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Kindergarten 'Redshirting': A Leg Up or an Unfair Advantage?

By , Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt, PhD
August is flying by. All too soon a new school year will begin, and with it will come the same mixed feelings and buzz of energy that surrounded the end of the school year. Besides the traditional anxieties of getting to the bus stop on time and remembering to pack a healthy lunch, for many parents of kindergarten-age students, there is another anxiety, this one with much higher stakes than being tardy on the first day of school: When should you enroll your child in kindergarten?   

When we were kids, most US children started school at 5 years old.  It's a much bigger decision now, with controversy and even politics on both sides of the issue.
I followed the old rule and kept it simple.  I enrolled my son in kindergarten for one reason: He was 5 years old, and being five meant going to kindergarten.  He started school two days after his late August birthday in 2009. To me, it was a no-brainer. From the start, there were good signs: In the first week of kindergarten he met his (still) best friend, and their birthdays are less than a week apart!  They were instant buddies. 

But the naïve bubble in which I was living soon burst. 

Their birthdays are within a week of each other, in two different years.  His newfound chum was an entire year older than him and there were kids in his class who were nearly 18 months older than him (At age five, that's almost a third of your life older!)  Evidently, it was not as simple as I thought.

How much did you (or do you) think about when to start your son or daughter in kindergarten?  Is your child one of the youngest or the oldest in the class?  Have you heard the term redshirting?

Redshirting, a term borrowed from sports, refers to the practice of postponing entry into school with the intention of giving a child a maturational advantage (or a "leg-up" as Morley Safer reported in a March broadcast of CBS’s 60 Minutes).

There are many perspectives on the issue.  Some parents have the "luxury" of agonizing over the issue of when their child should start school.  Others do not have that advantage.  It is often not a choice for parents on tight budgets, who are more likely to start their children as early as possible to eliminate child-care costs.  And, sadly, many of those kids begin school less prepared than those from more affluent households because they did not have the opportunity to engage in all of the kindergarten readiness "extras."  

Schools have an opinion on this as well.  Holding kids back might help with standardized test scores, which have mattered dramatically since the No Child Left Behind legislation was enacted.  That is the primary political issue related to redshirting.

There are "experts" on both sides of the issue.  Some advise starting your child early because they are ready to learn, are advanced beyond the preschool curriculum, and may be bored if they wait to begin school.  Others endorse starting your child late because they will have an academic advantage, will be among the bigger kids in their class (more relevant to decisions about boys’ entry age), will have more developed social skills, and will be better athletes and leaders.

I am first an advocate of starting your child "on time" at age 5.  If, for some good reason, that doesn’t work, I am an advocate of the in-between, "know your child" rule.  To expect that the reasons to start or not start a child in kindergarten at a certain age will result in some predictable list of outcomes is likely unrealistic.  Yes, some who start late will be at the top of the class and some will be at the bottom; some will be more behaviorally mature and some will not; some will be star athletes and some will not.  Similarly, among those who start on time, some will thrive in various areas and some will not. 

To make a decision when your child is 4 years old because of some expectations for the child (the best college, the best athlete) may not be the best approach and can lead to unfulfilled expectations for the child and  disappointment for the parent.  The law of averages would suggest that it all washes out in the end.  In fact, by third or fourth grade, some researchers have demonstrated that many of the early differences wash out. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, contributed to the controversy, but ironically, Gladwell later stated in an interview, "Will we look back and say, what were we thinking?"

Confused?  Or, just curious?  Consider the following:   
  • Socially: How does your child interact with other kids?
  • Academically/Cognitively: Does your child have the basics of letter recognition, colors, and shapes?  Look into your school district’s kindergarten curriculum and ask questions.  Also, look into state and local laws that govern the age range for beginning kindergarten—some do exist.
  • Emotionally: Can your child emotionally handle kindergarten?  Is kindergarten half day or full day?  If a full day is required, is your child ready for a seven-hour school day?  What is his or her preschool experience—some, none, multiple years?
  • Physically: One concern of parents who start their kids on the earlier end of the spectrum is that their kids (especially boys) will be among the smallest.  Are there any physical considerations that you need to take into account?
What do you think about redshirting?  Is it "educational quackery" as one expert stated on 60 Minutes, and done at your "child’s peril" as reported by The New York Times (September 2011)?  Or, is it providing opportunities for leadership and success as described by another expert in the 60 Minutes segment?

