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March 7, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

"Redshirting" is the practice of holding eligible children back from kindergarten, with supposed advantages for them academically. Though there are questions as to it's efficacy long term.
posted by mikoroshi (113 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"you don't want to wear a red shirt on landing-party duty"
posted by Fizz at 8:58 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Watching the 60 minutes segment on this made me grind my teeth. Is it so hard for parents to support their kids by enriching their environment, e.g. reading to them, taking them to cultural events, traveling with them, and by helping with their schoolwork?

Speaking as a person who was always the smallest in my class until junior high (and still among the teeniest people then), the secret to success in school is actully parents who do the above, not one's advantages in age and size.

And just as well, because this practice is disproportionately available to whiter, richer parents.
posted by bearwife at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


You also get to have them as kids effectively one more year before they leave for college and then you never (effectively) see them anymore.
posted by caddis at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it so hard for parents to support their kids by enriching their environment, e.g. reading to them, taking them to cultural events, traveling with them, and by helping with their schoolwork?

These are also things that are disproportionately available to whiter, richer parents, sadly.
posted by DU at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [23 favorites]


It is certainly helping the won loss record of my son's lacrosse team.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


As a resident of Dallasland, I was pleased that the Dallas mom was the most reasonable person they interviewed.
posted by jmccw at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2012


And no matter how rich or white you are, sometimes you just cannot "enrich" your kid's problems away and redshirtting (or holding them back in a lower grade) is the only thing that will work.
posted by digitalprimate at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anecdata: Redshirting is particularly good for some boys, who socially mature slower than girls at young ages, and who will just drag themselves and their classmates down. Girls really don't need to be redshirted.

We redshirted our older son, but the younger one actually skipped kindergarten and is a 5-year-old first-grader.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2012


Huh. I'm currently considering doing exactly the opposite and starting Go Banana half a year early (like I did back in the day) since she's rather huge, extraordinarily articulate, and almost reading. Wouldn't the extra year be better spent later in one's educational lifespan? Like say taking a year off before university, or doing a work/study program or some such?
posted by Go Banana at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Redshirting is particularly good for some boys, who socially mature slower than girls at young ages...

I completely agree with this. I have a pair of boy/girl twins and while they are starting to even out now at almost age 7, she is still at least half a grade ahead of him in reading. In fact, she's way ahead of him in *listening to* reading. I've considered dropping the almost-7 year old boy down to reading time with the almost-5 except that it would be so clear that he's "behind" his supposed-twin sister.

Needless to say, they have basically the same environment. Comparing her to all the boys when they were the same age, she's still way ahead (in fact, in some social things she's ahead of the boys *even without adjusting for age*).
posted by DU at 9:10 AM on March 7, 2012


I would think that academically, kids would do better if they had to work harder, not if they already were just further along than the other kids and could cruise- you know, the whole "praise kids for their effort, not for their intelligence" phenomenon.

Athletically, though, it's no contest. As a male under the age of 13, pretty much all that determined your popularity in school was how good you were at sports. I'm guessing that might make people more sociable if they're popular early on. I'm sure this would have effects on kids, I'm just not sure what those effects would be.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:12 AM on March 7, 2012


Our son is in a Grade 4/5 split class (he's in Grade 4), and this is the teacher's first teaching assignment. As a result, the teacher teaches to the Grade 5's, and the Grade 4's are literally struggling to catch up, as there is a gigantic leap in terms of what the expectations are regarding homework and self-study. So, for most of this year we have not figured out what is going on (a work-to-rule action by the teachers also means we can't easily talk to the teacher).

Gradually, though, (through *managing* our son's workflow, which is another issue entirely, for Chrissakes), we're getting on top of it.

However our son is friends with a kid from an immigrant background, and that kid is hopelessly, hopelessly behind, notably in math. This is because the parents, relatively new to Canada, haven't quite decoded the school system.

On the other hand, the immigrant family is more affluent than we are (both parents work service-industry jobs, but they own a couple of houses, and just built a new one).

