With school registration dates fast approaching, some parents find themselves questioning their decision to send their school-aged children to kindergarten.  Recently, I was talking to a client about options for school as the family considers where their oldest child will attend.  The first question I asked was, “Is there a reason to start kindergarten this year?”  No, I wasn’t questioning the academic readiness for their son, a precocious and loving four year old.  Rather, I was asking them to consider all options, including academic redshirting–delaying the start of kindergarten for one more year.

Redshirting was once a term used to describe athletes who extended their athletic eligibility by delaying their participation in college athletics until their sophomore year. The term has garnered traction in the primary education space to describe the phenomenon of delaying the start of kindergarten for students with birthdays close to the school’s eligibility cutoff, providing younger students with the “gift of time”.

Some argue that delayed entry into kindergarten allows children with later birthdays to mature socially and emotionally in ways that keeping them with older peers would impede. Often, supporters of redshirting will site the developmental differences of 5 and 6 year olds as evidence to support holding younger students back. Still others suggest that the negative effects of starting kindergarten according to the school’s age cut-off are minimal.

Many parents struggle with the decision that comes with having a late summer birthday. I know we lost sleep over it!  We wrestled with this decision because, like so many parents, we thought our child was prepared academically for the challenges of kindergarten. His early years were a blend of time spent in part-time pre-school programs and “home” with me, taking advantage of classes and experiences that our community provided. One disadvantage of being the only child and at home with me was that his experiences with other children his age were mostly limited in number and manufactured by parents, thus not allowing him time to develop important interpersonal skills (like sharing).

I vividly remember the day we told our son that he wasn’t going to kindergarten with his friends. At first he looked shocked, and then when we told him that we thought it would be best for him in the long-run and that he would now be the oldest and not the youngest in his class, he was super excited. Flash forward a few years, and our son now tells anyone who asks him what his current grade is, and quickly follows it up with the grade he “could be in”. So far, we feel this was the right decision for him and have been happy with his social/emotional growth in addition to the academic gains he has demonstrated.

I appreciate and understand that some parents don’t have the options that we had. There are school districts that have created policies to prevent parents from redshirting their children. There are financial considerations that influence these decisions. For some, it’s just not the right choice for their child. When making this decision, consider all perspectives. Get feedback from your current childcare provider, if your child attends a pre-school program. Talk to the principal or admission director at the school where your child will most likely attend kindergarten. These individuals can provide insight into how your child may experience the academic program. This is particularly important in private schools, where the admission team is intentionally building their school community and is knowledgeable about how your child will interact with her peers, after having spent time with her through the admission process.

As for us, we are so lucky! We get to go through this process again for son #2 who also has a late August birthday. Unlike his brother before him, son #2 has the advantage of making his way in a world with older siblings and has already enjoyed learning how to live and learn alongside other children. The concerns we have for him will be different, as will our decision-making process.