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Is redshirting a good idea?

Is redshirting a good idea?

Casey Stevens
what is red shirting

What is Redshirting? Redshirting is the practice of delaying entry for school age children thus ensuring that they become one of the “older” kids in their grade instead of potentially being one of the youngest.

  • Does your child have a summer birthday?
  •  Have you had to decide whether you will send them to Kindergarten when they are “age-eligible”?

Typically, children start kindergarten around five years old, but this varies greatly by state based on birthdate cutoffs.  This topic became relevant to me when I was considering enrolling my firstborn in Kindergarten. 

The cutoff in New York State is Dec. 1.  Therefore, any child who turns five before Dec. 1 can enroll in Kindergarten for that school year.  My son’s birthday was September 30.  This put him right in the sweet spot for considering “academic redshirting”. 

Many parents choose to “hold” their child back based on social maturity, academic readiness, and even future athletic advantages.  Most states have a cutoff date of August 1 or September 1. 

There is often a notion that being the oldest child in a classroom holds many advantages versus being one of the youngest.  Many families, if they have the resources, choose to delay sending their child if they have a summer or even spring birthday.  Four-plus preschool programs are more popular than ever before.

Costs surrounding redshirting

We live in an affluent district where academic redshirting is very common. Many families have the resources to choose to wait a year before enrolling in kindergarten. These families can afford the additional expense of another year of a private four-plus preschool program and aren’t depending on school lunch programs for meals for their children. Will delaying the start for their child ultimately make a difference based on the child’s age? Or, in my opinion, is it more likely that these children already hold an advantage based on their socioeconomic status? 

When my son completed his four-year old pre-k program, I took him for kindergarten screening.  He passed with flying colors.  He was social, well adjusted and academically exceeding the screening baselines.  However, at the end of my appointment with the counselor, they asked me if I would be enrolling him in Kindergarten the following fall.

I questioned if they had any reservations or if there were any red flags about his readiness. I noted that they had circled his birthday at the top of the evaluation form. The counselor stated that she didn’t find anything during his screening, but that his “late” birthday gave her pause. She noted that “boys often wait”. I left feeling uneasy and worried that if I sent him, I would later regret my choice. Others pointed out to me that waiting to send a child is a much easier choice than having to repeat kindergarten or another grade later.

I understood all the opinions and respected everyone’s input. My husband and I ultimately decided to send him to Kindergarten when he was four, turning five years old.

Possible pro or con to redshirting

A big deciding factor for our family was our family dynamic. At the time we were making these decisions, we had three children born in under four years. Below are some of the questions parents might consider when making the decision.

  • How many children does the family have?
  • Where in the birth order does the child in question fall?
  • How will sending or delaying the start of Kindergarten impact the future lifestyle of the family?
  • Will sibling rivalry be a factor?

My oldest son and my second son are only eighteen months apart. We considered the ramifications of having them possibly match up against each other on sports teams in the future if they were one grade apart versus two. They are great friends, but my instinct was to separate them and allow them to blossom independently.

In hindsight, this was probably less important than I was making it out to be. Aside from a shared interest in lacrosse, they have pursued different sports entirely. Also, now that we have four children and are running in so many different directions, I realize it would have been very convenient if our schedules were more aligned and they were on some of the same teams.

Educational Options

A major factor for us was that we didn’t feel like he would benefit from another year of pre-k. We felt like he was adequately prepared for kindergarten and had exhausted the pre-k opportunities available to us in our community. I also had to consider how I would provide him with enough stimulation while I was also home caring for his three-year-old brother and one-year-old sister.

Was shirting a good idea for us?

Fast forward 7 years later.

His class has a mix of kids who are his age and many who are a full year older than him. I have always found it interesting that his best friends are some of the oldest kids in the class that were redshirted. He has a really great group of kids in his grade and I am ultimately happy that he ended up with the class that he did. He is in 6th grade this year.  Middle school is in full swing.

He is learning about puberty and some of the boys in his class are already sprouting mustaches. Does it worry me that some of his friends may go through puberty before him? Not at all. Everyone develops on their own schedule.  He hasn’t been bothered by any of it either. He has always been tall for his age, which translates to a completely average for his grade.

 Do I think that the kids who waited a year have advantages over him? Not that I have noticed. Have I worried that someday I would have regrets about sending him to kindergarten before he turned five? Absolutely. At times, if he has struggled with something socially or academically, my reaction is to immediately wonder if it would be different if we had waited a year. As a parent, I think it is always easy to blame ourselves and question our decisions.

 There are so many considerations when making this decision. Do I wish there was a universally accepted policy or evaluation tool used to dictate when students start school? Yes!  This would take the guesswork out of the decision. But I also recognize that having a choice is important and parents know their children best.

Also, I realize that certain demographics of people enjoy far more choice in this decision than those who do not have the financial resources or childcare options available to delay starting their child, even if it is in the best interests of that particular child. Therein we continue to perpetuate the widening of the socioeconomic gaps in this country.

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