So the race/poor stereotype doesn't work (my wife is also a visible minority).

My point is, it's not always true that, as some guilty liberals above typed out, poor parents are too dumb to read to their kids and help them with homework.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it so hard for parents to support their kids by enriching their environment, e.g. reading to them, taking them to cultural events, traveling with them, and by helping with their schoolwork?

Depends on the situation of the parents and their support system. If you've got a steady income, two parents, some aspect of an extended family and access to all that stuff, sure, why not. If you grow up in a working-class/immigrant family who don't come from a culture of reading or travelling or doing cultural stuff, and don't have the ability to help their kid with their homework, then, yeah, it's pretty damn hard to do things you don't even know the kid needs.
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


This happened to me, sort of. I'm a September baby so depending on locale, I could go either way. It went the way it did supposedly because I was socially immature and extremely, extremely, extremely physically tiny (a head shorter than the next shortest person even when I was among the oldest in the grade). Even though I could read at 3. I couldn't not pull someone's hair if it looked eminently pullable.

I resented it, since even in the grade I was in, I was still socially immature and small. You know, even in graduate school, I was socially immature and small. Some people are just socially immature and small forever, no matter what their context. If you put me back in 6th grade right now, I would still be socially immature and small, even compared to 12 year olds. Here I am, 30, still stifling urges to pull hair and throw my thermos in the toilet.

I suppose if I had wanted to play a sport, it would have been easier for me in the grade I wound up in than it would have been if I had entered the older grade.
posted by millipede at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


My parents had to deal with this. My brother was born in early August, meaning he was going to be one of the oldest or one of the youngest kids in his grade, depending on which class they decided to put him in. They went with the former, which worked pretty well, for a number of reasons. First, we homeschooled, so it wasn't like we had to answer to anybody. Second, my siblings and I are nominally four years apart, and making him the oldest in his grade kept that spacing.

But when he went from homeschooling to a private school, he wound up going straight from seventh to ninth grade. The faculty thought he was too advanced for eighth grade, so he "skipped" it, and instead of the oldest eigth-grader he was the youngest ninth-grader.

The effects were kind of interesting. Basically, he wound up applying to college at seventeen, which he was never all that organized about, and was a freshman at eighteen. Looking at it from a grade rather than an age standpoint, he took quite a bit longer to settle down academically compared to my sister and I, who with September and December birthdays were always towards the older end of our respective grades. Whereas she and I had basically figured things out by freshman or sophomore years, he was more like junior or senior.

It's hard to say how much of that was just personality, how much of that was him just being the youngest, and how much he might have benefited from an extra twelve months of development and maturity before taking on adult life.

Anecdote, etc., but it's something I'll be keeping in mind with my own (as of yet hypothetical) kids. Not everyone grows up at the same rate. If a kid would benefit from a little extra time and there's a colorable argument for doing so... why not?
posted by valkyryn at 9:21 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm such a nerd. When some sports fans I knew were talking about red shirt kids, I though they meant those kids were some kind of sacrificial lamb they sent out to be to be mauled by the kids on the other American football team.

To sum up: Red shirt in Trek, BAD.
Red shirt in sports, GOOD.

Also don't launch into your speech about how DS9 is the best. The jocks look at you like you have tribbles coming out your ears.
posted by hot_monster at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Go Banana, just be prepared that you may need to support your Go Banana Junior emotionally and socially. A one-year gap between yourself and your peers is huge when you're 8 and she'll need you to work things out.

I was moved a year forward in school due to academic abilities. I struggled socially throughout my time in primary school (ages 7 to 15 essentially) though things got better when I started secondary school (ages 15 to 18). I took a year off between secondary school and university - this gap year helped me enormously in terms of growing up emotionally and becoming far more independent. All in all, it is a bit of a shame that I was so socially inept during my early school years (and suffered quite a bit of bullying as a result) but then again I never laid eyes upon any of those kids after I graduated to secondary school.
posted by kariebookish at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2012


I entered kindergarten halfway thru the year. Something to do with having a December birthday, I was told. I still don't think I've caught up.
posted by jonmc at 9:24 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


...poor parents are too dumb to read to their kids and help them with homework.

