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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Kindergarten "red-shirting:" What about summer birthdays?

March 3, 2009

It's that time of year when parents are facing a tough decision: another year of preschool for their child with a summer birthday? Or send them to kindergarten as one of the youngest in the class?

We faced this very decision in our family. Twice. Molly's birthday is August 13; Anna's is July 2. Two summer babies, two very different children. I've blogged about this before, actually twice!, and those posts have generated many comments. Clearly we weren't alone in our worrying.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently carried a story Kindergartners "Redshirted" to Gain Edge, in which Harvard researchers suggest that red shirting (1) increases the potential for high school drop outs and (2) threatens depressed lifetime earnings because the student's entry into the labor market is reduced by a year. Pretty grim stuff!

Are you facing this decision? I wish I had an easy answer for you. We waited with one, and sent the other. In both cases, I'm pretty sure we made the right decision. But our decisions weren't based on my background as a teacher or reading specialist, a Harvard study or any other panel report. It really came down to our parental instincts about each girl.

As an educator and as a mother, I would recommend waiting if you've got a child who isn't ready academically, socially, or emotionally. It's a fast-paced world, and I don't see the need to rush into it. Kindergarten is a much different place than it was 10 years ago.

I'm going to talk about this our school's principal and some of the kindergarten teachers soon, and I'll let you know their opinions too. But for those facing this decision now, what are your thoughts?


All of you folks must be well off. Where I live Preschool is right at $10,000 a year. If the school district will let me send him to kindergarten at 5, my boy will be going at 5. I have no interest in my son becoming a quarterback, so "red-shirting" is not important. Is kindergarten set up for the children attending it, or the teachers who are desperately trying to "not be left behind"? No child left behind is a ludicrous concept. Left behind what? Some preconceived notion of where they should be mentally?

All parents want their kid to excel, but some parents might be taking this to far. A new trend in the U.S. is the act of “redshirting” elementary age students for either academic or athletic reasons. “Redshirting” is commonly used in college sports to prolong a players four year eligibility. Now many parents are keeping their children back in school so that their kid can be ahead of his or her classmates. All parents have to say to the school is “My child needs to be held back for more social development.” and the child is now almost permanently behind his or her same age peers academically. But, the child is also set to be ahead of his or her same grade peers. According to kids who have been held back are likely to score six points better on standardized math tests and five points better on standardized reading tests in kindergarten which is actually a pretty big gap. It’s not that these children that have been held back are smarter than the rest, they just score better because they have more life experience to draw upon. Oh yeah and that gap, it is almost always erased, sometimes as early as third grade. Also according to, forty years ago, ninety-six percent of six year olds were enrolled in first grade, now only eighty-four percent are enrolled in first grade. We didn’t lose that twelve percent, those are the kids who are now enrolled in kindergarten instead. If parents keep holding their kids back more and more, the parents who want to get ahead will be holding their kid back for even more time. If the trend continues middle schoolers will be driving themselves to school! The reason that youth sports are organized by grade is so kids are competing against other kids that are similar in size and ability. Unfortunately, all sports except basketball and football are by grade instead of age. Another thing is that in some AAU leagues kids that are almost twelve can play in a ten and under league if they are being held back. Many school teams across the country are filled with kids that are supposed to be the grade above the one they are in. There may not be much of a difference between a thirty year old and a thirty-two year old, but there are huge differences between a ten year old and a twelve year old. Also, kids that play up on middle school sports teams are often kids that should be in the grade above anyway so they aren’t really playing up at all, they have just been playing down their whole life. That’s why the kids that have been held back are so far ahead of their peers athletically. I don’t think that it is ok for kids to be held back to get ahead of their same grade peers. I know that in some cases it is fine for a kid to be held back if he or she really needs it. But most of the kids that have been held back have no reason to be held back. I don’t think it’s ok because if so many parents decide to hold their children back more other parents will hold their kid back longer and longer and put them farther and farther behind the kids that are the same age. I think that there is no long term gain in holding a child back especially if they are ready because the head start wears off and then the child that has been held back is way behind everyone else his or her age. Plus, if you do it for athletic reasons its just cheating! So, if the child is ready their parents should send the kid to school so that he or she doesn’t have to be behind everyone else his age academically because a good education is probably the most valuable thing in the world.