Are we too concerned with what we think our children should be?  Or is that our job?  What are the advantages or disadvantages of starting "on time"…of starting later?  Specifically, do you think starting "on time" puts kids at a disadvantage if they are grouped with kids who are starting significantly later?

Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt is Chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on social and emotional development in childhood and adolescence. She has published research on parent-child attachment, friendship, peer relations, bullying, and mentoring. She has also done consulting work with schools as part of their bullying prevention and intervention programs. Michelle recently published the book Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence (Guilford Press), which explores the significance of friendship from toddlerhood through adolescence. The book examines factors that contribute to positive friendships, how positive friendships influence children’s lives, and interventions for those who have friendship difficulties. Michelle is the mother of a 7-year-old son, William, and a 2-year-old bulldog named Eve. She enjoys yoga, kayaking, writing, and cooking.

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I was 4 when I started kindergarten with a December birthday. I was always the youngest in my class, but it didn't bother me. My daughter will be starting in a couple weeks at 5 years old with a February birthday. Our school district wouldn't allow her to start at 4.5 years old, but I think that she would have done well.

You should do what is right for your child. If they are ready send them to school on time, if not keep them at home and work with them so they will be ready next year. Report
I was parent with a child who saw his letters "up side down", to him they were correct, & they were a mirror image of the letters I would write. I was very concerned about the effect getting all his little papers marked with incorrect answers would have on him, and it had me in a tizzy. What to do... I decided to hold him back in order for us to work through his problem. I took the advice of his doctor who said it would straighten out in time, which it did. He excelled in everything he did, graduated an honor student and excelled in college. I don't think he would have done so if I had sent him on to school just because of his age. I do think the "I can't get anything right syndrome" would have had a negative effect on him and he could not have been the bright young man that he is today. As someone who works in a school, I say it is a matter of maturity at the time school starts and should be judged on an individual basis. It is OK to let your child stay home an extra year or even two if that is what is needed. I would suggest however, that a parent work with their child and the basics of colors, shapes, counting, numbers etc. be taught at home. You don't want them to be behind, you want them to be ahead. Report
I can see how redshirting could benefit children who are not mature for social interaction with their peers and teachers. Otherwise, enroll children on time - especially if they want to go to school. Report
In the UK kids are in kindergarten at age 3 and by age 4 the kindergarten starts what we call pre-school training. At age 5 they start school proper, abeit what we call infants school. The next step up is at age 7 when the kids are considered juniors and then at age 11 they move up to senior school. There are different systems for doing this dfepending on which part ofthe UK you ;ove, butthe format is basically the same. There are two entries to school proper; both are geared to those who have birthdays between certain times of the year which makes the playing field more even. The same applies throughout so that pupils move up at more or less the ame age. It is a system that works well and during the formative years there is no discrimination. Once a student reaches senior level this changes. Pupils tend to start off the same but by age 14 are streamed into peer groups of their level. This means that those who are academically bright can get the tuition they need and those who are not can look to find a niche inwhich they excel, such as some form of skileld manual work. Not everyone is destined to be good enough for university or college but doing it this way ensures that all pupols are given the chance tor each their full potential. There is an exception to this rule and this is where parental sdecisions also have to be made. Some pupils do show signs of being more educationally mature than others and need to have more challenges set them or given the opportunity to take more advanced exminations ata n earlier age thanthe norm. This is achieved by teachers identifying such pupols and tailoring their education to meet this challenge. Unfortunately, this happens more often in privaye schools rather than state schools as calss sizes can preclude this in state schools. Having said this, it is not beyond possibility thata child can be dentified and at a pretty early age as well. getting abck to the subject inhand though, it is up to parents when or even if they put their children to kindergarden. Nine times out of ten a parent will scrimp and scrape in order to do this, but some are unable for financial reasons. It is so unfair on these children as they are so far behind when they finally do have to go to school. So, whilst a parent makes the choice, it will have an impact on their children in the future. I thought i would contribute here just to let you know how things work inthe UK as they are somewhat different it seems to thoe system of the US. Having said that, i belioeve that ALL chikldren should be given theopportunity to start at as early an age as is practicable. Children often can get bored at home and we do not always read the signs. Giving them the opportunity of learning and playing wth other choldren will not only give them a good start in life and but keep them occupied with new challenges and social skills and set tehm on a course whcih will give them the building blocks for the rest of their lives. Report
