The Kindergarten Conundrum :: Should I Redshirt My Summer Baby?

A year ago we moved back into the Baton Rouge city limits so that our daughter, who will be five in July, could go to magnet school for kindergarten. My husband and I both grew up in towns where mostly everyone went to public school, and private school isn’t something we had ever seriously considered. I also hadn’t spent a lot of time considering how my girl would barely be five when she started kindergarten.

But for the last several months, I have had a little pit in my stomach about whether we should wait an extra year. I have long been skeptical of how much more stressful elementary school has become in recent years. Higher expectations and fewer minutes of recess don’t fall into what I consider the ‘developmentally appropriate’ category. But I’d also never heard of Pre-K 5, so we sent in her magnet application and crossed our fingers. We were thrilled to find out that she got into our first choice school!

Then came the bump in the road. After her assessment, the administrator from the school let us know that she wasn’t sure whether our girl had passed the reading portion. If not, she wouldn’t be able to register and would have to wait another year or enroll somewhere else for kindergarten then apply for the lottery again next year. Hold up! You can fail a kindergarten assessment?!?!?! Apparently Mommy didn’t do so hot on the reading portion either. And to make matters worse, I had to wait 24 hours to find out the results. Naturally, I went into panic mode. What exactly would we do if she didn’t pass? A few bewildered text messages later, a friend asked if I had ever heard of Transitional Kindergarten (TK). Ummm, no. She told me about one in Baton Rouge, and I was amazed. It was the perfect in-between for kids like mine who may not be quite ready for kindergarten! I made an appointment to tour as soon as possible as a back up plan (it was just as awesome in person, by the way).

I answered the phone the next day prepared for the worst. “Mrs. Suitt? This is Ms. Weaver. Your daughter passed the test. But she did get the lowest possibly passing score for reading.” Answer in my head: “THAT’S BECAUSE SHE’S FOUR!” Answer out loud: “Ok thanks!”

I was relieved, but the seeds of doubt had been sown. Will she be ready for kindergarten? Or should we wait another year? I have an October birthday, and was always one of the oldest in my class. I had no perspective. I did what any normal parent would do. I called my mom, emailed my daughter’s preschool, and posted on Facebook for advice. And there was no shortage of advice. It was fascinating to hear the experiences of friends from so many perspectives. I got replies from teacher friends, friends with elementary-aged kids, friends who were summer babies themselves (they all claimed they turned out alright, but I remain skeptical about a few of them), and I even chatted with a few parents of summer babies whose children are now adults. 

Then there was the research. The studies on academic redshirting looked at different things and came to different conclusions. One found that starting kids early helped them to push themselves harder to achieve in school. Another said that by 10th grade, kids did worse on tests and were more likely to drop out of school and not attend college. Malcolm Gladwell famously asserted that redshirted kids are higher achievers later in life. A few sources noted anecdotally that the age differences of younger kids who aren’t redshirted become more apparent in the middle school year. None of this was reassuring enough to me. 

Academic redshirting is not without critics (is anything these days?). Many assume that parents make the choice to hold their kids back to give them an academic or athletic advantage. While I’m sure this is true for some, it would not be the case  for us. I only wanted to put her in a position that would best set her up to love learning and not come home stressed or crying in elementary school. I also recognized that it was privilege that allowed me the opportunity to even consider redshirting. It came as no surprise that the practice was pretty exclusively done by more affluent families. That extra year of childcare is not cheap and the hours are not easy to accommodate.  

So what did we decide? To be honest, we haven’t made a final choice. I’m notoriously bad at decision-making, and both options have so many pros and cons. I keep thinking there will be a sign from the Heavens (it’s still not too late God!). One thing is for sure, whichever route we go, we’ll support her 100% on the journey!

Have you ever considered academic redshirting for any of your kids? If so, what did you decide and why?