Should Parents Keep Their Kids Back ? Some parents keep their kids back a couple of years so they’ll have a better chance of getting academic and/or athletic scholarships. Think about that! How would you feel if your parents did that?Some parents think they should keep their children back for a year or two because they think that later on, they would have a better chance of getting academic and/or athletic scholarships. They think that now is more important than ever for kids to be able to have a good future. On the other hand, some parents think that holding their kids back a year or two is a bad idea because they wouldn’t be able to move on with their friends and discover and learn new things, they would have to make new friends younger than them and learn the same thing over again. They think that staying back isn’t going to help because their kids will earn good scholarships on there own, the normal way.I think it’s okay for parents to keep their kids back one or two years for academic and/or athletic reasons only. It’s very important for kids to have a superb education and a well healthy future. It may not seem important now, but it really truly is later on . Providing you with an education is a parents duty so you shouldn’t waste it! Think about what you do in school or in your athletic activities and say to yourself that your doing all of this because your parents want you to have a good time and be healthy in the future and learn about what the world has to give you . They could’ve easily said no to going to school or participating in the sport you wish for . They know what’s best for you. It would be cool because you’d be smarter than all of your classmates! For example, lets say that I stayed back 2 years. I would be in 5th grade and would know a lot more than everybody else!How great is that? So, I think parents have a point of keeping you back a year or two because they know what’s better for you in your life as you go through it! I would just rely on them, trust them , and know that there doing the right thing!

My three children have birthdays ranging from August 15 to Sept.13. My first son did not make the Sept. 1 cutoff date of the school system and therefore started Kindergarten a week before he turned six. The school allowed kindergarten students to be identified as gifted and he had a wonderful start, was never bored and was the leader of his class. My middle daughter began school on her 5th birthday. She was reading when she started, and never looked back. My youngest son, started kindergarten following a move to a district where the cutoff date was October 31. He did not turn 5 until the 5th week of school. He was not ready. His entire school career was a struggle. I wish I had "red-shirted" him. It isn't always the date of birth that ensures readiness. We need to look at maturity in a number of areas of development to decide.

I think that there is a bigger issue here than redshirting. I think that parents and teachers need to become more pro-active in demanding kindergartens that meet the needs of 4 1/2 and 5 year old children. They shouldn't be " it looks a lot more like first grade did in the past" I have a blog just on this topic of appropriate early childhood practices. The blog address is I hope that you will visit it and enter some of your ideas.

My daughter has a summer birthday, August 7, her pediatrician wanted us to hold her back, but we didn't. She ended up repeating 2nd grade and just finished 3rd grade with flying colors. Every child is different, but if you have that instinct that says you need to hold them back, I would. She is doing so much better emotionally and academically now that she is on the right grade level.

My son's bday is 2 days before our cut-off. I always knew that academically & socially he was ready but now...I really see the difference- his fine motor skills (writing/drawing) are def. not there yet which is frustrating to him, and he does get in trouble for the wiggles- all things atributtable to his age. Also all the summer boys started at 6-- and there are maybe 1-2 spring there is no child anywhere near his age...i am considering holding him back and going into the more challenging K room (his teacher, we love, and is more the cuddly type and the other one seems more advanced/rules, etc) he will have a new scenary plus since he was 4 we've discussed this-- he says he wants to do K again-- I've now spent close to 2 yrs agonizing over this. As a mom who works FT, I didn't see any good options for more pre-K so I figured we'd give K a go and then try again. Academically he is fine, higher than average. I'm curious to see what the teacher says at our spring conference next month as I will bring this up. I just hope he isn't teased too much. Looking back, I wouldn't have done anything different. anyone else choose to repeat @ the same school?

Our oldest has a summer birthday. We started him in school with his age group. He learned well, but was really at a disadvantage socially because of his maturity level. He was bullied and school was miserable for him. We finally held him back a year in sixth grade. Looking back, I wish we would have given in to that decision sooner. It is AMAZING the difference a year made. He is graduating HS this year. He is captain of his schools bass drumline this year. He really overcame all of that bullying and harrassment. We could see a difference the very next school year!