I'm not sure where the "too dumb" thing comes from, at least as far as homework is concerned. I was born in Russia and emigrated here with my mother and grandparents when I was six. The only homework anyone could help me with was math, because I picked up the language quickly enough to remove any language barrier in the word problems. However, no one in my family could have helped with American History, or literature, or the even the sciences, even though my family were highly educated and quite literally as intelligentsia as Jews could get in Soviet Russia.
posted by griphus at 9:25 AM on March 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


Little coffeespoons (age 7) is usually the youngest kid in his grade, and I think it is affecting him a bit. I always pooh poohed the obsessiveness of redshirting, and in pre-K he was hanging with the older kids socially and clearly academically ready.

But, now he gets not so great "grades" in behavior issues, some of which I think is attributable to immaturity. He was slow to read (compared to boys six to nine months older than him), which made kindergarten kinda tough. And in some sports he has to choose between kids his age and kids his grade.

So, though I mocked it, I occasionally wonder what if we'd chosen the other route.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:27 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


redshirting sounds like a great idea, for some. all i can tell you is that i had the opposite treatment, and that being put ahead in school was one of the worst things that've ever happened to me. i'm still recovering from it now, and believe me, it happened a long time ago.

cannot discourage this practice strongly enough. if your kid's precocious, send her/him to a private school, or find tutoring/home schooling projects/extracurriculars.
posted by facetious at 9:27 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like millipede, this happened to me as well. (Anyone born between September and December had a choice of waiting or not.) So my parents kept me at home. But because I was also one of those lucky enough to be 'enriched at home', I went into kindergarten able to read and do all the math and all the other things that we were supposed to be learning (except for staying in the lines when I colored -- which I'm still not a fan of)

And you know what, I fucking hated it. Bored senseless and angry at everyone for a bit. The teacher wanted to skip me ahead immediately but my parents, both educators, thought I need the year to mature and to have the same experience as my peers before heading into 1st grade.

They were 100% right. There were plenty of things that made me not fit in with my peers through elementary school, junior high, and high school. But if I'd been one of the younger, smaller ones in my grade, it would be have been unimaginably worse. I shiver just thinking about it.

But my experience is just that, mine. I'm not sure it really translates to everyone and wouldn't want to assume so.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:30 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most kids here in Sweden - which is predominately white and rich - start "school" at 18 months of age. By the time kindergarten begins most kids here have already played three full seasons.

Whilst they might benefit academically by being "redshirted", socially it would be a disaster.

All you need to learn you can read in books. Social skills, on the other hand, can only be learned first hand.
posted by three blind mice at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was not redshirted. I was an October baby and back in the early 80s schools and my parents were of the opinion that if the kid seemed ready for school you start them.

Yeah, it was a pain in the ass to be the youngest kid in class. 16 when I started my senior year was annoying and even more so was the awkwardness of being a 17 year old college freshman. Boys tend to shy away quickly once that whole "still a minor" thing comes out of the woodwork. Being under 21 for most of my college career didn't really hold me back, but it was annoying.

That said, most of my friends growing up were in the year or two ahead of me or in my own grade. I never felt behind socially from my peers and academically I was well ahead of most. I do remember that in second grade my teachers discussed with my parents the idea of skipping me ahead and just putting me in fourth grade the next year. My mom was really confident that the age difference would be way too much and it would be too much to handle.

I've leveled out with my peers in adulthood. I took a few years off before grad school and was the oldest person in my Masters program and one of the older ones in my PhD program. It was really bizarre to have the tables turned and in my late thirties it's still hard for me to remember that I'm not the youngest kid in the class/room/workplace anymore.
posted by teleri025 at 9:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


my only negative experience being 'redshirted' was when i was with a bunch of my friends on a beach drinking and smoking and we got busted. they let all my friends go with a ticket but because i was 18 i had to fork over bail.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 9:33 AM on March 7, 2012


My daughter was born on Sept 1, which is the exact cutoff day between grades. After talking to many (more than 10) professional educators about this, we went with their almost unanimous opinions and held her back.

