Redshirting: There Will Always Be What-Ifs

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about our family’s decision to send our daughter to kindergarten on time, to not hold her back a year and give her an academic cushion. That practice, called redshirting, caused a lot of sleepless nights.

When I wrote the post, I thought only a handful of parents like me would read it, parents searching for someone else’s story. A few days later, “60 Minutes” aired a segment on redshirting and WordPress featured my post on Freshly Pressed. Then and ever since I have been getting feedback. I wish I had read those experiences and thoughts years ago when I was searching the Internet for answers. I thought some readers would want a follow-up now that my daughter is in second grade.

My daughter’s late August birthday, days before the August 31 cutoff, means she is nearly a full year younger than some of her classmates, kids with fall birthdays and others who were held back. The thing is, she was always going to be on the line, the youngest or the oldest. My husband and I had a decision to make when she was four: Could she handle kindergarten now? Yes, we absolutely thought she could.

Without sounding like a bragging momma, my daughter does really well in school. She aces her spelling tests. She reads chapter books and understands the content. She can add triple digits and do math in her head almost as well as I can, which probably isn’t saying much. She’s not the smartest kid in her class but she doesn’t have a hard time.

If we had held her back, I don’t think she would be challenged at all. My daughter doesn’t struggle with her work, but she sometimes has to think about it. Since I have an older son, I know this is appropriate.

She certainly feels more outside pressure this year to do well. She’s starting to notice the nasty world of ridicule and shame when kids giggle at others for performing poorly on schoolwork. There’s a fear of being made fun of if she makes a bad grade. I tell her it’s OK to miss things and that she will. Honestly, I don’t know how this pressure she puts on herself will translate as she gets older.redshirtpic

I’ll never know the what-ifs. What if we had held her back? Would she be more relaxed? Would she worry less? If we had held her back, I’d always think her progress was due to her advantage in age. But right now I have nothing but pride in every single thing that she does. She proves that she doesn’t need an edge to get by.

When every new school year begins, I’ll wonder whether she’ll struggle. I’ll always wonder whether this will be the year that her young age catches up to her. I’ll wonder whether every problem she has is connected to her age. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever stop wondering a little, but she proves to me that she’s developmentally on track every time.

Second grade was a trying year for my son, socially and emotionally. He had meltdowns and a total transformation from a sweet, loving kid to a near monster every afternoon. He’s back to being a sweetheart. If I hadn’t known this, I’d be much more worried now about my daughter during this transitional year filled with moodiness, attitude, and tears. Turns out she’s normal.

Having an older child has helped me see her future. I know that if she doesn’t test into the academically gifted program next year, I’ll wonder if it’s because of her age. I’ll wonder if holding her back would have helped. I’ll know some other kids who maybe had an advantage because of their age, and I’ll hate that for her. I’ll know it’s not a big deal if she doesn’t get in. And I’ll know she’ll be hurt anyway—because I know her.

Her age can never be an excuse, for her or for me. Pushing oneself to succeed is something I was never able to pull off. Watching my kid do it is something I’m not sure I’m strong enough to handle. But my daughter shows me her strength every day. Just when I doubt her ability, she’ll do her work with such ease. I marvel at her attitude and wish it would rub off on me. She is capable. She is smart. And I have no regrets about not redshirting her. My only hope is that my fears never stand in her way.

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50 responses to “Redshirting: There Will Always Be What-Ifs

  1. Our son got in a PPCD class at the local Elementary School within weeks of him turning 3, he’ll have a year and two+ months of schooling under his belt before he even enters Pre-Kinder. Fortunately, he loves it so I’m blessed with not having to worry whether it was a good idea or not. Ignoring the fact that he is NOT a morning person, he loves heading off to school. I’m hoping the trend continues, as for him, his total school years are going to be significantly longer than others.

