Should You Redshirt your Kindergartener?

If you have a child with a late summer or early autumn birthday, the thought to hold your child back from kindergarten for one extra year may have crossed your mind. There are quite a few factors that can come into play when trying to decide if “big kid” school is right for your baby, and ultimately, as a parent, you know best. But we all want to do our research when making this decision as it will impact the rest of your child’s school career. That’s why we have put together some of the reasons for holding your child back and against holding your child back another year. 

What is Red-Shirting?

Red-shirting, in terms of kindergarten academics, is when one decides to not place their child in kindergarten despite them meeting the age requirement for their state. Many parents decide to red-shirt for various reasons – the child’s emotional development, their gender, their size, their social readiness skills – and many parents decide to place their child in kindergarten despite their younger age for the same reasons.

Many times the parents who are considering red-shirting their child have children with birthdays in the months of June through September. Each state has a different age cutoff for kindergarten, so that can play a huge role in a parent’s decision. For example, more parents are likely to hold their child back for an extra year if the age cutoff is December than if the age cutoff is early September. Either way, parents want to be sure that they are making the right decision for their child. Luckily there is a plethora of information for both sides of the argument from educators to help parents decide what is best.

Against Red-Shirting

Although a somewhat controversial topic, there are plenty of parents who decide to send their children to kindergarten even if their birthday is right next to the school-age cutoff. Moreover, some parents seek out private schools for their children who just barely miss the age cutoff, thereby sending them “early” instead of waiting it out another year. There are many different reasons a parent may want to send their child to kindergarten early, and here are just some of a few:

Their Child is Ready

Many parents use this as their reasoning in sending their child to kindergarten, whether their age be near the cutoff or even after. Academically their child may already have surpassed the benchmarks for kindergarten readiness. Parents also may feel that they would be doing their child a disservice by continuing another year of preschool. They feel their child might be bored or will not continue to advance academically.

Younger Kids Learn from Older Ones

Another reason parents may choose to enroll their children “on-time” or even “early” into kindergarten is based on research that younger children often emulate the older children in their class, therefore advancing faster than if they were the oldest children. Many parents find this type of role modeling advantageous, especially in the early years of school. Younger children may watch their older peers and learn how to engage in proper school behavior like sitting for longer periods and following directions faster than if they were still in preschool where behaviors are a bit more lax.

Research Shows No Long Term Advantage to Redshirting

Although many parents argue that redshirting gives their child an advantage academically, research has shown that in the long-term, children who are redshirted are no more academically advantageous than those who are not redshirted. Short term research does show that redshirted children are more confident in their school work and progress faster through second grade, but after that there is no academic difference between those who are redshirted and those who are not. Therefore, many parents don’t see a reason to hold their child back since in the long term they will be on par with their peers academically.

They Are Looking Out for the Collective Whole

As redshirting gains popularity among parents, the age gap between students in the same class begins to grow. For example, if a parent holds their child back for an additional year who by all state standards should be attending kindergarten, they end up widening the age gap in the classroom. With this practice you may have students in the same class who are almost two years apart, making it increasingly difficult for the teacher to differentiate instruction for the class since he or she is teaching children at significantly different maturity levels. Some parents of summer and fall babies recognize this as a growing issue, and they choose to send their children to school in order to help maintain a level of balance in the classroom.

They Want Their Child to Finish School Earlier

Parents who decide to send their young child to kindergarten may be looking towards the long term effects rather than the short term. Some believe that allowing their child to finish younger will give them more opportunities to do the things they would like after school whether that be taking a gap year between high school and college, attending vocational school, or simply finishing college earlier and getting a start on life in the real world.

For Red-shirting

Just like the decision to send your “young” child to kindergarten, those parents who decide to hold their child back an additional year have many different reasons for doing so. It is a difficult decision to make, and one that many parents don’t take lightly. You don’t want to feel as though you are depriving your child of something they would thrive in doing, but you also want to make the best decision for the long term. Below are some of the reasons some parents may decide to keep their child home for an extra year before sending them off to “big kid school”:

Their Child Isn’t Ready

Probably the most common reason that parents decide to redshirt their child is because they feel as if they are not ready for the big changes that come with kindergarten. Academics are not the only important part of kindergarten readiness. Children also have to be socially and emotionally ready to experience the rigors of kindergarten including sitting for longer periods of time, following three-step directions, and completing tasks independently. Some children, especially at a young five years old, are simply not mature enough for kindergarten, so parents decide to hold them back to gain some maturity over time.

Future Athlete

The term “redshirting” is a term used for college athletes who take a year off of playing sports in order to better their abilities and extend their eligibility in college, and this practice has seemingly extended to kindergarteners as well. A small group of parents that are pro-redshirting do so simply for the athletic side of school. They want to give their young child an opportunity to get a little bit bigger before they start their academic career so that when they start extracurricular sports they will be bigger and stronger than their peers. Although this isn’t the most popular reason for redshirting a kindergartener, it isn’t entirely uncommon.