She never really fit in. Her best friend was in the grade above her, and she struggled making meaningful friends in the grade below. We often second-guessed ourselves about this decision.

However, I now think that this factor, if it has any weight, is far, far less significant than the general level of support and involvement on behalf of the family.

With my daughter, it turned out that the higher grade (the one she did not join) was seen, as they went through, as uniquely problematic and disruptive, especially the girls.

My daughter did fine academically, and the social stuff came around when she found out that boys made much better friends (for her) than girls. The only way that this choice discussed on this thread mattered was because her parents kept obsessing about it.
posted by Danf at 9:33 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a "gifted" kid and always did all the extra/advanced/whatever stuff all the way from K to 12.

My little brother was totally redshirted.

The teachers and my folks claimed it was about his birthday being in that inconvenient part of the year, but in retrospect I think it was much more to do with undue and inappropriate pressures being placed on him and a perception that he somehow wasn't measuring up. He entered the following year, and never really "caught up" at much of anything. He was always treated as somehow less capable by every teacher, and my folks always expected less of him. He was even diagnosed with various learning disabilities...that I'm either skeptical he actually had, or I may have had myself by how they were described.

Bottom line, it really screwed him, I feel. Today he's a proud, capable, hard working adult and a loving father and he has a bright and altruistic career ahead of him. Did redshirting him and treating him as "special" really serve him well though? I'm not convinced personally. I think if he'd been treated as everyone else's equal and pushed/encouraged like I was, he probably would have outperformed me academically (he's much more into following rules) if just in slightly less advanced classes. Instead, I'm pretty sure as a high school senior he still wasn't reading, in English, at full speed and that disliking print (there was no web yet) probably had a profound effect on his life's direction not to mention his higher ed choices.

I have to agree with everyone above who's stating or implying that this practice, while probably totally appropriate in a small number of cases, is mostly about inept or irresponsible parenting.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:33 AM on March 7, 2012


For boys, you cannot overestimate the importance of sports and physicality. Socialization is all about wrestling and fighting and sizing each other up. Also, dating in high school? There's a reason so many girls date older guys.

I'm another (late) September baby, so was always youngest in class. Thank God my parents didn't skip me ahead a year, as was hip in our circle. I was always great academically, but I hated sports, which left me imbalanced for a couple decades until I realized it's fun to be athletic and in your body, not just in your head. Social growth is just as important as academics in school; you can learn stuff later, but immaturity affects everything in life.
posted by msalt at 9:33 AM on March 7, 2012


I'm not sure kindergarten age children have the upper body strength to be Aviation Ordnancemen.
posted by Jahaza at 9:34 AM on March 7, 2012


Go Banana, just be prepared that you may need to support your Go Banana Junior emotionally and socially. A one-year gap between yourself and your peers is huge when you're 8 and she'll need you to work things out.


Not necessarily. I started half a year early (as mentioned) and also skipped grade 4. I managed pretty well and my parents never really worked anything out for me (helicopter parenting wasn't so much of a thing back in the day). Besides, kids always need lots of emotional/social support and you can't predict the points at which they'll need it most.
posted by Go Banana at 9:37 AM on March 7, 2012


Red shirt in sports, GOOD.

Not always. Redshirting is a college thing. If you red shirt, it means the team either a) thinks you're just not ready to play at this level (although you have potential), or b) thinks they already have some better than you at the position, and you'd just be wasting a year of eligibility sitting on the sidelines.

In the latter case, it could also mean the team thinks you have a low talent ceiling. They think you're not going to leave school early, because pro teams will never take a risk on you without gathering more evidence. This allows the school to redshirt you and extract your maximum value from you.