    • Yeah, my daughter is not a morning person either. Today in particular. One thing I’ve noticed: kids don’t seem to have a clue who is older or younger or held back or not, at least this far in. Though it’s killing my daughter to wait until she’s 8 to get her ears pierced. She is the VERY LAST GIRL in her class! 😉

      • May

        Eight? I had to wait until I was sixteen to get my ears pierced, and it drove me mad! Although ironically I almost never wear earrings now. As someone who was put forward a year, and then back again by repeating my first year of secondary school, I’d say that in the end it probably doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to most children. You can’t ever know for sure, but I wouldn’t change my experience even though it was kind of a mess.

      • That’s a good perspective to have. Our experiences shape us, good and bad. There’s no doubt about it.

        And yes, eight. Only because I was eight when I got mine pierced and that’s what I’m going by. ALL of her friends already have theirs done. The horror! And my mom was never allowed. It’s the first thing she did when she moved out. I will probably hear about making her wait for the rest of my life. 🙂

      • This reminds me…In kindergarten, I was the smartest GIRL. There was a smartest boy, but we were equals. I had never been held back or moved forward. Nearly six years later, I am ten and a half. My friend and I went to the pool at Hamburger University (yeah, it’s a real place). My friend and I were swimming when she began talking about a conversation the assistant teacher and her friend’s mom had had all those years ago…before everything I had accomplished. I hadn’t done anything much – I was just a smart kid. But my friend says to me that the teacher said, “We were actually thinking about moving Ella to first grade, she was so smart.” I know it’s not much, but to hear something about me that was said ages ago…it’s haunting in a beautiful way. It reminds me of redshirting.

  2. This post SO resonates with me. I have a 5 year old son with an August birthday. We decided to “redshirt” him and he will be going into Kindergarden this fall. Like you, this decision led to many sleepless nights wondering if it was the right decision.
    Academically, he was more than ready. Socially and physically, however, we felt he needed another year. He’s a little peanut (10th percentile in height) and he is very shy and sensitive when he’s put into unfamiliar situations. A few weeks ago we went to the open house for kindergarden and I just knew we had made the right choice. He was so excited to see his new school. He’s matured so much in the past year and has really opened up.
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your last sentence “my hope is that my fears never stand in her way”. I find myself often fearful for the unknown with my kids- can they do this, what if something happens, etc. I have this ridiculous need to protect them from any harm. But my fears can and will get in the way if I don’t let go a little and let them experience life. Thank you for that reminder- I think it’s something I need to tell myself on a daily basis!!

    • Yes, I need to remind myself of that more often! I’m pretty sure my fears do stand in their way sometimes. I think parents know their kids and they make the right decisions for them. It’s that gut feeling. 😉

  3. I had no idea this was called redshirting. I wanted my son to go to Kindergarten at 4. He has a late January birthday and no school, public or private would take him for Kindergarten, so we waited the extra year. He’s never really been challenged in school. He’s always been bored and goofed off. I wonder if things would have been different if they had let him go to school at four.

    Glad your daughter is doing so well. Sounds like you made a really good decision.
    ~FringeGirl

    • We were a little afraid of that, that being bored could lead to goofing off or talking and getting in trouble. I think I’ve seen that in my kids’ classes. I think I’ve seen it all at this point. 😉 I feel lucky we had the choice to make and that she could make the cutoff because I do know a lot of parents now who had to wait a year because their kids’ birthdays fell after the school registration deadline.

  4. I was born on the cut off date, and my parents decided to let me start school even though I was the very youngest in my class. Like me, it sounds like your daughter was ready, and though she may have to work harder, it is worth it, I think. I just graduated last year with my MA at age 23. 🙂

    Keep encouraging her to do her best. She will have struggles, but you made a decision wanting her best interests in mind. That makes you a good momma, and she will thank you later for it.