We waited a year with my daughter-she was an late August birthday so it was either enter school right after turning 5 or right after turning 6. We decided to wait because although she was bright and capable of doing the work we thought she could stand an extra year of emotional "seasoning." We've never regretted our decision. I really think it just depends on the child and their emotional maturity. I don't doubt that she would have been ok if we'd started her at 5 but that extra year she matured so much I think it really helped her. Report
Readiness is the only criterion which matters. I entered kindergarten at 4 and turned five on the last legal day for that year - December 1st. I was a little immature socially, but ahead of the game academically. As a mother, teacher and Sylvan tutor (who has to deal with students who are "behind"), I agree with those who say that you must know your child and be prepared to change your mind if the child is overwhelmed or vastly unhappy. Report
Wouldn't holding your kid back to start kindergarten at 6 be unfair for their 5 year old classmates? They could potentially outperform their classmates in everything. I learned to read at age 4, so my parents got me tested and sent me to kindergarten. I turned 5 in October. I had no problems academically; in fact, I remained in the top of my class throughout all of my schooling. However, I was teased about it and dreaded my birthday every year. Report
Know your child. Don't let anyone tell you for any reason what to do. I have three girls, all very different. They all started schools at different times based on who they are and are all doing well. It WAS hard finacially, but it didn't last forever and I know it was worth the sacrifice. Report
My older son has an April birthday and he's tall for his age so he started Kindergarten at 5. He did well and will be going into 1st grade this year. My other son doesn't turn 5 til this December so he has to wait the extra year. Academically I think he could handle it, but socially I think he needs the extra year. Also, he's a little short for his age. I have a September birhtday so I made the cut-off. I did well academically and was one of the taller kids in the class, but socially I had a really hard time. I never went to preschool b/c it wasn't really the thing to do when I was a kid. I was really shy and I see that in my son too so he will be waiting til he's 5 and will start Kindergarten 3 months before his 6th birthday. Report
My oldest daughter is the youngest in her class. She has an end of August birthday, but multiple teachers evaluated her and said she was more than ready to start with her class. She has always been at the top of the heap academically- reads 2 grade levels up, etc. and has definitely held her own on the social/emotional aspects as well. She has been identified as a "leader" by 3 different teachers now (she is going into 2nd grade). That being said, I can definitely see some issues coming- like when her friends are able to drive almost a year before her...stuff like that. I'm sure there are benefits and drawbacks of both ways. I think we made the best decision with her, and I think that's all you really can do with your own kids- know their strengths and weaknesses, decide, then go with it and don't second-guess yourself. Report
My DD will be teaching first grade, and I will bring this issue to her attention to see if she notices this trend in her students. Report
My daughter is an August birthday just as I am so it was very natural to start her at 5! She did well though she was extremely shy in 1st grade. My son presented more of a problem. He has an October birthday. I considered putting him in the year he turned 5 making him one of the youngest in his class. He was gifted in reading and math but not emotionally ready so we put him in just before he turned 6 (the year he would normally have gone). It also turned out well. Ironically, when he was a senior in HS he started college as part of a dual credit program and did very well. Thus graduating from college at the age he would have been if he started 1 year earlier. He is now grown and doing fine. I did feel sorry for his 1st grade teacher who had kids who didn't even know their alphabet and my son who was reading at the 3rd grade level in the same class, but he was an excellent teacher.
As a side note my mom who is 364 days younger than her older sister insisted on starting school with her sister, and everyone let her, so she started at 4 and was always competing with her sister. They both did well too! Report
I have been a pre-k teacher for 25 years. (I also have two productive, healthy, happy adult daughters.) I live in a small community so get to see my pre-k kids grow up and have seen them graduate from high school and college. In the end the greatest determining factor should be the child's readiness to enter school. If a child is ready socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively then they should start school. If they are not ready then another year at home or in pre-school is the best option.

