January 27, 2020
Many parents with preschoolers born in summer or early fall will wonder if their child is ready to start kindergarten the year of their fifth birthday. I know I did―for both my sons!
What Is Redshirting?
Academic redshirting is the practice of delaying the kindergarten (or grade 1) enrolment of an age-eligible child for an extra year. The term originates from an American sports custom where a coach would redshirt (bench) freshman athletes to give them an extra year to develop and improve their skills.
School eligibility depends on the province you live in: for some, the cut-off is as early as September 30th, while for others, it's as late as March 1st. However, most Canadian provinces have adopted December 31st as the official deadline for eligibility.
In my case, September 30th was the date I agonized over since my sons were born in August and late September, making them both ideal candidates for redshirting. From my own experience, I want to emphasize that this choice is a personal one and that you have to trust your gut before all else―you know your child best!
As a mom, I needed some kind of pros and cons list to make up my mind. My first step was to call the school and do my homework. When reading up on redshirting, I felt research findings1 seemed divided, and rather inconclusive or suggestive on both ends. But in a nutshell, here is an overview of the pros and cons I read about:
Postponing kindergarten is worth it in some cases, especially if the child is less mature socially or academically (what is referred to as readiness skills) than his or her other age-eligible peers. The extra time to develop can make a difference, namely, redshirted children:
- are likely to perform better on standardized tests (especially math and reading);
- demonstrate better social skills (confidence and popularity);
- are less likely to receive negative feedback from teachers;
- require less special education services than children who were retained in kindergarten instead of redshirted.
However, the academic benefits of redshirting are said to be most noticeable in the first years of school, and dissipate over time. There seems to be no conclusive evidence of long-lasting perks.
For other children, redshirting is not the solution and can have adverse impacts both on the short and long term. While below-average maturity is the primary argument to hold a child back, I believe (and know from personal experience) that parents should investigate further to ensure that what might be perceived as lack of maturity isn’t an underlying, undiagnosed disorder or disability; one for which special education services could offer assistance. If the child does indeed have an undiagnosed disability, this means parents could lose an extra year of support or even services from the school.
Moreover, redshirting a child with a birthday well before the cut-off date can create a wider age gap. In this case, these children may have difficulty making and maintaining friendships with younger classmates or feel alienated. They may also feel bored in class or display behaviour problems.
Questions and Proactive Initiatives
The thing about research is that it always involves words like “most” children or the “average” kid, which does not necessarily reflect the unique abilities or delays of your own son or daughter. So again, parents should follow their own judgment, instinct and heart.
Each time around, I asked myself if there was something specific that made me feel my son wasn’t ready for school, other than age. My son had been to daycare and I considered whether his experience there had been smooth or challenging. I asked my childcare provider for her opinion: did she feel my son was ready for kindergarten? If not, why? (with specific examples)
Family and friends advised to get more information on my school’s kindergarten program; what the teacher’s expectations might be and which skills my son should display. I acquired a list from the school and reviewed it, asking myself honestly if my child could meet these requirements. In my case, this included the ability to focus on a given task for at least 20 minutes, fine motor skills for arts and crafts, dressing and undressing quickly for recess, a certain level of language and social skills, etc. I also asked the teacher what I could do to prepare my son for kindergarten the year before.
Most parents wrestling with this decision ultimately enrol their child on schedule, and the vast majority of children are not redshirted.
So you may be wondering if I did redshirt my children in the end. The answer is no, and yes. Although my sons were both typical candidates, I didn’t delay my oldest son’s school debut. I concluded he displayed the required skills and was emotionally ready. He thrived academically but faced some road bumps in terms of social interaction given his smaller stature.
As for my youngest born in late September, I decided to hold him back a year as I didn’t feel he was ready. I repeated the same process as I did for my eldest, asked questions, sought advice and eventually uncovered he did have some hearing loss that led to delayed speech. This situation has since been corrected but it simply goes to say that if you feel your child isn’t ready, there’s usually a reason! Again, trust yourself.
A forward-thinking mom.
This blog article is a testimonial written by a mother who wants to share her experience.
Katz, Lilian G. (2000). Academic Redshirting and Young Children. ERIC Digest. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Graue, M. Elizabeth, & DiPerna, James. (2000). Redshirting and Early Retention: Who Gets the "Gift of Time" and What Are Its Outcomes? American Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 509-34.
Rachel Postle-Brown “Delaying Kindergarten Entrance by Participating in Pre-Kindergarten and Academic Achievement in Elementary School: Red-Shirting and Achievement Scores” (2019) Dissertations. 3410.
Philip J. Cook, Songman Kang (2008), The School-Entry-Age Rule Affects Redshirting Patterns and Resulting Disparities in Achievement, National Bureau of Economic Research
Malcolm Gladwell (2011), Outliers: The Story of Success, Little, Brown and Company