  5. I think both the early birthdays, the late birthday, the middle birthdays all have their own unique struggles as they are each unique kids with different levels of development and natural ability. I think unless there is an obvious question mark, someone’s got to be youngest, just like someone’s got to be oldest. i have one oldest, one mid and one young in the grade pool and they each have their challenges. there will always be. no second guessing. no looking back. loved last line. it ain’t easy. 🙂

    • Well said, icescreammama, and all the commenters! I read this post last year when I was going through the same thing with my son (I have 2 sons with late August birthdays!). He has now been in kindergarten for more than half a year, and today they are having a “half-birthday party” for the full 1/3 of the class who are August kids. As reassuring as it was to have him be in a class with several young kids (and someone always has to be the youngest), looking at how he and the rest of the class seem to be doing, it is hard to distinguish him and the other August kids from the older, or mid-year kids. Each kid has their own individual challenges.

      So far, I am glad I sent my son at 5, for lots of reasons. Of course when his little brother turns 5, we will revisit based on what’s best for him.

  6. I did not know there was a name for the practice of waiting a year to start kindergarten when you had a birthday close to the cutoff. Of course, with my kids, who have February and May birthdays, it was never an issue. However, my birthday is in September. And back in the day, in NC, the cutoff was mid-October. (Is it still? I have no idea, since I haven’t lived in NC for a really long time.) Anyway, my folks had me start school even though my birthday was close to the cut off. And I was always the youngest in my class. I did not get my license until my junior year…that was kind of a bummer, but was fine. I graduated high school at 17. I went to college, got a Bachelor’s degree. And you know what? I did fine. In fact, I did better than fine. Hope that doesn’t sound bragg-y. I don’t think my parents really thought twice about going ahead and sending me. But honestly, I don’t think it was as big of a deal back in the early 1970s when I started school.

    Anyway, I guess the bottom line is that YOU, as the mama know your child the best. YOU know if you feel like she can handle it or not. Sounds to me like y’all made the right choice for your child. And if at some point it seems like to you that she is struggling, you will deal with that. That’s what mamas do, right? 🙂

    • The cutoff was October and they changed it the year my daughter started preschool for the year she would start kindergarten. In preschool she always fit in and that just always seemed to be the group she needed to be with. The kids a year behind her seemed so young. We couldn’t imagine holding her back and putting her with the younger kids when she had always fit just right with the group she was with. So far, it’s been good.

      My best friend in high school had a similar situation as you. She did great.

  7. And what if all of your fears are realized. . . .she’ll be just fine because she’ll have a great mom like you to help her get through whatever challenges she faces.

  8. I’m one of those parents who found you through a Google search right after you wrote the post last year. My husband and I were struggling with whether to hold our son, who has an August birthday as well, back one year. We ended up doing so, largely because his preschool teachers thought he could use that extra year to catch up socially, especially in regard to his ability (or lack of) to converse with adults. I just attended his kindergarten info night and guess what was one of ten milestones the kindergarten teachers talked about? Ability to converse with adults. So I’m glad we held him back, but I too have concerns. What helped me make the decision last year was throwing my hands up and feeling comfort instead of fear that I’ll never know what was the “right” decision, because you can’t ever know.
    Thanks, as always, for the post!

  9. We, too, made the decision to not hold back our son. As a result, he’s the youngest boy in his class, with some of the other boys (and girls) in his class being nearly a year older than him. I can’t imagine holding him back. He’s doing great, both with the schoolwork and emotionally, and I’m sure he would have been bored out of his mind if we had started him a year later. Both my husband and I have October birthdays, and we were both among the youngest in our classes. As a result we were very concerned as to how this would go for our own son. We’re happy with our decision to put him into kindergarten on schedule, and we have no regrets (at this point). Sure, clearly some of the work is more challenging for him than it is for those who are a year older, but in other ways our son seems to be excelling above the older children, who seem bored and more into making trouble. Another consideration parents have to keep in mind is how the child will feel to be such an old senior in high school. That, too, seems an invitation to boredom and trouble.

