Redshirting: The New Normal

It is called “redshirting.” Perhaps you have heard of it.

“Redshirting for young children refers to the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten of age-eligible children in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This occurs most frequently where children’s birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class.”  (Wikipedia)

In simpler terms, ‘redshirting kindergarten’ is holding you child back one extra year before sending them to kindergarten. Instead of entering kindergarten as a 5 year old, if your child is on the cusp of the grade cutoff, that is, one of the youngest children in the grade, you would hold him or her back one year, and he or she would enter kindergarten as a larger, more developed, 6 year old.

The debate is an old one. But there is much talk lately around the redshirting debate. Parents are holding their kids back at record numbers, often to give their child a competitive advantage over their peers. It’s the slight competitive edge that they get as the oldest child in the grade vs. being the youngest in their grade, when pitted against their classmates. In fact, after watching a 60 Minutes segment last night on redshirting kindergarten, I wanted to write about it to get your take on it.

Here is a 30 second link to last night’s segment. http://youtu.be/uHe5QCy9x0k

If you read the only comment below the full 13 minute CBS segment on YouTube, you’ll see this:

“Holden Corby is the lucky one. A parent with both the common sense and the Intelligence to understand nonsense when she hears it. What I hear in Barrett’s mother’s voice is that famous “high rising terminal” in her speech made famous by Valley Girls and other superficial, not-so-deep thinkers.

Kindergarten is the introductory lesson to life at school and getting along with other kids. Kindergarten is not a place where the school plays host to a parent’s vicarious ambitions.”

Ouch. Obviously, this is only one person’s opinion.

You see, I have a child who is relevant to the discussion. Born right at the cutoff, the youngest in the grade, and a boy, to boot.  As he entered preschool at three, then preschool again at four, then kindergarten at five, my husband and I asked the professionals the same question every year, “Do we hold him back? Is he ready?” We had no interest in giving him a competitive advantage over his peers, we wanted to make sure he could keep up socially, emotionally and academically. They gave us the same answer every year, “While perhaps he is a little less socially mature than his peers at the beginning of the school year, he is one of our brightest students in the class, so we feel if you hold him back, you will be doing him a great disservice academically. He will be bored and unchallenged.” And so we listened.

Today at 8 1/2 years old, he is still at the top of his class academically, but I can tell you, his social maturation is always a little later to blossom compared to his peers. And that is totally fine.  He’s been known to suck his thumb a time or two, and he is still very attached to us. But, he makes the A team in sports, he’s got a ton of friends, and seems to fit right in with his 3rd grade peers.

Did we make the right decision? Who knows? Had we held him back, would he have been more confident? Maybe. Would he have excelled more at sports? Perhaps. Would he have been smarter in school? Doubtful. Would he have had a better advantage in LIFE? We’ll never know. What we do know, is he’s thriving, and we have never looked back. But parents are doing whatever it takes to make sure their kids DO have that life advantage. And believe me, I do get it.

Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his work in this arena, and author of one of my favorite books, The Outliers, discussed the cold hard facts last night on the 60 Minutes segment. He explains, for example, a very significant number of NHL hockey players are born in January, February and March- the closest to the January 1st NHL cutoff date, and therefore the oldest in their hockey year. He claims there is no coincidence… the older kids are bigger, faster, better and more physically and emotionally developed. Their age and size give them an advantage over the other players, which then slots them more frequently in the AAA teams. They then receive more ice time, better training, better coaching, and they are groomed at an overall far superior level than their younger peers. Gladwell claims this difference makes all the difference, and this advantage follows them year after year, even in academics. It is quite striking to see the stats on paper. Wayne Gretzky, and most hockey greats, are born in the 1st quarter of the year. Makes ya wonder.

To further explain my point, you can watch another clip from last night’s segment. The studies are astounding.  http://youtu.be/QVBrAS0RzWA

So my question today is to get your view on the debate. Would you redshirt your child to give them an advantage on what some claim, is a life advantage that carries far past kindergarten? Have you redshirted your child? Did you opt out like I did? Are you on the fence? I’d love your side on this debate. 

