Full Day Kindergarten Fuels Redshirting

Oh those unlucky summer birthdays. Kids born in June, July and August when the Kindergarten cut off is September 1st. Doomed to become the youngest, smallest and most likely to be behind academically or athletically.

Unless you hold them back – or “redshirt” them, so they aren’t disadvantaged. 60 Minutes reported on the renewed rise in redshirting this past Sunday by contrasting parents who do it to give their kid an advantage with those who don’t. Educator Meryl Ain also wrote a great piece yesterday in the Huffington Post on Kindergarten Redshirting.

My two daughters are summer babies. The oldest was due in September but arrived 5 weeks early at the end of July. The Kindergarten cut off date in our district was Sept 1st. She would be one of the youngest in the class if I sent her to school at age 5. For years, just about every mom on the play ground asked me what I was planning to do. Redshirting was the talk of the town and many encouraged me to wait until she was 6.

Then it happened again. Lucky me. My 2nd daughter, who was also due the first week in September, was born 2 weeks early in August. She, too, just made the cut-off date and would be among the youngest in the class. So I did what I did three years prior. I read the latest research. Spoke with her pre-school teachers and the principal at the elementary school. Consulted with family and others who’d made a similar decision. What did they learn? What were their thoughts? How did their kids fare?

I sent both of my summer babies to Kindergarten at age 5 and did not hold them back, despite the social pressure to “redshirt” them. Yes, they were premature, the youngest in the class, and my youngest is still one of the shortest. Yes, they will be the last to drive in their peer group and the last to drink legally – (sign me up for both of those advantages!) And yes, they were the youngest on their sports teams (and often still are).

But I’m happy to report 10 years later that they’re both well adjusted, happy girls. At 15 and 12, they are both honor roll+ students who swim competitively, have lots of friends and lead balanced, confident lives. My oldest went to middle school as the shortest in the class and came out one of the tallest. I’ve looked back, but never regretted our decision. In a world where kids grow up far too fast, I’m thrilled that my girls found their stride in the middle lane. For us, sending our summer birthday girls to Kindergarten at 5 was the right decision.

Another trend fuels the practice of holding kids back today so they have a competitive advantage that’s important to note. Kindergarten has become the new first grade. Curriculum standards in the last few years have raised expectations for 5 year olds so much so that some parents think their kids need to know how to read before they get to Kindergarten. Worksheets on reading and math skills replace stations of exploration and play. Standardized testing that begins in grade 3 triggers much of this.

On a parallel track with higher standards, the percentage of districts that have full day Kindergarten now vs 1/2 day has risen from 48% in 1995 to 61% in 2009. The latest numbers I’ve seen suggest that nearly 2/3 of all kindergarten programs are now full day. While a full day of Kindergarten should allow for a slower paced day where kids have more time to process and learn, I do worry that it becomes too academic, too early. Especially for boys, some of whom are 3-6 months behind girls developmentally and can barely hold a pencil when they get to school. And the wider the age spread in the classroom (redshirting can create an 18 month age difference between the youngest and the oldest in the class), the harder it is for the teacher to teach and reach each child.

In the end, if Kindergarten teachers keep worksheets to a minimum, read to and with their kids everyday, let students explore, touch and play, do science rather than read about it, keep learning fun, social and interactive, I believe kids will thrive and become who they are meant to be, whether they are among the youngest or not.

It’s incumbent on school districts to keep the lid on redshirting by enforcing cut-off dates. Perhaps a national cut off date of September 1st or August 1st to line up with the majority of states would help. But schools also need to allow for  kids to be held back in unique situations where an extra year is needed so they will be successful in their grade level- not ahead of everyone else in the class just so they have an advantage.


  1. A topic near and dear to my heart as well. Two August babies in a September cutoff world with school start dates in August? We made two different decisions, neither of which were fed by academic abilities, gender, size, birth order or athletic potential. In fact probably opposite of what would be suggested for many of those categories. Both decisions made strictly by each child’s level of emotional security and confidence – my oldest was simply not emotionally ready to begin kindergarten while still 4 yrs old. Now, at 10 & 12, both are clearly in the right place. Here’s a question – why fall cutoff dates at all? Why not a national cutoff date (since we are moving to nat’l standards anyway) in Spring? Yes there will always be the youngest and the oldest no matter when cutoffs are but woudn’t it be better to give every 5 yr. old a few months under their belt at being 5 before they begin a full day of kindergarten?

  2. I have a late-July boy, and we briefly thought of holding him back. In the end we did not.

    Our school is extremely diverse, socioeconomically and otherwise. At our school, most families send their kids if they are old enough. They have
    *no idea* about “redshirting”. If they are old enough, they go–parents need to put their kids somewhere so they can work! Since we live in CA, the cutoff is December 2 (though it is slowly being rolled back to Sept. 1).

    Part of the reason we sent him is that we felt he would stick out as an “old guy” if he started at six. But, if we lived a few blocks over and were zoned to a more affluent school, where redshirting is common, our decision might have been different.

  3. Mom of 2 says:

    We live in a heavily redshirted community. Cutt off is Sep 30th & April-Sept kids are held back. ITS CRAZY. I was ready to send my Daughter(turned 5 towards end of July) to K at % & was told there were 9 other summer birthdays & they were all held & would be 6+ starting k. My daughter would be the youngest child in the class. I panicked & lost my spot. We ended up doing kinder in a neighboring school. Well by the end of the year it’s no longer noticeable she was one of the younger ones. She did great & will go to 1st grade as the youngest kid in our new school. I think she will be happy down the road, not spending an extra year in high, when she didn’t have to. We’ll see:) It’s a hard, grueling, decision, especially in a heavily redshirted area like ours

  4. Your kid became one of the tallest but what if the parents are not tall like you or your spouse.. then your kid will always be the smallest. My sibling was redshirted.. went to the best University got the best scholarships and the most friends..while I was bullied for being the smallest.

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