Their Child is Small

There is another group of parents who also hold their child back for size reasons, but it isn’t for future athletics. Some children are young and small in stature, so parents decide to give their child an additional year to grow so they aren’t trampled by the big kids in school. Parents wish to give their young ones time to grow and mature in this physical sense so that they are comparable in size to their peers as they continue on in their school career.

Older Kids Mentor the Younger Ones

Holding your child back for a year means that they will go into kindergarten being one of the oldest children in the class. Many parents believe that having an older child in kindergarten gives them the opportunity to mentor the younger children, thereby making them more empathic. It also gives the older children an opportunity to learn how to be leaders and gives them skills to be of assistance to those who need it.

Middle School and High School Years

As all parents do, those who decide to redshirt their child will look at the future repercussions of their decision. Many decide to hold their children back an additional year if they are on the younger side so that they will be older and more mature in their middle school and high school years. Many also do not want their child graduating high school and thereby attending college at the young age of 17. Redshirting your child at the beginning of their school career can help alleviate these issues.

What the Research Really Says

Redshirting is a relatively new practice in that only in the past few decades did most states start requiring students to be five by the time they entered kindergarten. Research shows that redshirting is most common for affluent families who can afford to send their child to another year of preschool. The practice became popularized after a book by Malcolm Gladwell called The Outliers when he noted that older children, even born in the same year, are often more successful than their younger peers. Many parents took this idea and applied it to their young kindergartners, thereby deciding to hold them back an additional year in order to set them up for success. But does redshirting really help a child become more successful in the long term?

Research widely suggests that there is no long term benefit to redshirting your child. In fact, most research that focuses on the academic repercussion of redshirting state that children are more likely to drop out of high school, have lower levels of achievement, and be less intrinsically motivated for academic success if they are redshirted. Many organizations widely oppose the act of redshirting because of its recourse on academic success, classroom environment, and a child’s motivation to complete their school career.

However, many parents make the decision to redshirt not based on the academic side of kindergarten (and beyond) but rather on the social and emotional side of kindergarten. Some younger five year olds are seemingly not mature enough to attend today’s kindergarten because of the rigors of the curriculum (which some claim to be perpetuated by redshirting in that since there is an increase of older children in kindergarten classrooms there has been a push to create more rigorous curriculums to meet their needs). But again, some research suggests that children are more confident and happy going into kindergarten as being older children because they feel more prepared.

Either way it is the parent who needs to do the research to help make the decision that best fits their child and their family. Below are some of the statistics found in current research articles on the short-term and long-term effects of redshirting versus not redshirting your child. 

Against Redshirting

  • A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted in 2007 states that children may perform better when they are in a class with older students.
  • Researchers from Cornell suggest that students who waited an extra year to begin kindergarten were not as likely to complete a PhD program – a common measurement of long term academic success.
  • The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists and the National Association for the Education of Young Children fiercely oppose redshirting, stating that it sets children up for negative thoughts on their academic success.

In a 2008 review, David Deming, an economist of education at Harvard University, and Susan Dynarski, an education and public policy expert at the University of Michigan, concluded that redshirted kids also tend to have lower IQs and earnings as adults. – Melinda Wenner Moyer, Slate

For Redshirting

  • A study conducted in 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics states several factors such as less misconduct in school, less drop out rates, and higher performance in early elementary education for those who are redshirted.
  • In 2010, a study was conducted that examined other research on redshirting and it was found that delaying a child’s enrollment into kindergarten decreased special services required by 2-5%.
  • A life satisfaction survey conducted by Dr. Suzanne Johnson looked at the life satisfaction of students in middle school and found that children who had been redshirted showed significantly higher levels of life satisfaction.

As to whether redshirting pays off, there’s a popular notion that it does. After all, widely cited research has shown a modest but significant correlation between age at school entry and long-term student performance across many developed countries. – Micheal Hansen, US News

The decision of when to start your child in kindergarten is not a light one. Many parents, especially those with “younger” five year olds, have to make the difficult decision of whether or not to hold their child back or to start them on time (or even a bit early). There are many factors that go into making the decision, such as your child’s size, their academic abilities, their social and emotional development, and the future repercussions. In the end, each parent makes the decision that is best for their child based on their research and their internal gut feeling which is the best any parent can do. 

Looking for some fun summer activities to do with your child before they head off to big kid school? Check out 8 Skills to Practice with Your “Almost” Kindergartner.

Resources: Noodle, Cult of Pedagogy, The Atlantic
Photo credits: Lauren Lomsdale, Moyan Brenn

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama,, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.

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