If I had a dime for everytime I had a parent say to me, "my child is extremely smart" I would have retired years ago. The fact is most children are average children and given the chance to live a normal life they will grow up to be normal, productive, average adults. Take those same kids and push them and they will grow up to be neurotic adults. We have become a nation so obsessed with pushing our children into sports, school, etc. that we are not turning out healthy minded children... we are turning out self-centered, neurotic, annoying adults. Report
I went to Kindergarten when I was 4 and I turned 5 in October. I had no issues. My son will start Kindergarten at 5 with a July birthday. I agree it needs to be accessed individually but we have so many teachers and schools encouraging they be held back it is frustating. It was actually said in a Kindergarten Orientation meeting a GOOD reason to hold back would be to increase TEST SCORES. I was outraged by this. So when we met some of the kids in his future class my son is surrounded by kids 1 yr+ older than him. So geez I cannot imagine why he may now be in the bottom of the class. However my son's preschool has done an excellent job with him so I am happy to know has all the tools to step right in. Report
Who knew! I am a great aunt and suffered enough angst over my youngest great nephew! I have mixed feelings about not being around for all of my nieces and nephews growing up but on the whole they turned out just fine with or without a "leg up". Our community has a rule about the child being 5 by the time the school year begins. Gee, it was that way back in my day. However, this community also has a 4 yr old kindergarten (half day) as well that gives the children that are not fortunate enough to go to preschools or nursery schools the opportunity to experience some social interaction and classroom experience. Today's parents are really weighed down with some heady decisions! I am glad it's not me. Report
All of these differing experiences and perspectives only prove that holding your child back or pushing them on is a very individual and personal choice. The answer is not necessarily the same for different children. I am a second grade teacher and I've seen situations where a child should be started late and situations where they are ready to move on regardless of when their birthdays fall. What is important is that children need a parent to be their own personal advocate and look at all sides of the situation. Teachers and administrators only see the "academic side" of the equation. This is why God gave children parents. It is the parents' responsibility to see all sides and figure out what choice will be best for their children. Report
One of my grandsons just started kindergarten - he turned 6 this summer. His parents kept him back a year due to developmental issues, and yes, he attended child care all his life. My child reports that my grandson has done well this first week of school, so holding him back a year at his age was a good choice. It's a very individualized decision, which should be based on when the child is ready to start formal schooling. Report
Every child unique. What is best for one is not necessarily best for another. My daughter has always been very tall for her age and towered over the other kids. Fortunately, she tested well and was able to start kindergarten early. Today, she is a lovely 6'1'' lady with her Masters Degree in Geology and has her own company specializing is Remote Sensing and Map Making. An early start was the right choice for her, but not necessarily for everyone. Each child should be evaluated individually for their best interests and not the parent's convenience or egos. Report
I do not appreciate the tone of this article. At five years old, this is not about test scores or athleticism. There are some children who do need the extra year to mature before they start school. I had a October birthday and was always one of the older kids and had a maturity and academic level higher than a lot of my classmates. I had a cousin who had a birthday the following August who was in my class and she always struggled in school.

My nephew has an August birthday, and his parents made the decision to hold him back. It was a good experience for him, and if they would have sent him, he would have struggled both academically and socially.

In my home town, the kindergarten teachers are very good with working with parents to help their children acheive success in the school. The school just added a Pre-K program, which I think will also help prepare kids for school.
It is not about test scores or unfair advantage in holding a child back at age 5. It is actually better to do it then if the child is having issues, than when they are older. I've actually seen parents hold their kids back in 8th grade so that they have better teams and chances to play in high school sports, and that is what I think is wrong.

When I went to kindergarten (I'm now 30), you had to turn 5 before September 1st. My birthday is August 28th. So, I started kindergarten just before I turned 5. I was always one of the youngest in my class; the only ones who were younger where those who had skipped grades and ended up in my class. I was never behind academically or stunted emotionally. I always performed exceptionally well on the standardized tests (I was at a college reading level in 7th grade). I came from a lower-middle class home with 2 working parents and no siblings.
I'm so glad this wasn't an issue when I was a kid.... I graduated high school when I was 17, started college when I was 17, and moved into my own apartment just before I turned 18. I think I would have been very angry at my parents if they would have started me late for selfish reasons (because "redshirting" is selfish and for the parents, not the kids)... going when I was "supposed" to meant that I got a head start on "real life", and I can't imagine being 19 years old and still having to go to school and deal with my parents' rules.
When I have a child, they will go to kindergarten when they are "supposed" to.

Because all this helicopter parenting is a farce... merely covering up the parents own insecurities. Report
My son started kindergarten three days after his 5th birthday. I would not have changed a thing. My kids did not go to preschool because I have met lots of kids who have gone to preschools who didn't learn much. They started school without knowing numbers, the alphabet colors, shapes, etc. I also know some preschool teachers who work in places where the philosophy is "if the kids learn it, great! If they don't, then they'll eventually pick it up". That being said...
If I had held my son back like several professionals recommended, my son would not have been diagnosed with Autism until he was 6 1/2 years old. Several kids in my son's kindergarten class were diagnosed with Autism, ADD, and several other issues. Red shirting kids will result in late diagnosis of problems that it is important for the child to get help as early as possible.