Happy Monday. I’m home nursing my pre-kindergarten honey who has a fever and a croupy cough. 🙁

xoxEDxox

28 Comments
  1. Hi Erica,
    Our 15 year-old daughter is born on Sept. 28 (2 days before the cut-off date). We never considered holding her back. We were concerned that she’d be the youngest among her classmates and maybe a little less mature and that preoccupied us, when she was younger, but today, she’s in Secondary IV and has matured into a beautiful young lady. Throughout her elementary years, she excelled and was always the top of her class (she was class valedictorian for grade six). In high school, she continues to amaze us; she has been on the honours and high honours list every year to date and is quite mature (academically, socially, and emotionally) compared to her peers. As parents, we always worry about whether or not we are making the right decisions. I think we should always follow our `gut` and let life happen….

    1. It is worthwhile going to “60 minutes overtime.com and listening to Morley Safer. He is a wise man. He states, “One of the problems demonstrated in this broadcast was that you have parents that care too much are helicopter parents or hyper parents, and at some point you just have to let your kid be a kid, and young parents are pushing too many things on their children. ” He offers this…. “Try to create the success out of your kid rather than allowing your kid to become a success…there’s a real difference there.” He continues to report ,”Everything is a competition , there is a constant pressure to win, constant pressure of the scoreboard, of life for a four or five year old, I just think is madness.”

  2. I have four kids, a girl 15, a boy 12, a boy 11, and a girl 10. I held the boys back but not the girls. For my 12 year old, I held him back because he was so tiny, he is either going to be very short or he has late onset puberty where he will grow very late. If he was in his own grade he would be the shortest in the class by A Lot. Now he is in the lower middle. He doesn’t play sports, he is more of an artist/musician so I didn’t do it for any competitive advantage. That being said, I shouldn’t have held him back because he is more EMOTIONALLY mature than his peers. I didn’t want him to be bullied or picked on for his short stature, but now because he is more mature than his peers, he doesn’t have as many friends in his grade. His friends are actually a few years older than him. He is also very intelligent and he is bored in school, now this may not have mattered if he was in a higher grade, but I think it does. We will see how it pans out. My other son, who has high functioning autism, I held back and it was the best decision I ever made. He fits in better, his emotional maturity is more on point and he is happy with his peer group.

    The girls mature faster, are more wired for the way the school system works and is set up and thrive at grade level. My oldest actually will start college next year spending 1/2 day at high school, 1/2 day at college.

    I guess the moral of the story. Know your kids, make informed, thoughtful decisions. Don’t judge others choices, we are all doing the best we can.

    1. Great comment Lia. All of you, great comments. I truly feel it depends on the child, and should be looked at on a case by case basis. I agree with Expat Mum, unless there are developmental or emotional problems, shouldn’t we leave our kids where they belong? Some will be old, some will be young… it’s a great life dress rehearsal.

  3. As an end of December baby, I was always youngest in my class and always did very well both socially and academically. I never felt like I struggled more or that I was “behind” in any way. The only time I remember wishing or really noticing I was the youngest was when I was the last of my friends to get my drivers license 🙂 – and that is no reason to hold someone out of school! I have always felt my parents made the right decision and that I had every opportunity for success as others in my grade.

  4. I have so many thoughts on this I don’t know where to start.
    1) Shouldn’t it be up to the schools? It’s all very well holding your child back to give him/her advantages, but what if the school says it can cope with the younger children and give them as much attention as the oldest kids? What happens to that “deadline”? When you have all the August kids (or closest to the cut-off) held back, then the youngest become July kids, who then get held back because they’re going to be the youngest etc. My son was born in June – at what point does a June kid become the youngest? We could end up with everyone a year behind. (OK, slight exag, but you see where I’m going with this?)
    2) If we’re trying to protect our kids from being the smallest, as Lia above mentions, how are we preparing them for real life. They’re always going to be small.
    3). I also have a son born at the very beginning of the school year. He has been the tallest since 1st grade and at one point the smaller boys used to gang up and take shots at him, jumping up and knocking his cap off at baseball games, challenging him in the school yard etc. Should I have pushed for him to be put in the year above just because of his physical development?
    I think, unless there’s a real emotional or developmental issue, kids should be left in the relevant grade and parents shouldn’t play the system. If there’s a real problem with youngest kids not being educated properly, then we need to address that in the schools.

