The Truth About Academic Redshirting

Your child will turn 5 this summer. It’s not a bad time for a birthday party; the kids can run around outside, play in the pool, enjoy grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. But for many parents, the fun of a summertime birthday is overshadowed by an agonizing decision.

Do you start your son in kindergarten in September or do you wait a year, starting him when he’s 6?

In Massachusetts, children must start school by age 6, but they may start at the age of 5 (and sometimes even 4, depending on the district’s cut-off date). As the parent of a child with a summer birthday, that leaves you with a choice: to redshirt or not to redshirt?

What is academic redshirting?

Academic redshirting takes its name from a similar practice in college sports in which first-year athletes are kept out of competition to extend their eligibility and give them an extra year to practice. The objective of academic redshirting is similar: To give a child extra time to prepare for the rigors of kindergarten.

As the kindergarten curriculum has become more challenging, parents worry more about academic readiness.

If a child enters kindergarten at a disadvantage to his older classmates, he may fall behind and never catch up, parents think. With another year of pre-kindergarten or quality preschool under his belt, a child will enter kindergarten ready to read, count, and socialize at the same level as his peers—or higher.

Does academic redshirting work?

Redshirting was championed by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Outliers.” Gladwell found that an outsized number of professional hockey players was born in the first half of the year, and therefore had more time to hone their abilities, advancing faster than their relatively younger counterparts. Gladwell extrapolated his hockey example to the academic world.

Since Gladwell’s book, redshirting has become a fiercely debated topic among parents, educators, and researchers. A definitive conclusion has yet to be made; for every study that supports academic redshirting there is another study that claims it is not only “not advantageous,” but may actually be harmful.

Complicating matters even more—and perhaps skewing any research results in favor of redshirting—are the typical economic and sociological situation of families that choose to redshirt.

As Sharon Holbrook (a parent who redshirted twice) writes for the New York Times, “Perhaps their success in school has less to do with any inherent advantage to their being older, and more to do with the fact that any child whose parents have the financial ability to wait probably already has the deck stacked in his or her favor.”

As a parent, how do you choose?

Given the conflicting research, how do you, as the parent of a child with a summer birthday, choose whether to redshirt him or not?

Boston pediatrician Eleanor Menzin offers some no-nonsense advice on her practice’s blog. Essentially, she says, it’s personal decision. It all depends on:

  • Your child’s kindergarten.
  • His current pre-K or preschool.
  • Your own feelings.
  • Your family dynamic.

We couldn’t say it any better. Instead of worrying about academic redshirting, concern yourself with finding a school that can serve your child’s learning needs whatever his birth month. Look for a school where your child will receive personalized attention from teachers with a keen understanding of the different stages of child development.

Look for a school where your son’s individual learning style will be respected and treated as a positive contribution to a diverse class of temperaments, backgrounds, and yes, ages.

How do you find such a school? If you need help in your search, follow this link for a free copy the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist.

What do you think? Is academic redshirting the right choice for your child? Share your opinions and experiences in the comments section below.

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