If you're good enough that college is merely a speed bump on your road to the pros, you don't redshirt, and you don't go to a college that even hints they might want you to redshirt. On the other hand, if you think you can make it to the pros but need a lot more seasoning and exposure, then redshirt away.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:38 AM on March 7, 2012


I was a gifted kid (girl) who could read and write at a stupidly young age and I confused my preschool teacher when I kept insisting that the diamond shape she drew was actually a "parallelogram", and as a nerd-in-the-making was super excited to start "real school" when I turned 5.

But when I went to "kindergarten round-up" -- the day of activities where our public school system evaluated all the 5 and 6 year olds in the district to determine whether or not they were ready to enter kindergarten -- my parents were told that I wasn't ready because I couldn't kick a ball right. Also, my writing wasn't right. (None of the other kids could write, of course, beyond maybe their own names. But my writing was *wrong*. Therefore I wasn't ready.)

Basically our district was a big fan of redshirting and went to great lengths to do it as much as possible because it was easier on the kindergarten teachers to have entire classes of more socially mature kids, regardless of sex or actual ability.
posted by olinerd at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a person who was always the smallest in my class until junior high (and still among the teeniest people then), the secret to success in school is actully parents who do the above, not one's advantages in age and size.

Actually, I think there's a significant long-term advantage to be younger, and I think research will bear that out. It's the overemphasis on standardized testing that encourages the standard educational redshirting.

Just as younger siblings pick up things faster, kids exposed to older kids do as well, imo.

But of course, yeah, parenting is about 1,000x more important.

It is certainly helping the won loss record of my son's lacrosse team.

Redshirting in sports is similar yet different. You are hurting the individual's personal growth but helping the team because older/bigger is much more important in athletics, especially during youth.

In the end, it's obviously a case-by-case situation. based on the size, abilities, and social skills (and a million other factors) of the kid, but I advocate getting kids started early for pretty much everything related to education.

It's interesting because my daughter was born in late November, and her school district is right now moving the cut off date from December 1 to September 1. So she's one of those tweener babies who would have been the youngest one in my class, but will be one of the oldest in hers. I'm not too worried either way.

On the other hand, if you think you can make it to the pros but need a lot more seasoning and exposure, then redshirt away.

It really depends on the sport. It still makes sense for college football (I believe Andrew Luck redshirted?), because hey, you've only got 1 quarterback who's going to get playing time. And QB especially is a position that requires a lot of training and in-game playing time

But basketball or baseball? It's probably 99% medical or other leave-related reasons. Nobody who has a shot at the pros redshirts anymore.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2012


The eldest Clinger has a birthday on July 4 which is earlier than the traditional cutoff, but we still held him back because he had been in some preschools where he seemed a bit behind socially. Now he's in second grade and fits in nicely academically, socially, and even size-wise. I know this is all anecdata, but that's really my point. Unless there is a nefarious reason like sports or kicking the kids out of the house a year earlier, shouldn't this be a non-story? Every kid is different and while little Wreckage is doing great, I can't be sure he won't be on here in 13 years trashing the fact that he was "held back."

The real reason we held him back is found in the first link which talks about being in the best place for your grade in school. The other articles about being popular or big for your grade are complete crap and only show that the biases of my youth are still alive and well. It really bothers me that at 4 or 5 years old some parents have the academic, artistic, or athletic lives of their children mapped out to the point that which year they enter school will make such a difference.

I really don't know if we made the best decision for my kids or not, but we really put thought into it and it had nothing at all to do with popularity, size, or success in sports. All we can do is support them the best we can and if everybody did that honestly, we might all be better off.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2012


Most kids here in Sweden - which is predominately white and rich - start "school" at 18 months of age. By the time kindergarten begins most kids here have already played three full seasons.

Yes, but the serious academic stuff, the grundskola, doesn't start until 6/7. My impression was that in förskola, it's a preschool thing that's not competitive and kids get to play a lot.