  10. The Yogic Housewife

    Thank you for this post. My son is in the same category and started kindy this year. A mother knows if they are ready x

  11. I have both sides of the spectrum. My son most definitely needed to be held back an extra year, his preschool teachers and we all agreed, he was not ready socially or academically. I think if he had gone early, he would have ended up really hating school. Now he’s the oldest in his class and also the top of his class, he loves school.

    My daughter is the opposite, she was ready for kindergarten at age four. But her birthday happened to fall past the cut-off (by one week!) So she had to wait until she was six. She is very advanced for her age anyway and I do have this fear she’ll get bored.

    I think being the youngest in your class can be all right as long as the child is ready for it. I was the youngest in my class, I was still 17 when I first started college. But it never made much of a difference to me, I excelled in school and enjoyed it. I think every child is so different, you really have to go with your gut instincts.

    • If I had had this decision to make with my son, my first-born, it would have been a lot tougher. I’m grateful that I already knew what was expected in school because of him. And I’m so glad I only had to make this decision once! He has a February birthday.

  12. I went to kindergarten at 4 (I was AFTER the cutoff date, but my mother needed to go to work and they lied). I had no trouble academically, but I do recall being scolded by Mrs. Alligator (or Crocodile — it really was one of the two) because I couldn’t eat my Scooter Pie fast enough. Although I was always one of the smallest in my class, I don’t think it mattered.

    I think that it is harder for boys not because they aren’t intellectually ready but that they have a harder time sitting still.

    Glad your daughter is doing so well. And no matter what happens to us in kindergarten, we all struggle with some things!

    • Now that is a great story, as yours always are.

      You aren’t kidding about boys who can’t sit still! My son has a Feb. birthday. He has no trouble at school, but man, I remember in kindergarten if he didn’t have recess, I wouldn’t even let him in the house. I’d make him do laps outside first. Boys have so much energy. My kids’ school is really great about letting them move around, or stand, or whatever they need to do. They don’t sit at desks all day, which is great.

      And so true–if it’s not the age you started school, it’s something else. No one gets through school without a struggle.

  13. As a teacher of gifted students, I have talked to many parents who have struggled with this same issue. Then my own daughter approached Kindergarten age, and I had to face another question that parents sometimes pose to me – should our child skip a grade? My daughter’s pre-school teachers had assured me that she was ready for first, but I did not want to be one of THOSE parents. When we went to Kinder orientation, and my daughter disappointedly whispered, “They have all of the same centers I had last year in pre-school,” I knew we needed to at least try. After one week in Kindergarten, the teachers agreed, and she was advanced to first. She has done wonderfully ever since. In fact, she still often feels like she is not challenged, and she is about to start middle school. I have never regretted this decision – until I realized that, if we hadn’t done this, I would have another year to rest easy until she starts middle school!

    • That would definitely be a tough decision. That’s a practice I rarely hear of anymore. Of course, we’re in the same boat as far as middle school, high school, college, etc. goes. When her turn comes, I could say that we had the choice and I could have another year to rest easy. But it will come whether we like it or not. 😉

  14. We’re in a similar situation with our daughter who has an August birthday. She’s doing great academically, but can occasionally struggle socially (or not – it’s possible that is my fear talking!). I also wonder if we made a good decision not to redshirt her in kindergarten and have to trust we made the best decision we could at the time. I wouldn’t do it differently though I do wish I had a crystal ball to see the alternate path. In lieu of that, guess I’ll just have to trust her and her process! Fabulous, thoughtful post (as always!).

    • I think girls can be funny socially. My daughter is friendly and kind and makes friends easily, but she doesn’t have a lot of close friends. She doesn’t get into all the cat fighting that goes on and she favors talking with her teachers sometimes over the kids. But I attribute that to the fact that she’s always preferred the company of her brother and boys over girls and in second grade, it’s just not like that. I honestly think she would be the same way if we had held her back. That’s just her. It could be a problem in middle school but everyone develops and matures at different rates anyway. That’s hard to guess. That’s how we thought of it anyway.

