Redshirting: Holding Them Back To Get Them Ahead

photo credit: Pinterest

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)

I discussed redshirting on Global TV this morning,

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.

photo credit: Pinterest


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.  They would be among the oldest and biggest in their classrooms… and on the sports fields.


The theory goes back to 2008, the year of The Outliers. Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his work in this arena, and author of one of my favorite books, The Outliers, discussed the cold hard facts a couple of years ago on a 60 Minutes segment. He explained, 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 the CSB segment from 2012. The studies are astounding.

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.

Did we make the right decision? Who knows? Had we held him back, would he have been extra confident? Maybe. Would he have excelled even more at sports being the oldest? 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 social, academically and otherwise, 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.

Some parents and experts worry about the academic and social impact on kids who enter school on time and in their correct school year, but end up being surrounded by so many younger, redshirted peers. Another concern is about the challenge teachers may face while trying to streamline a curriculum when there’s such a wide age range in the class. This trend which has started to catch on in Canada (especially Western Canada), is still very much an “American” thing—this notion that life is about dominating your competition from the earliest possible age.” (
In a nutshell, there’s a huge benefit when you’re younger, but that shrinks to something a little more negligible in high school.
There are some studies which told us that older children were more likely to take on leadership roles (captain of their sports team, for example), and that younger students were not as highly represented percentage wise in the more advanced high school classes, but experts are warning that while the numbers may appear conclusive, there’s still no evidence that redshirting your child will reap the positive long terms results parents are hoping for. 

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. 


  1. I did not red shirt and didn’t consider it. Yet, I feel both my kids have been impacted by others red shirting their kids. Take my son. His birthday is in July while the cut-off date is December. I never thought of holding him back being born in the middle of the Dec-Nov school year range, but he is often the youngest in his class now. That’s right. Everyone else held their July-November babies back. He is in middle school now and plays sports and I see where the bigger kids in the lower grades, vs. my big kid in his current grade, have an edge on teams.

    Meanwhile my daughter was a December baby. So she should have been the oldest as the cutoff is Dec 1. Yet here we go again with everyone holding back their July-Nov babies! I swear half her class celebrates being a year older before she gets to in December. It’s all so weird to me.

  2. I always thought I would not hold my kid back. One of my many “before I became a parent” holier than thou hangups, I guess.

    But after one full year of Montessori preK, my son’s teachers and my husband and I agreed he was not ready for kindergarten this year (even though he turned 5 over the summer and technically could have been a kindergartner).

    What I LOVE is how his teachers call it “gifting him another year” rather than holding back, redshirting or other less positive terms. They said it is simply giving him the time and space he needs to develop the necessary skills and maturity to be a successful learner.

    As you can tell, I am head over heels with his teachers and our wonderful Montessori school as a whole 🙂 It works for us.

  3. I see this from another perspective; I am a teacher. When friends ask me about redshirting kindergarten or pushing a young child ahead, I don’t talk about kindergarten. I ask them, “Will your child be ready for first grade next year?” If the child isn’t mature enough to demonstrate basic book sense or count math manipulative materials, redshirting might be a good idea. If the child is academically and socially ready, by all means enroll him/her in school. Don’t hold back for a later physical advantage that might not even be important to the child.

  4. My daughter has an August bday, so we are trying to make this decision now. I’ve consulted many sources, and some parents and teachers have told me they have concerns when these “redshirted” kids are older. Most will be 18 for the entire senior year, and it certainly becomes apparent during the puberty years. I guess you need to really look at your kid and make the call. Are you doing it because your child isn’t ready? Or are you doing it because you’re trying to give them an upper hand advantage? My oldest has a summer birthday and he is fine academically, socially, etc. Some of his classmates, however, are larger and starting to hit puberty. They are getting interested in girls, and my kid just isn’t there since he is a whole year younger. I guess I’m in the camp that those kids who meet the cut off should go, unless they just can’t handle it socially.

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