I was personally red-shirted, but in a Swedish way I guess. My parents put me into pre-K, which was the equivalent to förskola. Unfortunately, when I got to Kindergarten I remained behind. These days I know it's because I was not diagnosed properly with a learning disability (they thought I was just ADD, when in reality it was dyspraxia that was the main issue) and that also the school didn't know how to handle kids that were slow, but still somewhat bright. My mother ended up pulling me out and homeschooling me.

I think everyone ages differently biologically. Here I am at 25 and I still get mistaken for 17. When I was 5 I was smaller and slower than everyone else. I remember there was a tooth chart in Kindergarten where you marked how many teeth you lost. I was never on that chart because I was so slow at developing. I would assume my own children might be similar, so I would have no hesitation at "red shirting" them.

Thought I think even slow children like me tend to catch up by 6/7, when the Scandinavian systems start the serious academics. If my kids were born there, I'd just send them to regular school and I bet they'd do fine.
posted by melissam at 9:55 AM on March 7, 2012


I never heard of redshirting until I was in high school, and many of the freshman (girls!) were turning 16. In elementary school/junior high, the cut-off date was New Year’s Eve.

Now, my mom teaches pre-kindergarten, and the teachers often keep the younger boys back a year, with or without parental approval. They find that parents are willing to push children to be the best, whether they are ready or not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:57 AM on March 7, 2012


They often talk about how age cutoffs for the youth leagues of various sports can be seen in the birthdays of the pros - those that are better/smarter/more advances than their peers get the special attention that allows them to really thrive. I was the beneficiary of the "better parts" of my school district - if I had started a year earlier (which was discussed), I would have been fine academically, but I don't think I would have gotten the same academic advantages in the long term. In the end, the academic advantages I was afforded meant that I was in a program with peers both academically (similarly early readers for whom basic concepts came easily) and socially, as we were all the same age. I absolutely think that red-shirting could have significant benefits.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:58 AM on March 7, 2012


Redshirting in my town is so common that virtually all the summer-born boys are held back. My son has a May birthday and there are only two boys (both early June) younger in his class. It may have started off as a few families holding back kids who really needed more time before entering school, but now it seems there are many parents looking to either game the system, or to protect their ready-for-school July son from being in a class where all the other boys are a year older.
posted by apparently at 10:05 AM on March 7, 2012


We had to redshirt our kid, since he was born after September, which I think was right for him emotionally/academically; he's almost done with Kindergarten and is doing well at math but still reluctant to read on his own (though I think it's more confidence than skill).

What did complicate it is that even for his age, he's really tall. Holding him back just enhanced that, and I do worry that some people will think he had to repeat a grade or something as he gets older. It will be some bully protection for him, I suppose, but his dad was tall too and would still get picked on because he wasn't a fighter.
posted by emjaybee at 10:06 AM on March 7, 2012


I don't have an issue with someone doing it academically, but redshirted kids should have to play sports with the grade up.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:07 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a late-December baby, and started kindergarten at 4. My parents, I think, figured that I was already reading, so why keep me back another year? I never really struggled academically until high school (where the problem was organization and homework, not tests), but socially I was definitely behind, and no one ever caught the real issue that gave me trouble in school-- which was chronic anxiety.

I have to wonder how I would have turned out if I'd been redshirted, but I suspect I would have just been bored a lot of the time. Would have been nice to be able to drive in high school, though-- I didn't get my license until after I graduated.
posted by nonasuch at 10:10 AM on March 7, 2012


Hmm. Was discussing something related to this with my mother the other day (she's very experienced as a primary/elementary adviser on planning and assessment). There is apparently plenty of evidence in English schools of the significant and lasting disadvantages suffered by the youngest members of peer groups, particularly among boys. Sadly she doesn't provide links when I talk to her (another reason my family is worse than Metafilter), so I can't point at anything right now.