  15. I’m so glad I’m catching up on blog reading today and found this post. I definitely remember your Freshly Pressed post last year. That’s when you got put up on WordPress’ recommended family blogs and you finally got the props you deserve.

    I can relate as my daughter turned five in late July, only five days from the enrollment cut-off in our state. She is the youngest in her class, and we were invited to birthdays for classmates turning six almost the moment school began. Like your daughter, my daughter is bright and does well in school, and we therefore were never worried about her struggling. However, also like you, I get this little pang once in a while that she might not be in gifted programs and will probably not be The Smartest. I turned five in December and was one of the older kids in my class (since back in our day, you occasionally had kids starting who were not even turning five until October or November). I learned to read at age four and was well beyond my elementary peers in reading and math. I therefore went to the next grade up for those lessons. I feel rather guilty that I want that for her. Especially when I know the studies show that gifted kids really do no better with achieving success after college than good to average kids! It really comes down to self-discipline, perseverance and a strong inner core, and those are things we can help instill in our kids.

    Anyway…thanks for this, Karen 🙂 I’m glad you can rest knowing you made the right decision!

    • It’s so true, Angie. I pointed that out in my first post; it was something my husband and I weighed in our decision. Kids in “gifted” programs aren’t guaranteed success. It doesn’t mean they’ll be doctors or lawyers or make millions or whatever success means to you. It just may simply mean they learn a little faster. I don’t know. I certainly feel that the kids I knew who were middle of the road and struggled a bit went far beyond kids I knew who were top of the class. I know this, but kids who see their friends get into programs called “gifted” don’t. I’ve seen that quite a bit with my son and his friends. They are all very bright, not all got in. The problem with these gifted programs is that they really seem to be a deciding factor in what classes your child is placed in in middle school. Parents fear middle school and they want their kids in classes with who they think is the smartest, most unruly bunch. It makes it hard not to secretly root for your child to get that status.

      • Yeah, and what’s interesting is tha, for me, my acceleration in math in elementary school didn’t help a lick when I got into high school. I was only pulling Bs in math by then and I had to work at those!

  16. I always had a passion for this, but never had any spare time to do what you do. I get bored easy so this helps me keep my mind occupied Keep up the good work. I must say you have a pretty awesome blog here. Thanks for enlightening me.

  17. Am seeimg this word “redshirting” for the first time. She’ll be fine,my sister started early as well,we were always worried about how she would cope. Best decision my mum ever made 🙂

  18. I’m an October baby and got pushed up. In the end it probably turned out for the best because I ended up in a small class (whereas I would have been in a rather large one), but as an education major, I really don’t want my children (or any children) stuck in age-specific classes. There is something to be said for flexible curricula with children of varying ages. Differentiated (individual) instruction is mandatory instead of a nice option, and every student is challenged. Plus, the kids aren’t stuck only learning how to deal with people at the exact same age as them.

    • My daughter is a second child so she has always been around her older brother and his friends. I think that actually helped her when kindergarten rolled around. I’m not sure how others in her class viewed her though.

      My kids have had teachers who say the same as you, that differentiated instruction works best. It blows my mind honestly how they do it, but they’ve all been capable!

  19. I did not redshirt my 10yrold son what did do was the summer he graduated. Kindergarten I called the school and held him back. I gave him the gift.. I will always wonder what if? But he is A student 4.0 gpa gifted program loves school. I jst knew at tge time he would alwsys be chasing to catch up now he is confident at his own pace.

