Hell No: Don’t Think About Redshirting My Kid

boy's first day of school

My oldest has always been impressive, and although it may seem like I’m just a proud mom, that’s not it. I’m not a stupid person, but the kid has a habit of talking me in circles and having conversations with his father about history and science that I don’t think I can reasonably keep up with. When we moved from New England to Colorado, the deadline for kindergarten jumped up by a month and a half — and my little Bug who was already ahead of the game missed the deadline by a week.

He didn’t know the difference, of course, but I was devastated. I could see how he stuck out from his preschool classmates in size, intelligence, and emotional maturity. Thankfully, his preschool teachers made sure to give him one-on-one time so he wouldn’t be bored, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case when he got into kindergarten.

Growing up, I watched both of my brothers struggle in school. Both of them are brilliant — lazy as shit, but brilliant. They were capable of so much more, but in a classroom that didn’t challenge them, they got bored and complacent with school work. I knew this was going to be my kid as well if we didn’t find a way to keep his brain busy.

Redshirting — in case you haven’t heard of it — is a common practice nowadays where parents are keeping their kids back a year so they have more time to develop mentally, socially, and emotionally. I get it, I do. We all want our kids to be the most successful that they can be, but shouldn’t that mean we push our kids forward instead of holding them back?

In theory, a child might be more ready for school if given the extra year to blossom. On the other hand, couldn’t we — as parents — start getting our kids ready for school earlier? Counting apples at the grocery store, adding up Easter candy, reading books before bed: these are all simple forms of school prep that we’re doing with our kids as part of the regular routine.

Redshirting is actually a term borrowed from the practice of keeping athletes back a year so they can be bigger and stronger for competition. In fact, lots of parents redshirt their kids in an attempt to give them a heads up on their peers academically, but is that what it really does? Once they are in the classroom, they’re learning the same things at the same pace as their peers. Is this pushing them to be better or simply to be better than those around them?

There have been tons of studies around how redshirting affects kids in the long term, but here’s the gist: At first, kids who are redshirted perform better, a fact which can likely be attributed to their higher level of cognitive functioning than kids younger than them as well as a year’s worth of experience. (Yes, experience counts when you are only five!) Down the road, the results even out and kids who were redshirted don’t seem to perform any better or worse than the kids in their grade. Down the line, however, kids who are redshirted have a higher high school dropout rate than their peers.

In my son’s case, it was the state that required he “stay back”, not his parents, but that didn’t mean it didn’t affect him. Everyday he’d come home telling me how boring school was and bang out a week’s worth of homework in twenty minutes on a Monday night. We’re now looking for a school where the curriculum is a better fit for him, because I truly believe that the system will fail him otherwise.

Unfortunately, age isn’t a good determining factor for where a child belongs in school and grade level is all but an imaginary number. I don’t want the state redshirting my kid because he should be in classrooms that best fit his needs, not his birthday.

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14 Comments

  1. I can personally relate to getting bored with school work and the lack of focus that causes. In a world of such individuality we still struggle to place everyone in easily organized and managed boxes. I find this especially true when it comes to education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of public education. But I’m also a huge fan of overhauling the public education system into something that will truly serve the needs of the kids being educated by it. Good luck on your journey!

  2. Darci says:

    Loved this. I actually had my son tested and start kinder a year early. He’s younger than everyone in his class, but keeping up just fine! Thank you so much for sharing your opinion on this.

    1. Shauna Armitage says:

      Unfortunately, age just isn’t a good marker for intellectual development and I think lots of kids are undeserved when we put them into school that way. I bet it works the other way, too, where a child may be old enough for school, but isn’t ready to tackle the tasks yet.

  3. Gretchen says:

    I just came out of a kindergarten classroom as a teacher to stay home with our newly adopted twins and work at home. I couldn’t agree more. While in the early years as a teacher, I could pick out the YOUNG ones the first week. It is a proven fact that by third grade they all are equal as far as “young verses older” in a classroom setting. As a mom, I choose to wait on both of my daughters. They had Sept. birthdays. It was NOT for sports reasons or academic reasons. They were both of age at the time. Although the age has changed since they began kindergarten. But for me, it was a personal decision for our family. They both have been successful. One is a leader and one is struggles socially. One is a almost a senior and one almost a freshman. Both make straight A’s and both are involved in very different things/music/sports. So in the end I guess my point is…I think it really just depends on your decision and your home!!!

    1. Shauna Armitage says:

      I think what it comes down to is that no one knows your kid better than you do. The state should at least work with you to get your child tested if you feel it’s necessary. I know my kid was way too advanced for kindergarten this year. (He just moved into the first grade this past week.) I’m sure it will be a different situation with my daughters, because each kid is unique, but I felt like we had no choice in a situation this year that ultimately put my son at a disadvantage.

  4. Melissa Roy says:

    I hate the idea of redshirting (which I talked about in a similar blog article: http://www.beyondmommying.com/blog/2015/10/22/redshirting-a-solution-to-the-wrong-problem/). I strongly believe that instead of holding kids back we need to make sure that the expectations are age appropriate so that all kids have the opportunity to succeed. My older kids all have later birthdays (July, July, and May) but my little one is early September (he just couldn’t make it out in August!) and will miss the cut-off in Florida by a few days. Luckily we are homeschooling right now but if he ever ends up in a mainstream program, I’ll be doing everything I can to get him in “early.”

      1. Melissa Roy says:

        We tried mainstream school before we started homeschooling (pre-school abroad, Florida’s free Pre-K and public kindergarten) but decided right now we just aren’t school people. I fully realize homeschooling is not for everyone but we love the flexibility of homeschooling and the ability to tailor learning to our kids’ individual needs, styles and pace.

  5. Shannon says:

    Red shirting is a complicated issue. Sometimes it helps sometimes it harms and sometimes it is a parent just not wanting to let go. When it results in boredom it is never good.

  6. Michelle says:

    Agreed!!! My son misses the kindergarten deadline by 3 weeks. He’s ready for kindergarten but will have to spend an extra year in preschool. Benefit? His being ahead of the curve in ability got him accepted into an elite school, so as long as he works his future will be bright. Hoping the same for my youngest who will also miss the deadline by 3 weeks (their birthdays ate 4 days apart).

  7. Nice write up. I have July babies and think they’ll be fine as the younger ones… I’m not a fan of theSeptcut off where we live, because some fall babies might be ready at 4, about to be 5. I don’t know what the cutoff should be date-wise, but I think if a child is ready they shouldn’t be forced to wait!!!

    1. Shauna Armitage says:

      The cut off varies so much from state to state…. I think they need to be taking the time to test the kids, not just rely on their age as a determining factor.

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