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Kindergarten redshirting: One mom's dilemma
April 2, 2013 at 9:04 AM

Kindergarten redshirting: One mom's dilemma

1 hour ago

My daughter just turned 5 and while I wish my biggest worries had been about what her party theme was and how many kids to invite, there was a giant milestone that accompanied this birthday and it's still giving me great pause.


Sure, my daughter will eventually attend kindergarten. Whether or not she is ready is the issue that's been giving me trouble. A decade ago, when I was making this decision for her older brother, I didn't consider waiting a year. He had a spring birthday. Surely 5 and a half rendered him ready for a kindergarten curriculum. Over the past 10 years, however, kindergarten has changed. Full days have replaced half days and expectations have advanced. My gut is telling me my daughter isn't ready for that kind of rigor even if the state of Ohio, which has a cutoff date of October 1, disagrees.

One would think that as a former elementary school teacher and principal, I could make a confident decision rooted in experience and backed up with research. Unfortunately, it's the research that I find so contradicting. 

Some kids are ready for kindergarten...and some aren't.
Getty Images
Some kids are ready for kindergarten...and some aren't.

One of the more famous studies on the effects of redshirting, a term coined for children being held out of kindergarten until the age of 6, was conducted by Elizabeth Dhuey and Kelley Bedard of the University of Toronto. They found that the advantages of being an older student in a class has positive impacts on academic achievement. They are often put in higher reading groups and hone their skills, resulting in them being put in higher reading groups the following year.

Malcolm Gladwell refers to this phenomenon as the “cumulative advantage." In his book, “Outliers,” he extolls the idea that an extra nudge ahead when a child is 6 can mean the child is better positioned for not only academic but also social success at 7, which means he’s got a leg up at 8, and so on.

But then I read the research by Sam Wang, a Princeton associate professor of neuroscience, who warns parents in a 2011 New York Times article that holding a child back could negatively impact how a child learns to respond to challenges. Wang would rather see my daughter learning close to the limits of her ability, making errors and learning to correct them quickly instead of coasting through a curriculum that comes easily because she isn't being challenged.

Related video: Parents holding kids back from kindergarten

Since the research isn't clear cut, I turned to an experienced elementary educator.

Sally Koppinger, a veteran principal with 28 years of kindergarten entrance under her belt and a former mentor of mine, urged me to follow my instincts. "The decision to delay the start of kindergarten should always lie with the parent. You know your daughter best," said Koppinger, who teaches at St. Joseph School in Sylvania, Ohio.

She went on to caution me to pay careful attention to the reason for redshirting.

"If you decide to hold your daughter back because of a social immaturity, a delay could be warranted even in spite of her academic readiness. Where I believe a redshirting does damage is when a parent decides to delay kindergarten because their child is showing signs of developmental delays. When critical early childhood milestones are not being met, an 'extra year' out of formal schooling is actually a year of early intervention lost and can ultimately do irreparable damage." 

My concerns for my daughter have nothing to do with developmental milestones. I'm just not sure the kid can go to school five days in a row for eight hour days without collapsing from exhaustion. She still falls asleep every afternoon. In addition, I've noticed that she gravitates towards children a year younger than herself.

So, I’m following my gut and erring on the side of caution. I'm hoping an extra year of preschool will give her a chance to mature, and hopefully better equip her to excel both academically and socially through formal schooling.

Still, it’s not an easy decision to make, but as her mother, I’m the best equipped to make it.

Have you delayed your child's entrance into kindergarten? Have you started your child early? On what basis did you make your decision and how’s it going so far? Share you thoughts on our TODAY Moms Facebook page.

When not stressing about life altering decisions about her five children, Carolyn Savage can be found writing about her adventures in parenting at 


  • shajdinyak
    April 2, 2013 at 9:13 AM
    As a mother and teacher I have a problem with this red shirting. One child in my neighborhood is doing it because his whole preschool class is doing it, because it is the thing to do. It is ridiculous, because of this my daughter who is smart will be at a disadvantage because everyone in her class will be a year older. Why is,it fair that they perform better academics, testing, etc. This was unheard of when we were little. I refuse to let my dds academics be put on hold because everyone else is waiting another year.
  • romalove
    April 2, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    My son is born on October 12 and the cutoff was October 31, making him one of the youngest in the class.  He struggled with his peers as being smaller and younger and when everyone was driving he was behind again.  I think I should have held him back and feel badly that I didn't.

  • Ms.KitKat
    April 2, 2013 at 9:16 AM

     This was a horrible, pains-taking dilemma for me and my child. One of the worst experiences of mine and my child's life- truly. I agonized over it- for MONTHS! even changed my mind at the start of school and changed back again. Finally, nearly 12 years later, I feel good about my decision. I think my child does too.

  • EireLass
    April 2, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    I homeschooled elementary grades. I didn't start 'formal' sit down work until they were 6. It ended up being a very wise decision. They had no problems with intellect, social, etc when they went to public school. They were ahead of most kids.

  • SuperChicken
    April 2, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    With the way schooling has changed over the years, I can see why parents would struggle with this.  My son is a Feb. baby, so I didn't even have to think about it.    But you can really see a difference, especially in the younger grades, between the young ones and the older ones.  

  • smalltowngal
    April 2, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Even though I'm in Ohio, our school cut-off date was August 1 and my DD was born in the middle of July.  She is very mature for her age and tall so I didn't want to hold her back. DS's birthday is in May and I worry about him. He's a little quirkier and very small for his age. I wonder if he should do kindergarten twice. 

  • coolmommy2x
    April 2, 2013 at 11:00 AM
    All kids are different. Some need that extra year, some don't.

    Last year I was anxious for my 6th grade DS to go to middle school whereas I knew my 2nd grade DD could go to middle school tomorrow and be fine. She has more common sense.
  • Bigmetalchicken
    April 2, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    I think if my son was stuck with public schooling as his only option, I would red shirt him. Not just for the educational aspect, but also because in the area we are in right now, he would be more likely to be bullied, so I would want him to be a little bigger, to ward off the little bastards that like to bully.

    Thank goodness we don't have to deal with that.

  • Mrs.Kubalabuku
    April 2, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    My son is READY.  He just turned 5 this month, and has already had 2 years of Preschool.  His teachers at Preschool assured me several times that he is more than ready.  They even believe some of the behavioral problems I see in him now will self-resolve once he starts!

    He starts a "Summer School" at his new Kindergarten in May.  They'll teach him how to do basic things like use the lunch line, follow gym rules, etc.  It's free, but not all kids are advised to go.  Based on the Prechool's suggestion and their own evaluation, they believed DS was a great candidate for the summer school.

    So far he loves the idea.  Last year he cried every day of summer vacation, and he cried all Winter Break, because there was no school.  And this year he's been upset that he has to come home at noon, and begs to stay all day.

    I don't doubt he'll be tired.  About 2-3 days a week he takes a nap around 2 or 3.  So I guess I'll be sending him to be by six, or letting him nap for an hour right after school, when he starts.

  • terpmama
    April 2, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    My oldest is a December baby but a preemie... He's 4 and just tipped 30 pounds... He's tiny. My problem is he's wicked smart! Already reading and doing basic addition and subtraction (more importantly understands the concepts). So do I start him this fall or next? We've decided to start him next fall (2014)... He'll be 5 and a half and probably academically above his peers in some places (reading and math) but there is no way he'd sit still, pay attention or succeed if we started this fall. We are bumping his preschool to a pre kindergarten (more academic focus then routine and social focus). 

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