  5. my now 16 year old son was a december baby in a december cut off world.
    i heard so much about redshirting even then ( 12 years ago ) but it was never a question for us. he started with his same age peers and it was fine. better than fine. he ended up being very tall, very bright and very socially mature…if we had held him back? it would have been a disaster. he would have stuck out like a sore thumb. that has to be considered as well.

    luckily for us, he was never a sports kid, so his nhl career was never in jeopardy due to his late birthdate;).

    now, many of his friends turned out to be january kids, so the driving has made a difference now at 16…and it does not break my heart that he is the last to drive,lol.

    now, we moved provinces recently and had to deal with the fact that there was big difference in cut off dates that affected his grade placement…while on paper he should have been going into grade 11, with the birthdate cutoff change, in the new province, he was age appropriate for grade 10.

    what to do.

    jump him ahead into a class of kids 1 – 1.5 years older? *keep* him back by putting him back into the same grade with same age peers? we ended up doing a combination, thanks to an understanding school – we put him in the grade with his same age peers, but the school allowed him to take the higher grade courses where appropriate. the result? a teen who was able to find a new group quite easily because their experiences, stages and goals met up. i think ultimately, fitting into a social group comfortable becomes the impotant factor…not imagining how bigger/better/stronger will affect your kid way down the line…

  6. I agree with expat mum. Your child should go in their proper grade unless there are developmental or emotional issues. There will be young ones and old ones, big ones and small ones in life always and you will have to learn to adapt.

  7. Born in November, my youngest sister was among the oldest children in her peer group until she skipped a grade (I believe she skipped grade one but it may have been grade two). My other sister, also born in November and two years older, showed my youngest sister her homework and my youngest sister proved such a quick learner the teacher had no choice but to recommend she be moved up. She’s still achieving plenty and has never been intimidated by anyone older. She has a competitive drive and enjoys pushing herself forward.

  8. My son was born on the 28th of September (just missing the deadline) and I considered it. He was reading at 4 and I felt that he would be bored academically if I held him back. I let him start kindergarten at 4 and don’t regret it from an academic perspective as he is in grade 5 now and doing very well. Socially it has been tough and he lags behind about 6 months
    ( which is normal giving his age). If he had learning difficulties, I probably would have held him back. I think parents should go with their instincts.

  9. Both my kids were born on August 29. They are two years apart. My oldest one was less mature than most of his peers but when he reached grade 4 everything change. He is now very mature for his age, very intelligent and very talented. This year, he won in art oratoire! My second one, well Erica, you know Alex………That one is far from being immature. He had been chosen this year to be in a split class (grade 3 and 4) him being in grade 3 because of his maturity and personnality. There are no right or wrong answers. We just have to follow our heart and do our best as parents.

  10. Oooh yes, a controversial topic this one! I also watched the segment on 60 Minutes last night, and while I understand every parent’s wish to advocate and do their best for their child, I’m not sure that red-shirting really gives them an advantage in life. Having lived overseas and seen our toddlers becoming perfectly bilingual as they learned to speak, it really showed me how much their little brains can cope with at an early age… and how ripe they are for learning. Why waste that time?

    In Europe, where I grew up, we were packed off to kindergarten at the age of 3, so there was no way I was waiting until my own kids were 5 or 6 (plus they would have driven me completely crazy by then). They were all late babies (Sep, Oct, Jan), have all been amongst the youngest in their classes, yet have all excelled academically. They appear to have normal social relationships and are talented athletes who have regularly made the ‘A’ teams. But maybe I’ve just been lucky. Or maybe I wasn’t too worried about an NHL career in any of their futures.