  20. The country that I was born in has an August 31 deadline too, and since I have a mid-September birthday, I would have had to go to start school a whole year later, despite the fact that many other kids a year old than me were only 2 weeks older. Luckily, we moved before I started school, and here, it’s still the December 31 deadline. So school-wise, it didn’t affect me all that much. I’m not shy or struggling in the slightest. But in other things, such as lifeguarding, it’s caused more than a few inconveniences. For example, in order to get my certification to become a lifeguard, you had to be 16 by the last day of the course. All my friends did it during the summer, but I could not and had to do it during the school year (which was not the most fun) since I was 2 weeks off.

    I don’t think that age has too much of an affect. My sister has a late March birthday, and is one of the older kids in her class. But she’s still extremely shy and timid around others. I never experienced this sort of insecurity (other insecurities, yes) despite the fact that I was always one of the younger ones in my grade. (I’ve also been told numerous times that I act older and more mature than others my age.)

    • Thanks for commenting. I think personality has a lot to do with the decision. I hear a lot of parents say they redshirt because they think their child is immature. It’s hard to tell at such a young age whether kids will outgrow some of those traits (for instance, it took me into adulthood to outgrow some of my shyness) but parents know their kids best. And you’re right, the oldest kid in class could be shy or have other issues and that’s not necessarily a reason to hold him/her back. Being on the line for the cutoff definitely has its disadvantages, whether you’re younger or older.

  21. confusedmom

    Thank you for commenting on this topic. My son, who also has a late August birthday, started Kindergarten last September. He turned 5 one week before school started. The cut-off in our state is October 1st. According to his K teacher, he is doing well, mature and ready for first grade. I also consulted the principal to see if he should repeat K or move onto 1st. He said that there aren’t any concerns and they are 100% confident he should move on. Still, I wasn’t satisfied and spoke to one of the first grade teachers. She reviewed his file and after talking with the teacher also agreed that he is most definitely ready for first grade. However, given all this reassurance, I am still wondering if I did the right thing in sending him! He is small and young so I worry that in the future years he may be picked on or left out of things. He does have a nice group of friends and I hope that continues for him. I asked the principal about retaining him in K for another year and he and the teacher think that wouldn’t benefit him. I am putting so much faith into their confidence that first grade is the next move. Am I making the right move to put him in first? Clearly, I am very indecisive and it helps to hear other opinions. Did you feel this way?

    • Yes, I think most parents have doubts. It’s so hard to know what the future holds. But the way my husband and I looked at it, regardless of our decision, we don’t know what the future holds for our daughter. If we held her back a year or sent her on, she could have very good or very bad experiences. We’ll never know whether any of those are due to her age, honestly. Right now she’s doing great. We feel great about what we did and her teachers have always backed us. She would have been bored if we held her back. You’ve done the right thing by talking it over with your son’s teachers. It’s hard to make the decision. Do you think he can do the work? I felt like it was OK for my daughter to be challenged.

      Check out my first post on redshirting and read the comments. There are tons of opinions and experiences there that may help you.

  22. It’s always nice to hear others with experience on this topic. We have decided to “redshirt” our second child who turned 5 last July. He is tall for his age and has matured a lot this second semester, so doubts have been creeping into my mind.as he is still in preschool. I was always the youngest (with an end of August bday) and my husband was always the oldest (end of July bday). We both did fine. I think your point of knowing your child is the most important. And to not doubt your decision or let your own fears get in the way! Thanks again for the post!

  23. Lots of emotions on either side of that issue. I wasn’t aware of the timing of a 60 Minutes piece, but given the competition of kids (and their parents) these days, I’m not at all surprised. Yours was a worthy FP post, coincidence or not.

    Peers are the worst. They’re always the wild card, red-shirt or no. But it’s hard enough parenting without the second-guessing that comes with difficult past choices (one of mine was held back, another started early); regrets are easy to find if you’re looking for them. Best to stick to you choice — made thoughtfully with current circumstances and no hind-sight — and move forward with each challenge that faces you and your child. No regrets.

    Your kids are blessed to have such an awesome and thoughtful mom, Karen. They’ll go far no doubt!

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