To Redshirt or Not?


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For many parents of a child whose birthday is in July or August, the summer that they turn five is an anxiety-ridden few months. Should I let them go to kindergarten at the end of August? Will they be the smallest kid in the class? Will they struggle to keep up academically? Will they make any friends, or will their immaturity make them social outcasts?

It might seem like the easy answer is to hold them back a year. But starting a child in kindergarten at 6 has its disadvantages too. Will they be self conscious being the biggest in the class? Will they be bored because they're more advanced academically?

These are all good questions, and ones we stress over as parents.

I was in that situation myself. My daughter turned five on September 8, the year that the cutoff date for kindergarten changed to August 31. So all of the kids she had been in preschool with for 3 years were heading to kindergarten, and I thought she should too. Maybe. I really didn't know, and it was an issue I struggled with for months. I even went so far as to have her tested. Luckily, the decision was made for me. The school system said they didn't care what test results I brought in, there were absolutely no exceptions.

One of the smartest things that was said to me during those months of worry was this. As strict as they are on enforcing the Aug. 31 cut off, why aren't they just as strict on making sure every kid who is five by Aug. 31 is in school? Wouldn't that make those parents of late-birthday kids feel a little better,  if they knew everyone who turned five in July and August would be entering school? Then your child wouldn't be alone in being the youngest. And you wouldn't have to worry about your just-turned five year old having to keep up with a kid who turned six a month ago!

Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer. But here are a few things to consider if you're struggling with that decision.

You know your child best.
If your child has been going to preschool or has been working with you at home, can say his ABCs, count to 30, write his name and even try to read a little, then maybe you shouldn't worry about holding him back for academic reasons. The same is true with maturity. Be honest with yourself, and watch your child interact with other kids her age. Does she seem to be able to hang in there with her peer group? Or is she always letting the others make all of the decisions? It might be smart to hold back a child with a late birthday if they're more immature than kids their age. But of course, that decision is up to you. Kids do grow up, quickly.

You can try the testing route.
If you're debating on holding your child back, or thinking about putting a four year old in kindergarten who will be turning five in September, you can look into testing. It's a good way to get a feel for where your child stands, and get some feedback from the test administrators. Read more about academic testing for early kindergarten admittance in our article, "Helping Your Child Reach His Full Potential."

Talk to other parents who have been through the same struggle.
Another gem of advice given to me: "I hear parents all the time saying they wished they'd held their child back a year before starting kindergarten, but I've never heard anyone saying they regretted the decision to hold them back." There's a lot to be said for being the oldest in the class, and a little more mature. Especially when they get to 3rd grade and the EOGs start up.

Talk to your child's principal.
There's no one who knows this struggle better than the teachers who work with kindergarteners and the principal of the school. They are a wealth of knowledge and can help you make this decision.

Remember, no one can make this decision but you. You know your child best. And if I learned anything from going through the worrying myself, it's a lot of stress and anxiety those months before kindergarten, but in the big scheme of things, it's just one of many, many decisions we make as a parent, and it won't be as life altering for your child as you think it is at this moment, no matter which way you choose to go.

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