    I myself (a November baby) have gone through life being the “young one” in many situations, and I have to admit that I liked it. It can often feel like an advantage to be younger than your peers, especially when it comes to succession planning!

    One final thought: As I was voicing my opinion to the segment last night, my husband pointed out, “In my day nobody wanted to be held back a year as it meant you weren’t smart.” Hmmm, good point.

  11. This is a great debate and one that is certainly not a simple one. I wonder what impact redshirting might have on bullying. If the number of older children per class is slowly increasing to disproportionate numbers, might the results be demonstrated in negative student behaviour?

  12. As a teacher and parent I feel it isn’t black and white, but completely depends on the child. I don’t necessarily agree with holding a child back for an athletic advantage. I do see holding them back if they are not socially and academically ready. I can usually pick out the September- November babies within the first week of school and I teach fourth grade. If you decide to put your children through and they are socially immature they will catch up eventually. Once you enter the workforce you are surrounded by people of all ages and it no longer matters. I think either way is ok, whatever works best for the parents and children.

  13. Oh boy… oh my little (but very tall) girl. I’ve chosen to put her into a second year of preschool next year (5 days instead of 3) because I feel that’s what is right for her. She’s a late October baby, but I’m not sure she’s ready for kindergarten. But I worry. Will she be the giant of her class every year? Will there be an opportunity to skip her a grade? She’s quite bright, but socially still a little awkward. I don’t feel I’m ‘holding her back’, yet if she has brand new twin sisters arriving in July, should I totally turn her world upside down and ship her off to another school with mostly older kids? I’m torn (and totally on the fence) both ways. I want her to excel academically, but I don’t want to throw too many changes at her at once. I’m with you, Erica. I’m torn, and I chose the now unpopular ‘redshirting’, but not so she can be a hockey superstar…:) I just thought this was a better pace for her. In ten years, I’m sure the ‘experts’ will be telling me I should have held her back, because all the young kids are struggling… You can’t win.

    1. We are sending our very tall late October birthday daughter! All 4 year olds are slightly socially awkward….they are 4!! I am sure she will be just fine! I too have struggled with whether to send her or not, but I feel it’s the best thing to do…why would I want to clip her wings?

  14. Great Post! I agree that there are some cases where it makes sense to hold a child back for a year. In those cases, I think the parents should have the right to do so.

    That said, for the most part, this trend of holding back perfectly able children who are the younger side of the spectrum is getting a little out of hand and hurting the children who are on the younger side of the cut off but still go ahead. If everyone stuck with the recommended age ranges for the most part, there wouldn’t be such an age disparity happening.

    As a mom of a boy with an August birthday, it was a very difficult decision to send him ahead. Since I’m a working mom, he was in daycare from the time he was 2 months old. His full time pre-school teachers said he would be bored to tears if he didn’t move on, and he was tall, so we went ahead. He’s now in 5th grade and doing great.

    If he weren’t with other kids who were held back and are more than a year older, I wouldn’t see any difference at all between his classmates and him. I’m not looking forward to the fact that everyone else will get to drive before he does… but we will tackle that challenge when it comes!

  15. I have a december baby and a may baby — my dec son went to kdg at almost 6 b/c of a sept cutoff and my may son went to kdg at slightly over 5 …. I didn’t debate and didn’t lament – – I did what the cutoff suggested AND guess what? Around third grade, everything evens out and I see it with all the kids – they are all doing what they are supposed to be doing when I look at both my sons and the rest of their classes. There are true outliers in both directions based on personality vs when they started school.
    I totally agree that this segment was driven by helicopter parents.
    We must say that our kids are doing what they should be doing b/c they are who they are and not say things like performing at the top and exceeding this or that because IMO – we just propel the argument.