My daughter is 2. We are now fighting the opposite fight. The state of NC has passed a law "your kid has to be this old by this date or you can't enroll in kindergarten til next year". My daughter knows her alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, and is starting to read two letter words. She will easily be ready for kindergarten at 5, but NC law says she must wait til she's 6. We are in the process of fighting this for all we're worth.

In the end, it should be the parents who decide when their child starts school. The parents are generally the legal guardians after all. Report
I have 4 kids and I've sent them all when they were 'supposed' to go. In our school district you have to be 5 by Sept 30. My oldest's birthday is in the summer...she is right where she should be. My next daughter's birthday is Oct 10 so she missed the cut off and started when she was almost 6. I think, for her, it worked out well because she is so shy. Now she's going into 2nd grade and doing great. My next two are boy/girl twins, born on Sept 8. They started kindergarten a few days before they turned 5. The girl did fine, the boy had more stuggles but by the end he had 'kick in' and was just about where he should be. We worked with them all summer keeping their brains active. I believe that if you make learing fun and a part of everyday activities, no matter when your kids start kindergarten they will be fine. Report
Wow...I started kindergarten when I was 4 due to a late November birthday, and wound up skipping 1st grade altogether and being put in 2nd grade after kindergarten. I didn't have any disadvantages, but I can see where it's an individual decision. Report
My youngest is five (just turned in June) and will be starting kinder in a few weeks. I am glad he has already been in preschool and is in a school type program in his daycare. He will be expected to start reading this year and if he were to wait and start in 1st grade I think he would be severly behind his peers. Children are learning more advanced skills at a younger age. He already knows how to write his name and is beginning to read. These skills along with math (addition and subtraction), science and social studies will be taught during the kindergarten year.

I started school (kinder) at age 4 turning 5 in October. I was in Germany so the age requirements are different and it is common for children that young to start school. After I returned to the States in the 2nd grade I was in advanced reading classes and had to be sent to the local middle school for those lessons. Yes I was younger than all of my classmates and there debates about holding me back so I could be with children my own age but academically I excelled and never lacked socially.

Children are all different and it is ultimately up to the parents to know what is best for their children, however, holding a child back should be in their best interests academically and socially, not so they can be bigger and smarter than their peers. I think children should be encouraged to excel not be held back so they don't have to rise to a challenge. Report
I don't have any kids yet. But when i do I just might home school them.
I started kindergarten when I was 4 - my birthday wasn't until November 30th, which was the basic cut-off for starting kindergarten that young, anyone born after December 1st waited a year to start. I didn't suffer any from being younger than the others. Report
I waited till my son just turned 6, he had some slight delays in certain areas. He just turned 15 and is starting HS, he fits in perfect. I guess I participated in Redshirting, but never heard of that term. Keep them home if you can and they need an extra year at home. Report
I am a substitute teacher and a volunteer when not subbing. The teacher of the classroom I volunteered in last year told me that there is not law requiring a child go to Kindergarten! They can start school in first grade at age 6!! Can you imagine?! Now that I know this, I can see which kids are being "hurt" by starting so late. They don't understand rules; how to do work; etc.

I have 2 sons, the older one, Jon, is headed to 3rd grade this year. He went through a 2 year kindergarten program because they felt he weren't "quite ready" for kindergarten - It's called SOS-1 and SOS-2. He did fantastic both years. I kind of feel that it wasn't necessary for him to do SOS, but, I let the school decide - they knew best, after all... If I'd stuck to the 1 year Kinder, he'd be in 4th grade. It just means I have my son one extra year ;)

My youngest son, Ryan, started school last year. Oh boy was he ready! He saw Jon going to school, and he wanted to go too! Since I was volunteering, I took Ryan to school with me. He did great... at first... but he started doing "no-no's" and disrupting the classroom. The teacher involved him in the class work as much as possible. One of the subs would put him to work on a website for preschoolers - I never knew about that site!!! And, because of all the 1st grade attention he got, he was READY for Kindergarten last year. :) He heads into first grade this year and is excited!!