What surprises me is the criticism of holding back. Many of the moms of non-summer babies complain that it is an unfair advantage but when the cutoff is changed and their spring/winter babies are the youngest, SURPRISE! they hold theirs back too.I have an Aug 23 daughter. I can either send her to kindergarten (and all the years that follow) with fall kids that are a few weeks younger than her, or with fall kids that are nearly a full year older than she is. Since they are separated by mere weeks, I see the younger fall kids as more her "age-mates" than the older fall kids would be. So, she'll be starting with her days-younger age-mates. And she will be no more advantaged than a typical Sept or Oct kindergartener. (who nobody ever complains that they are "throwing things off" for the other kids) She's only 9 days older than a Sept kid... what could she really have gained in her extensive 9-day advantage that is going to throw things off anymore than a Sept/Oct kid would anyway?

I gave my son and extra year and he did well. It was nice knowing he was the first to drive at 16 - I trusted his driving better that his friends. He also started college gong on 19 not just 18. With the price of college it worked out well for he completed college in 3 1/2 year.When I considered his having another year, I realized he had the rest of his life for education but only 5 short years of early childhood.

Is there anyone who has sent a child younger and been happy about it? There must be. My son barely makes the cutoff. His birthday is Sept. 22 cutoff Oct. 1. My first instinct was to send him but now I am doubting myself. He is academically ready, and maybe even socially NOW, but I worry about a few years down the line. I want to know if there are any parents who sent a young kindergartener and were satisfied with the decision? Is it really our kids who aren't ready, or is it us? The parents?

I think those are very interesting facts about those who are redshirting. I think that the final decision, like you said, should be based on the child. If the child seems like he or she is advanced of his or her age, then let them continue on with their education path. However, if a student has not developed their social skills or language skills, I would keep them back. I think that it would be very frustrating for the child if they were far more advanced than most of the students in their grade. However, I also think that it would be frustrating as well if a child could not keep up with the rest of the class. Overall, I believe that it depends on the maturity level of the child and the knowledge they have received so far in their lives.

I am so glad I came across this blog. We have 3 children, ages 5, 3, and 1 this month. Our school district has a cut off date of May 31. This would make my April babies the youngest in the class. We have decided to hold our 5 year old another year before he starts school. He is ready to learn to read, but our hesitations are not academic. I keep reminding myself that if he would have been born a few weeks later, we would have no choice. He will be 6 and so will many of his classmates. Childhood is short and Kindergarten really is what first grade was when I started teaching 10 years ago. Thank you for your insights that confirm our choice.

I have a June 20th born son who is reading. However, he is very shy, and he looks awkward, almost in pain in peer situations :(. I am a special ed. teacher & I want to hold him, whereas my husband insists on sending him. My son receives speech services, and has only been saying sentences since he was 3.5, and it shows. I know redshirting is the best option for him. I have absolutely no hesitations about it, but will regret it if he is sent this Fall. Right now the thought is 1/2 day Kinder next Fall, and then full day Kinder in a private school the following year.

We redshirted my son in kindergarten and I am so glad we did. My husband pushed for it because he wanted him to have a physical and maturity advantage over the other kids in his grade as he got older. Now in high school, he does well academically (he could have kept pace with his age-level peers, so we didn't keep him out for academic reasons) and he stands out in athletics, which he may not have done if we had pushed him to start on time. It's a tough world, and if we can give our children any edge over those around them, I think we should.

I have a summer baby in Florida. Florida is already one of the lowest academic standards in the whole nation. he started school at five, but just 2 weeks after his birthday. They have tried to insist that I red-shirt him every year. he's currently in 2nd and on the a/b honor roll. and still they are pushing for him to be held back. Most of the kids in his class are repeating the grade and this is their second year. and they are all twice his size. however socially he has been able to carry his own weight. he hates school, and is a little slower, but it is mainly his attitude. he will do his work fast for everyone but his teacher. I have had to fight to not red shirt him, and i will continue to fight. if he gets held back, he will be so board, he'll be looking to get into trouble, and the school system is to proud to admit a mistake, so once he's held back, thats it.I was a summer baby. I graduated at 17. so will he.