Presuming she's right, it's seems likely that many of the cases where there appear to be long-lasting benefits of red-shirting are in fact cases of avoiding the specific disadvantage of always being the youngest in the year. This may account for some of the apparently conflicting data. Being developmentally advanced may be a mixed blessing, but being developmentally behind is almost certainly an unalloyed bad.
posted by howfar at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2012


This is all super interesting to me as a first-time parent of a now-6-month-old boy. It sounds like there are reasons to do this if you can swing it, but I'd think that a danger would be that needlessly redshirting a kid could lead to boredom, and being just a little ahead of everyone else, to the point that they didn't need to work very hard to get by or even excel. And that can cause poor work habits that could hurt them for their entire academic (and even professional) career. (I speak from experience, here. I wasn't old for my class but I was super bored, always.)
posted by statolith at 10:21 AM on March 7, 2012


My daughter's birthday is Dec. 30. She was 4 years old the summer we moved from Illinois, where I had a low-paying job that allowed me to receive a daycare subsidy and where the enrollment cutoff wouldn't have had her starting kindergarten until the next year, to Maryland and a job with a salary that left me ineligible for any childcare subsidies but that was realistically speaking, not enough to cover full-time childcare. And a kindergarten cut-off date of Dec. 31.

So I tossed her into kindergarten at 4 1/2. I'm not sure it was the right choice (though I'm also not sure how I could have made a different one). She was not only small and socially/emotionally immature for her grade, she was (and perhaps still is) small and socially/emotionally immature for her age. And she did struggle, academically and emotionally. But then again, the seeds for everything she's struggled with were there even before she started kindergarten, so at least I feel on some level that this choice didn't "cause" her issues.

And now, as a (barely 14) high school freshman, she's doing pretty darn good: solid academics in mostly honors classes, a slot on the varsity cheerleading squad and the JV softball team despite being a complete noob to the latter, participates in the Student Govt. Assn., turns the boys' heads but isn't really interested in them yet (perfect combination, IMHO...) And she is so driven--wants to take all honors/AP/college classes, letter in multiple sports, get accepted to Yale.... Sometimes I wonder if some of that doesn't come from having a harder time earlier on and wanting to distance herself from labels like "below grade level."
posted by SomeTrickPony at 10:28 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have an issue with someone doing it academically, but redshirted kids should have to play sports with the grade up.

At least in the sports that I played, that wouldn't generally be an issue (this is in the US, other countries or areas of the US could be different). I played little league baseball, which generally stratified by age and ability, but was unconnected to the actual school or educational process, so what grade a kid was in didn't matter as far what level (T-Ball, Caps, Minors, Majors, etc.) you played at. You'd only get moved up if you were too old for a certain level or good enough that even if you were in the younger part of the age range for the next level, you could advance without problems. I played Caps for two years just because I broke my arm my first year.

In high school, there's generally Jr Varsity and Varsity teams for most sports, but if you're a freshman who's able to compete at the Varsity level, you'll be put on the Varsity team, so there's still no real connection to grade level.
posted by LionIndex at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2012


I started kindergarten at four and did fine (although I was always in the front row of school pictures, the tiny little girl until I suddenly caught up in eighth grade and had to adjust to being one of the tallest), so when it came to my summer birthday son, I went ahaed and sent him. I will always regret this. His school friends were often a full year older than him which always made him last in the pecking order. He is physically small, so that didn't help. He struggles all along and most importantly, he got used to coming in last and then at failing. He could never win, so why try? Some kids are naturally ambitious, my son was not. He liked fading in to the background and did.
posted by readery at 10:30 AM on March 7, 2012


Our town's cut-off date for kindergarten is October 1 and our kid will miss it by three weeks. Not a big deal, except that she shows signs of being somewhat precocious intellectually. I don't want her to go into kindergarten as a reading, math-doing, three-weeks-shy-of-six-year old and be bored out of her gourd.

I am sure I am not the only parent in America who is facing this situation. And I am probably not the only one who is gobsmacked that the school "year" is so firmly fixed into a calendar, when it's screamingly evident that children's development doesn't follow a January-December arc, but rather, it's based on their chronological age.

I don't understand why public education in the U.S. is not a) "chunked" into smaller terms of 3-6 months and b) year-round to reduce the effects of children losing what they learn over the summer.