All 3 of my step kids, and my 2 daughters also started school on time. The very oldest step-daughter was held back in Kinder because she "skipped school" so much. She has some pretty drastic learning disabilities now. And I think it's partly because of the grandparents' view of school ((wasn't necessary to them so they never made her go to school when they watched her before school)). Report
Seems like standardized tests are the problem...

In addition to teachers expecting all students to have similar emotional and social maturity, be expected to sit down for long periods of time, and not follow through with consistent discipline of misbehavior and reward of good behavior. At least I saw that at my son's school.

Also - my older boy started kindergarten one month shy of his 6th birthday, and his behavior and maturity were still an issue. Still are.

I plan on putting my younger son into kindergarten just after his 5th birthday. Judging by his behavior now that he is 3 (he is very good at self-regulating, is compliant, etc), I think he'll be ready. Report
As a kinder teacher, I think you need to pay attention to how ready your child is. If your child isn't interested in picking up a pencil, doesn't know their colors, letters, or numbers, they are not ready for kindergarten.
It is important for kids to come to school with basic skills that will help ensure their success. If you're child isn't ready, there is nothing wrong with waiting another year. Report
My has a May birthday and the preschool that he went to said that even though he wasn't ready for kindergarten, they could not take him another year because he was too old. I sent him to kindergarten knowing that there was a possibility that he would be held back. I think that holding him out a year with no school would have been much worse for him. At the end of that year, the teacher, his father and I all made the decision for him to be retained and retake kindergarten. It was really hard to convince the principal because they really don't like to retain children. We finally were able to get it approved for him to be retained. It was a great decision. He soared the next year, we found out he needed glasses and he met his best friend that he has had in his class ever since. They are going into third grade this year. My daughter just turned 5 July 25 and the cut off is August 1st. She had one year of preschool and the teacher said she is more than ready for kindergarten. She is also on the tall side so even though she is the youngest, she is one of the tallest in her class. The first day of school is this Tuesday so we will see how it goes. Luckily, she will be having the same teacher her brother had for his 2 years of kindergarten. Report
My son's birthday is in August and we had no choice, he had to start school. It was a mistake. He did not catch up socially and physically until his senior year in high school. My granddaughter also has a similar birthday and she was kept out. She will be a late 5 instead of an early 5 and I think she will be much happier in school. She just needed that extra time to mature socially. Report
All of my children started kindergarten on schedule; however, my youngest was only 4 when she started. She turned 5 later in the month. I could have held her back, but I'm glad I did not. She was academically ready. It was a good decision. She has been an A student every year.

Last year, she hit a huge growth spurt. She would have been towering over her fellow students had she been in 6th grade. At 12, she is one of the tallest children in this year's 8th grade. Way back when she was starting school, I had no way of knowing how tall she would be, but I'm glad I didn't hold her back. Report
Interesting thoughts - I do remember one mother saying " an extra year of preschool is a lot less expensive than a year of "Prep School"...........In the big picture of life though graduating at 18 vs 17 doesn't mean anything does it?
Once again though one size doe not fit all - do what is REALLY right for your child! Report
I did not turn 5 until the end of November of the year I started Kindergarten. I was always one of,if not the youngest in the class, one of the smallest, but I was there. Perhaps it was part of the problem I had with arithmetic (yes arithmetic, that is what we called it back then) but it also was the fact I needed glasses which was not discovered until the 4th grade. I did not know that everyone did not see the way I did... FUZZY. Back then arithmetic problems were written on the blackboard and we copied them onto our papers. I could not see the blackboard. On another generation my children both started at age 5. It was not an option to hold them back they had to be 5 on Sept 1st. that meant that my son waited an extra year since his birthday was Sept 5th. My daughter was born in May so she was less controversial. And with my grandchildren they have January and April birthdays. I think that schools should go back to teaching the curriculum and stop teaching for the testing (FCATs, etc). I agree ALL children deserve an equal education but even back when I was still in school there were some that just would not, could not, did not work at learning what was necessary to graduate. That comes back on the individual, the child, the parents, not the school system, not "the Village." I was blessed with 2 parents and 3 grandparents that expected me to put forth my BEST effort in each and every class. And I knew the consequences if I did not would be carried out. We did not have the same tech distractions that children have today and we played outside year round. No sitting in front of the TV all day, and there were chores that we were expected to complete. There is no "right" answer for every child, but there does need to be a way to level the "playing field". Report
We made the difficult decision to hold our May birthday, oldest boy. Our district had full day kindergarten, and he still napped on some afternoons. We were advised by his preschool teacher that, while academically ready, he was not socially ready. We chose to do a year of pre-K, half days, and then enroll him at age 6. Even the pre-k teacher said, "I understand now why you held him." He has done well in school and is getting ready to go to middle school. It took him awhile to catch up socially. I find the term "redshirting" offensive. It is a personal decision and one not to be made lightly.I do think the maturity issue is more prevalent in boys, and it is also different for the first born because the subsequent kids always have a peer model ahead of them. Make your decision based on your child and not what your friends, neighbors or random bloggers have to say.
I also find it interesting that few of the comments made note of the financial issues involved. We had to pay an extra year of child care and preschool. I know plenty of moms who have sent their summer birthdays, ready or not, because it is free. Report
My oldest was one of the youngest in her class--with an Aug birthday. She was ALWAYS bored academically since she was (and is) very bright. Another girl in her class was almost a full year older. Our school did offer testing for summer birthday kids--don't know if they still do it. I know we made the right decision for our daughter. Report
Both of my children were born on Labor Day weekend, 3 years apart. My son on August 31 and my daughter on September 2. Since school starts around the second week in August here, both my children started Kindergarten 3 weeks before their 5th birthdays. I wouldn't do it any differently. Neither of them went to pre-school. Instead, I worked with them and taught them to read, print their letters and do simple math beginning at age 3. They've since graduated high school, and are well on their way to being who they need to be.