I am a Kindergarten teacher of 15 years and preschool teacher for 10 years before that. 2 of my 3 children were young as they entered school. Both went to private Montessori kindergarten so I felt they were prepared for first grade both academically and socially. They are grown and on their own now. The first did well but the youngest would have been better waiting a year. As a college student she had difficulty with stress.Your child is ready for kindergarten if they are emotionally ready. Are they excited? Do they cry or hesitant about leaving you? CAn they sit still? Do they play well with others children? Also consider that they will with children who are reading and writing words. Kindergarten is not play time folks. It is very academic as we are pressured to "leave no child behind" regardless of whether they are ready to learn. My suggestion is to give them time to mature before entering school.If your child is young, go into it with an open mind about repeating kindergarten. I am dealing with parents wanting their child to move on to first grade when they are not ready. Parents do know their kids but teachers know them as they compare to other students. I don't recommend retention lightly. I give it much thought. I know when children are just not ready to handle the rigors of first grade. I have yet to meet a parent that regrets retaining their child in kindergarten after the fact. The children are perfectly happy to stay another year and how parents handle it makes all the difference in how children feel about it. Think about the teen years and college years and if another year of maturity would be benefcial and you will find your answer.

Two of my children are twins born mid-July, and out school has a cut off date at the end of July. It has been a difficult decision, because my boy twin has mild Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was eventually advised that it would likely help both to have one more year of Pre-K because although my daughter is average or above in many areas, she is immature compared to most of her class. Given they were not due until September I have opted to wait the year and do some more home schooling. Ironically I began Kindergarten at 4, and excelled, but it did kind of bother me being so much shorter than everyone else :)

I have taught school for over 35 years and have been a kindergarten teacher for 20. My husband and I waited to send our two children with summer birthdays until they were 6 years old. Our son is now 33, was accepted into West Point, is married with a family and we have never once regretted waiting for him to enter kindergarten. Our daughter ,23, just graduated with a BS in nursing is working at a large university hospital in Chicago and as our son has done well in life. The extra year that we gave them has helped them to be more mature and confident in themselves. I tell parents every year who face this question, that childhood only happens once and time is the most precious gift that you can give you child. What's the hurry? I was so glad to have had my children home that extra year before they went to college. Anyone who has spent any time in a kindergarten room in the last 5 years knows that it looks a lot more like first grade did in the past. Children are learning so much that it really is just unbelievable. They are such little sponges and now with the brain research supporting how children learn, early childhood is the golden opportunity for a child's learning. One of my favorite quotes is" Childhood is a journey, not a race" and as adults we need to remember this....

I teach kindergarten and have had several students that were held that extra year. More so, I have lots of students that have July and August birthdays that are sent as soon as they turn 5. Kindergarten IS NOT the same as it was even 10 years ago. The students with the extra year to gain maturity are MUCH more successful! "Red Shirting" is used to gain a year of experience in college sports. What is wrong with giving a child an extra year of experience as well? Why risk possibly setting up a sense of failure at the beginning of their life? That is what lasts a lifetime!!!

My husband and I let our son spend another year in a wonderful preschool when he could have entered kindergarten. As all educators know (I've been a pre-school-college level teacher for the last 23 years), age does not indicate anything other than when a child is born. Child development is not linear. It moves in fits and starts unique to each child. The complaint that our son would skew the class and push his peers to develop inappropriately ahead has proven to be far from the truth. At 17 now, he is the last of his friends in his class to get his driver's license, last to date, last to push the envelope in many many ways. Things we could already see when he was 5. I agree with the comments posted: parents know their children best. Childhood is a precious time that is a critical yet small amount of their overall life. Let them revel in it!

I am so thankful I let my son (a July baby) start first grade at age 7 even though scholastically he could have entered earlier. He has an added edge of maturity than other college freshmen he is in school with currently. There is ablsolutely no need to push. We used that extra gift of time to work on character building , music, sports, and art. He is a very well adjusted young man.I am a kindergarten teacher and the way our programs are advancing each year, it is even more important to start older.

Our district has a Dec. 31 cutoff. My eldest son has a Sept. 13 birthday. He was academically more than ready to start at four but because of his ADHD, my sister (who is a school psychologist) begged me to allow him another year to mature socially. My sister-in-law, (a Kindergarten teacher on the West Coast in a district with a June cutoff) said it wouldn't even be a consideration, so keep him. My gifted/ADHD son struggles with boredom and the fact of being held back. My sister promises me that when he is 14 I will be thankful that I did it. For now my ongoing challenge is to help keep his attitude positive and his curriculum engaging enough. We don't have a gifted program, and they have never had a student with Dual Exceptionality, so it's a balance of pushing and pulling the cart along. My second son (two years apart) has a Nov. 21st birthday, I redshirted him as well and he has thrived, he is a leader in his class not the "baby" brother anymore. So far the results are mixed but I feel like I made the right decision in the long run.