Ashley grew up in Joplin, Missouri and attended the University of Arkansas where she earned a degree in Finance and Insurance. She met her husband, Jason, in Fayetteville and they have one daughter, Etta Mae. They moved to Baton Rouge in 2013 for Jason's job with the LSU Tigers. Ashley is an extroverted introvert who loves Ted Talks, following politics on Twitter, and figuring out how to get the best deals on everything without paying shipping. If it were up to her, she would get paid to read books and take every college class so that she could learn everything about everything, but instead she pays the bills by working in recruiting for a multinational tech company. Ashley is blessed to have a daughter who is at least as stubborn as she is and a husband who is laid back enough to put up with both of them.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I am a mother of 4 boys. I have an unusual situation where I have two sons in their 20’s and then an 11 year old and 9 yo.
    My second and forth boys are summer babies. I red shirt ed both. My 22 year old was very active and bright, but had no interest at all in school. He was always one of the oldest and I loved that. He was the main supporter of holding his younger brother till he was 6 to go to school. My 9 year old is smart and excels in school but I don’t regret having him be a year more mature socially. I believe it is really an individual decision, not a cookie cutter idea.
    I also think it’s much easier to send a 19 year old to college than a just turned 18 year old!

  2. My son was born In October and our elementary school has a transitional kindergarten program for any child born after Sept. 2nd since they would be considered “young” 5 year olds if they were to go straight into kindergarten. My son is now 7 and in 1st grade and we are so thankful for that transitional year! Elementary school is so demanding for our little ones and it is helpful to ease them in.

  3. My oldest is nearly finished with kindergarten. He is barely 5.5yrs right now. His birthday is literally 2 days off the cutoff and he’s the youngest kid at his elementary school. But, you would never know it. He’s always been socially adept, learns quickly, loves making friends, and is super energetic and upbeat. He has thrived this year. We battled with the consideration of redshirting him, but were putting so much undue pressure on ourselves thinking about what happens when we have a 17yr old college freshman when he was only 4yrs old, ha! Ultimately I think you do what is right for your kid NOW. Don’t make decisions based on ‘what if’s’. There is always room to adjust if things aren’t fitting the bill later. He was ready, he has had a blast, and I’m so happy that we went ahead with Kindergarten this school year.

  4. My now 11 year old son has a July birthday and we made the difficult decision to red shirt him years ago when kindergarten rolled around. He was academically ready but not emotionally ready. Luckily, our school district had a “Just 5” program that was a perfect fit. My son is now a super confident, well-adjusted 5th grader. We talked to many people–our pediatrician, elementary school counselors, pre-school teachers and ultimately had to go with our gut. It was harder for my husband to make the decision to hold him as he has an October bday and started school when he was 4. A couple things that helped us decide– your child can always skip ahead if needed; that’s easier and less traumatizing than being held back later. And our pediatrician said there are benefits to being one of the oldest in a class group. For example, the ability to say no to drugs and alcohol as a “leader” vs a “follower”. Good luck with your difficult decision!

  5. As a 38 year veteran teacher this is an ongoing controversy with no right or wrong answers. If your cild was a boy I would be inclined to say wait. I can just state that my grandson who has a nov. Birthday and is in kdg is so much more mature socially allowing him to tackle the academic challenges. His work is what I used to teach in first grade. Do you want a leader or a follower? Another consideration. The older students tend to take on the leadership role at school. Good luck with your decision. Here in TX most preschools have a transition program for the 4 year olds. It seems to work well. Don’t know if that is an option though.

  6. Hi Ashley,
    I am going through this right now except my son is currently in Kinder but is the youngest in his class. He is in a charter school that has an advanced curriculum and I really do not think he quite mature enough yet. I never knew “redshirting” was even an option until about a week ago.
    Anyways, could you please tell me any transitional kindergarten programs that you know about. I have only been able to find one but tuition is around $8000 which I unfortunately can not afford.
    Also, thanks so much for this article. It has helped so much!

  7. I think you need to think about this across the learning lifetime of your child. Everyone always just thinks about Kindergarten but not the 11 years that follow. I personally feel like a July bday should go forward and not be held back. My daughter was an October bday – and we redshirted her – and to be honest, I don’t know if it was the “best” choice for her. She was small in stature but she is 12 now and has gone through puberty a whole year before her friends.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here