All that being said, I think it's a personal choice for a parent. If your child is ready for school at the cusp of turning 5, then send him/her to Kindergarten. If they're not ready, don't send them. We as parents know our children best, and it's our job to be their advocates. Report
Great article - and good timing! I have twins that just started a full-day kindergarten program. I never thought full day was necessary (as my older daughter attended half-day and is doing great). But I am amazed at how much more is expected of the kindergarteners now versus a few years ago! My children are among the older 5 year olds and I believe it is an advantage for them. As a middle school and high school teacher, I could usually pick out the kids that were young for their grade based on maturity and intellectual development. Of course, there's always going to be exceptions and I don't believe any system should be a "one size fits all" solution. Each child is unique and parents should be given the opportunity to discuss what they feel is best for their child with the school district - then make the final decision. Unfortunately, our school district is very strict regarding cut-off dates for entry into kindergarten. Report
WOW ~ Everyone seems to have so much to ay about this one! One thing I read very little about is all the parents (and I know many) who insist their 2-year old get into the most competitive pre-school program they can find, so that he/she gets that edge that we are talking about here. There seems to be a whole generation of young parents out there that can't wait to get their kids out of the house and into the job market. And they all say they same thing..."Oh you have to get them in there now, as young as possible, or they will never be able to compete when they get into 1st grade."
Really? Report
Both my kids' birthdays and mid year. April and May, so I started them the following September after their 4th birthday. Both kids went to pre-school for 3 years before kindergarten, so they were ready. It was not a day-care but an actual pre-school. Yes, mostly fun and games geared towards learning but lots of fun. However, they help with learning numbers, alphabet and recognizing & writing their first names. All of which I did at home but was nice to have the extra reinforcement. Report
The most important thing is to know your child's maturity level. I was one of the youngest in my classes but always did well. Some of the older students did not. Girls tended to out-perform boys at a younger age, which seems to be true even now. Report
I have 5 grown children and each was different. If you push them into a program before they are socially, academically, and morally ready you will have major struggles. Be sure your child is ready in ALL areas. Be sure the program they are going to lines up with your family's moral and ethical standards. Little minds are too easily influenced by others. Report
I would like to add, on the other end of the spectrum, I can see my niece (no bias) starting school early. She is about three years younger than her brother and when he was struggling with a practice test to get into a better kindergarten (a magnet school?), she kept answering (correctly) all the questions until my nephew asked why couldn't his sister go to school instead of him. She is also outgoing and well socialized while I was always scared of my own shadow. Report
I am not a parent, so what I think may not matter. I feel it should be based on the child rather than the age. I have a mid August birthday so I started school being among the youngest in my class. I wound up being held back in kindergarten because the teacher suspected that I was "slow." I later proved her wrong by graduating high school with a 4.0 and as a national merit finalist.