Please read the position statement written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) the professional organization for teachers of children birth to 8."Redshirting" exacerbates the differences between children in the kindergarten classroom, making appropriate education for all children more difficult.

Our son had a summer birthday and we were given the option to either red shirthim or let him stick with his birth year classmates in K. We kept him with his birth year class, placed him in a competitive K program and he did well academically from K to 3. HOWEVER, we did notice that socially he was at a distinct disadvantage since he was easily 6 months younger than a number of his classmates. It was most obvious when you looked at the girls who always seem to mature faster than boys. While most educators acknowledge this difference, the early elementary years in most schools still favor girls or docile boys who are "easy to handle and teach" regardless of raw academic talent. Interestingly, we opted to red shirt him at grade 3. To us this made more sense because it allowed him the time to perfect his reading and mathmatical skills at grade 3 (as opposed to lingering in Kindergarten and perfecting coloring and the alphabet). We moved him to a highly selective boys prep school and had him repeat grade 3 in his new school. IT WAS THE BEST DECISION FOR HIM. His maturity now evenly matches his academic ability and he feels good about himself on all levels and is able to chanel is natural leadership abilities in a positive way. Again, this will not work for every family or child, but consider this if you plan to move your child to a rigorous independent school in the future...Again, trust your insticts, I'm glad we did.

I understand the parent's authority to make a decision for his/her family. However, I wonder about the effects these red-shirted children have on the other children in the class. When the teacher is already teaching to a range of 12 months in the K classroom, it seems that red-shirting may have a postitive effect for that particular child, but then skews the class to higher expectations (academically, physically, socially, emotionally). Now the "summer baby" who wasn't red-shirted is not only expected to interact with students within the wide range of 12 months, but now even those students beyond- 13, 14, & 15 months older.

As a parent of two "red shirts", and a kindergarten teacher for 26 years, I believe that the parent knows best! Please do what you know in your heart is right to help your child succeed as a leader and a life long learner! I have no regrets! My oldest "red shirt" is graduating from law school in two months!

Long ago schools in some cities started children in school at two different times during the year, fall and spring. This took care of the problem of having four year-olds in kindergarten with children nearing five. My cousin in San Francisco has a mid-December birthday and because of that was able to start first grade in late January. Schools simply ran a "high" and "low" level of each grade.

I have a son who's birthday is august 13th and we sent him to kindergarten, because the school district told us it would be difficult for him to get services speech ot etc. if we held him back. We totally regret doing so, and are definitley holding our daughter back from starting as she has a late september birthday.

I have two sons with August birthdays and it is a dilema--the second one we held back b/c of school policy. The first was the youngest in his class (academically, he was great but it was easily to bully someone 11 months younger.) As a teacher I have seen how mean children can be. Hold a boy back with a summer birthday and make sure he attends a challenging K program where he will not get bored.

Our district's cut-off date is December 31, which means there are 4 year olds entering Kindergarten! At this time of year in first grade (early March), it is very evident in my classroom who the young ones are (no matter what their academic ability). These children stick out like sore thumbs because they're a lot more immature than their classmates. My question is, is there any research dedicated to 4 year olds entering Kindergarten? What age is too young? I am actually very interested in this, so hopefully someone could lead me in the right direction as to where I could read about this a little more. Thanks!

My life circumstance provides a different reason for this being an interesting query, Joanne. I've been reading M. Gladwell's Outliers and one of the examples of not-immediately-apparent relationships he discusses is the advantage in some sports that accrue to children who are born just after a cut-date for age groups. When the cut date for youth hockey players is 1 Jan, then children born in Jan, Feb, and Mar wind up playing against age mates who are younger—and physically smaller!&mash;than they are. Thus, the Jan, Feb, or Mar babies have an advantage. Mayhaps policy makers could address reading difficulties by changing the cut-date for entering Kindergarten? Teehee!

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"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. " — Neil Gaiman