few things fire up heated discussions on parenting chat boards more than the practice known as “redshirting” – the choice not to register your child for kindergarten even though their birthday falls before the official cutoff date.

There are plenty of articles that argue both sides; the benefits of waiting a year until the child is five before sending them to kindergarten, and on the other hand, the disservice that you could be doing to your child by holding them back (specifically, that they will become bored and disruptive, feel that they don’t have to work hard to succeed, or is perceived as having an “unfair” advantage). While I can see both sides, I think it’s more important to take a realistic look at the child and base their readiness for kindergarten on the individual, not a date on a calendar or what a legislative body with no knowledge of my child whatsoever sets as the arbitrary cutoff date.

In Connecticut, children must turn five years old by December 31, of the year they enter kindergarten. So many children, particularly those in urban areas where parents may not have the financial means to send their kids to a pre-kindergarten program, are entering school at four years old. While there are some four year-old children who are ready – academically, socially, and emotionally – to attend an all-day kindergarten program, many are not. Additionally, the more rigorous standards aligned with the Common Core curriculum require children to have the ability to read, identify and partner geometric patterns, count to 100, and perform addition and subtraction before they exit kindergarten. I’m not a child development specialist, but are most four and early-five year olds even developmentally able to master those skills? Add to that, the fact that Connecticut has the latest cutoff date in the country, yet, still must meet the same requirements as their older peers. Maybe I’m missing something, but that doesn’t seem right about to me.

These were all considerations that we made when our late-December birthday son was in the final year of his pre-school program. At our parent-teacher conference in early December, our son’s teacher had a very honest conversation with us and suggested that we give our son an extra year of preschool before sending him to kindergarten. While she believed that he could keep up academically, his behavior in the classroom was still immature (and downright babyish when compared to the girls in the class), he would cry at the drop of a hat, and some of the sensory stimuli in larger groups was still overwhelming to him – socially and emotionally he just wasn’t ready. None of this was news to me, I had observed all of these things on the playground and we agreed to that an extra year would make a big difference in how confidently he would approach elementary school the following year.

Six years later, I can honestly say it was the best thing I did when it comes to his education. It was the right move for us based on our honest evaluation of our son. Is he bored, no – he has had great teachers who have challenged him and bolstered his confidence in his intellect. Does he feel that he doesn’t have to work hard for academic success? No, he is conscientious and hard working. I think it would have been much more difficult for him to have been successful if he had been struggling with emotional and social issues during his kindergarten and first grade years and that would have set him up for more challenges down the road.

Every child is different and should be treated as such – I believe that an honest evaluation of the whole child should be considered when determining their school readiness, not a date on a calendar.

What do you think?




9 comments on “Why I Chose to Redshirt My Son”

  1. You know that the funny thing is that because each state has a different cutoff, by the time kids get to high school, the ages range so wildly that it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I have two friends who were born in early December that started school in a district where the cutoff was October 1st. When I was entering school, the cutoff was November 1st (my bday is in Oct). As a result, one of my High School BFFs was close to a full year older than I was.

    The only place where it really sucked (being one of the youngest in my class) was for age-related milestones and stuff – for example, I didn’t get my DL until very late compared with my peers. You wouldn’t think this is a big deal, but these social milestones are as important to high schoolers as developmental milestones are.

  2. I wish we had a national cut-off of September 1st so all children would be five upon kindergarten entry. I think there definitely are kids who are ready earlier (and later!) than others for the academic and social demands of full-day kindergarten, but I really feel five by Sept 1st would be a great minimum starting age, perhaps with the option of teachers screening and admitting kids earlier or later as needed. I researched this in grad school (why CT’s cut off is the latest- shared by only a small number of other states) and one of the main arguments I saw for this crazy January 1st cut-off is that if kids were to drop out with consent at 16, they’d have had more total months of schooling if they started younger. Ugh. It’s also tough when college admissions come up because our Jan 1st cut-off kids will be SO much younger than kids from say, Nebraska, where the cut-off is July 31st yet they’re all competing for the same spots. A former colleague of mine said it best when he said “When sex, drugs, and drinking start becoming part of the social scene, do you want your kid to be a year younger than his peers or a year older?” Older it is. 🙂

  3. I remember this being a heated topic 27 years ago when my brother (now 33) was being evaluated for first grade. Back then we had a “readiness” program, which was a step between kindergarten and first grade. So many parents felt that this program was a negative stigma and wouldn’t even consider putting their child in the program. My brother was definitely old enough for first grade (he turned 6 in August), but emotionally, my mom knew he just wasn’t ready. She decided to put him into the readiness program. It was the right fit for him. My brother was never a great student, but we know that he would have been even worse of a student if he’d been pushed forward into first grade before he was emotionally ready.

  4. Making this decision based on a child’s emotional maturity makes a world of sense, and of course this should be done on a case-by-case difference.

    The thing that bothers me is when parents make this decision based not on a group of common sense factors such as the ones you’ve listed, but rather based on the idea that waiting a year will give their child an advantage when it comes to sports and to a lesser degree academics…this is where the term red-shirt really comes from. And that just bothers me to no end…I think it’s those parents who have children who get bored academically and think that everything comes easy to them. Those same kids run into a world of problems when do end up being challenged, as they don’t know how to deal with it.

  5. Thanks for the insight on this. My daughter is not yet school age, so I have yet to think about kindergarten. Always nice to go into it with a little education though, so appreciate this topic!

  6. Such and important topic and such a tough call for parents to make. We struggled a lot with this one as well. It is good to know that both choices can work out well!

  7. I agree with Holly – what a great topic to bring up. I tend to agree with you that anything like this should be based on the individual child.

  8. Great topic! I think it’s hard to discuss because honestly, it comes down to what you believe is best for your particular child in your particular circumstance. Since my mother is an educator whose opinion I respect, I have spoken to her in length about Dylan. His birthday falls in November, so if we put him in Kindergarten in September, he will still be only 4 if he stays on that track, he will most likely always be one of the youngest kids in his grade throughout his school years. If I was having to face this decision with my son Andrew, I would hold him back and send him the following year, when he was 5 and 3/4. My reasoning would be social maturity. As for Dylan, we all (strongly including my mother) believe he’s ready to start Kindergarten at 4. He’s been in structured pre-school for 2 years, he’s at the skill level for Kindergarten and with his personality (the confidence and outgoingness) I think he will be totally emotionally ready for Kindergarten even if he will be in a classroom with kids who are 6 years old.
    Each parent has their own gut instinct. I’ve had parents tell me they red-shirted their child because they didn’t want him/her starting college at 17. My mother started by brother (an October) birthday because he was intellectually ready and while he wasn’t totally mature enough, since I was less than a year younger than him, she didn’t want him to be faced with constant comparing or competition of having his sister in the same grade. I think that worked out fine in the end as well.
    Great post! I think it’s important for parents to know that they should be comfortable with their decision, if your child may make the legislative cut but it’s emotionally ready, follow your gut!

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