    I did like what they speculated in the segment about what will be with all these kids as adults – I am so curious! RB

  16. My son has an Aug 30 birthday on a Sept 1 cutoff. I had never considered holding him back or even heard of it. My husband was soon persuaded by his friends from our private school where this is very popular that we should definitely hold him back. He was bright, social, had a better attention than most adults I know, and definitely ready for formal school. I enrolled him on time in K4. My husband and friends and teachers and stranger still give me grief about it. He loves school, he has lots of friends, he does great, but even his kindergarten teacher says I should hold him back solely based on his birth month. She says he is at the top academically and socially. The only thing she come up with, because she says he is very mature for his age, was that she has to tell him directions more than once when he should get it the first time. I asked if that was the only thing should we really hold him in Kindergarten again. She said that it would be easier for him if we did and he would be bigger for sports and he would drive sooner. Saying it would be easier, is like saying that I should have taken 11 th grade general math instead of calculus because it is easier and I would be assured an A. Challenging myself with Calculus made me work harder and better prepared me for college. I see the trend of wanting to make life easy in the parents that I talk to as well. They don’t want their kids to struggle. I think they run the risk of raising bored kids who run away from a challenge because they are used to everything being easy. I don’t know about sports. I don’t want my child to play football and there is no advantage in soccer and tennis according to Malcolm Gladwell, who, by the way, has a BA in history and is not really qualified to draw conclusions on scientific data. There is more data that says there is no advantage. Up until recently, the social sciences were thought not to use sound scientific research in their studies. These studies he touts are over a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, mostly public schools. It is like comparing apples to oranges to compare a girl with a single Mom in an inner city school to a boy with highly educated professional parents at the best private school in the state. Even Malcolm Gladwell said that these affluent white educated parents aren’t going to see the same benefits from red shirting as a poor, underrepresented minorities. However, how do I ignore the experience of parents and educators who say all Aug boys should be held back no matter what, for some scientists who have what I would call fuzzy data with too many variables.

  17. We have been struggling with this…Our daughter’s birthday is Oct. 26, so she just makes the current California cut off of Nov. 1st. At first we were going to send her to Transitional Kindergarten, because we were worried about her being the youngest in Kinder, but didn’t want her to be bored in preschool…..but the Governor has proposed to wipe out the program, therefore our district has done away with plans to move forward with it. However…all along our daughter’s preschool teachers have been telling us she is more than ready for Traditional Kindergarten. We have now gone ahead and enrolled her, and infact had her assessed at a private school, which we just found out she got into (we are going to go public however, as we also lotteries into a great school). What I learned is that my daughter is more ready than I am! She wants to go to Kindergarten, and her teachers know she is ready..it is me who is afraid to take this next step in her life, and it is me who has to get over it and have some faith in her! (also not be pressured into holding her just because it appears to be a trend).
    My son on the other hand, was born Sept. 2nd, and will miss the new cut off by one day (which will be Sept. 1 his year). We will have no choice but to have him start school when he is almost 6. He is in the 95% for his height, so I worry that he will be a giant towering over his peers…although, I suppose he will be in class with red shirted fall birthday children I am sure.
    So my children will be 2 years apart in age, but 3 years apart in school!

  18. I “redshirted” my oldest son, after much going back on forth on the matter. His pre-K 4 and Kindergarten teachers at the preschool made it well known that he was “way behind” academically. He was the youngest in his class. His speech therapist whose opinion I had come to trust over the year she saw him, felt that it would be good for his self-esteem. So, when it came time for him to attend the public school, I simply registered him for Kindergarten & not First Grade. Since then, he has more than kept up academically. Socially, I still think he is behind, even when his peers are younger. Would I have done things differently? I don’t know. Looking back I feel that his pre-school was not a good fit for him and that caused him to be a bit withdrawn. Of course, I can only see this now that I have two more children who have had completely different experiences (at different schools). I never considered holding him back to give him an advantage. The decision was made solely for his individual benefit. I always felt that he was smart enough to catch up academically; I just did not want his self-esteem to suffer as a result of that struggel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.