At the time, I remember feeling horrible and getting taunted by the other kids for "failing." I think I benefited later by just being a bit older, but not by repeating the grade. Our family moved at the beginning of that second year of kindergarten and the new school area didn't want to deal with a "special education" student after the start of the year so I was enrolled in a school especially for special education (I think they called it a "transition" school). That was an experience in itself, as some of the children were rather disruptive and aggressive, with a wide range of ages in the class (several years difference). I remember feeling very alone and scared there.

*I am sure there were plenty of sweet, calm children there, but as someone moving to a new area and new school, it had seemed like chaos. This was also 30 some years ago, so I am sure my memory of those months are not what they could be. I think I would have been better off with just starting school later or by being in some sort of preschool program at a younger age to prepare me for the experience. Though that sort of reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon where they had premeetings to prepare for premeetings to prepare for ... Report
My oldest started K at a private school when he was 4. At the end of the year, they were recommending a "junior first" program for him because he had the academics but not the maturity. The school closed, so he had to repeat K anyway and they used a reading program that totally undid all the reading skills he had. That was a long time ago. I am in education now and have seen many children who needed that extra year of preschool to gain success. In fact, I work at the district's preschool. We see kids in K who are 4 and others who are 6, but the state just changed the enrollment date, so there should only be 5's and 6's hereafter. It makes a world of difference for many boys and a few girls to wait a year. Report
interesting... Report
Sigh.......don't get me started! I'm not a fan of "magic ages" (or any specific number or timeframe as being the be-all or end-all to anything), so 5 being "on time" somewhat disturbs me, especially as every child matures at their own rate for a number of reasons - but, conversely, the delay that some folks foist on their children can also seem self-serving......

Ah, yes......that damned "No Child Left Behind" travesty - should have been renamed "Common Sense Left Behind" as that is exactly what happened here!

I thank the fates every day that I no longer have small children to raise! Report
As a parent with a son born in August all I can say is that childhood is not a race. I waited to have him start school because I thought he needed another year without the social restrictions of school. He did go to preschool where wiggling is allowed! Redshirting is only a problem if "competitive edge" is what the focus is, not what your child needs. Waiting to send my son to school did not make him the smartest kid, but one of the happier ones. Report
Hi all! Wow, this is a hot, buzzing topic. I sure understand why--and as a mother of 8 and a 26 year veteran teacher, I can tell you there are no easy, straightforward answers. Personally, I held my oldest son back a year, with the advice and support fo his pre-school teacher and it was the best decision ever. (He has a March birthday as well.) My second son has an August birthday and probably could have done well if we had been allowed to enter him a year earlier because he was/ is a gifted, fast learner with the best behavior and self-management skills possible for an almost 5 year old.

The state of IL moved entry ages to 5 by August 1 several years ago. I am the remedial reading teacher and it seems that a good percentage of my students are the ones who didn't turn 5 until up to weeks before August 1. A lot of these children are physically smaller, socially awkward, and have a lot of difficulty with curriculum that almost scares me. Children are being asked to do things now that weren't even asked of first graders when I was teaching that age 26 years ago. KIndergarten children are all expected to read at higher and higher levels. They are spelling and writing sentences, poetry, test responses. They need to know letters and sounds by the end of the first quarter of school to be put into reading groups and they have a lot of real homework. The new nationally accepted "Common Core State Standards" that are being implemented into schools across the nation--I think there are over 45 states on board for these, have boosted curriculum by two grade levels in order to be rigorous enough to make our children into competitive applicants on the job market. Recesses are fast becoming too time consuming and are becoming a thing of the past. Learning socialization, problem-solving skills is also out of reach with play disappearing from the view. It is scary to me, and I don't see it going away.

Now, although knowing about each individual child and what his or her abilities and needs are is important, it is important to look over all of this. Depending upon what your family expects for your child, it is important to determine if your child is ready to handle what is coming his or her way, and then make this scary decision the best that you can. (Nobody can see into the future, and needs to use everything at their disposal to make these important decisions.). On another hand, I think it is going to take a lot of good people joined together to take care of our children, and to let them be children and develop in every way at a pace that makes sense for them. We need developmentally sound practice rather than false fears about how the schools are doing to help our children to thrive and grow in every way.. I want to see this happen before it is time for me to retire or before I have grandchildren who might get trapped in the rat race of all of the pushing , pushing, pushing that is the trend now. Report
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