We're no longer a strongly agrarian nation so it's not like America needs those kids bringing in the crops through July and August, and a year-round school system would help eliminate some of the class-based gaps regarding retention over breaks, and maintain continuous assistance/nutrition for kids who depend on free/reduced school breakfasts and lunches for regular meals.

And if the schooling were year-round (say, four 12-week quarters with 3 weeks between quarters and a few extra weeks around Christmas) on a quarterly basis, then kids could rotate into grade levels based on their chronological age, rather than some external, fixed point in a January-December calendar. But I'm betting that there are so many businesses with vested interest in keeping things the way they are now -- and I'm betting that the start-up costs associated with transitioning to a new system would turn off voters -- so we will continue with a system that punishes kids who have the bad fortune to be born after, say, July 1.
posted by sobell at 10:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does an classroom environment such as a Montessori school make this less of an issue? (The school just a few blocks from us is a public Montessori elementary.)
posted by statolith at 10:34 AM on March 7, 2012


July 1 is halfway through the year. I can see complaining about a mid-December birthday, but July? No.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:35 AM on March 7, 2012


I am probably not the only one who is gobsmacked that the school "year" is so firmly fixed into a calendar, when it's screamingly evident that children's development doesn't follow a January-December arc, but rather, it's based on their chronological age.

I can't be the only one gobsmacked that the American educational model hasn't changed in well over 100 years? I agree with you on the school calendar year, of course.

Does an classroom environment such as a Montessori school make this less of an issue?

Typically Montessori schools will have mixed-age classrooms, so yeah, it's probably less of an issue.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2012


Actually, sobell, when the year-round schooling comes from the school district and the cut-off date comes from the state, it can work out well for slower students. You just place them on the 'track' which starts the school year last (giving them an extra two to three months to catch up, not counting the advantage they get if they're winter babies).

In my case, that's exactly what happened: I was born on the 'right' side of my state's Dec 2 deadline by three days and started year-round school at 5 years and 9 months. It allowed me to be the oldest and biggest in class and I definitely noticed an effect academically and socially.

What is more interesting is that I also noticed that when I was younger, the majority of my friends were 'late birthdays' and it wasn't until high school that the 'early birthdays' caught up. Those 'early birthdays' who did catch up faster were those who were placed on the latest possible track and entered school as late as they could that year. Interesting twist on red-shirting!
posted by librarylis at 10:50 AM on March 7, 2012


I was usually the oldest in my class (born in December where October 15 was the cutoff). But until 9th grade I was always the shortest and skinniest thing around and was pretty mercilessly picked on for my size (and other things, too). In 9th grade, I grew almost 6 inches. And, unusually for a woman, I continued to grow until I was 20 or so. My brother followed a similar growth pattern. He is now 6'4" but says he still feels "short" because he was for so long.

Although I was reading and doing basic arithmetic at 5, I think I was probably slower to emotionally mature than my classmates, too. Kids just grow up differently, and pretending that chronological age will ever align with either physical, emotional, or intellectual age, let alone all 3 at once, seems preposterous to me.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why public education in the U.S. is not a) "chunked" into smaller terms of 3-6 months and b) year-round to reduce the effects of children losing what they learn over the summer.

Exactly because of the vested interests you identify. There is no educational rationale for it at all. The long summer break, in particular, is educational madness. The amount of knowledge lost when children are away from schools for more than a few weeks is simply unjustifiable in societal terms. British schools are slowly shuffling away from long breaks (six term years, squeezing the winter holiday, moving toward Spring/Summer terms that do not shift length according to lunar cycles), but that long 5+ weeks in the summer is still totally unjustifiable and yet totally engrained. Obviously, the problem of the long summer holiday is even greater in most places.
posted by howfar at 10:50 AM on March 7, 2012


Teleri025's story and mine are almost exactly the same. I'm also an October baby who started kindergarten at age 4. (The cutoff in my district was December at the time, I think - plus my district was a year-round district ) I was one of the youngest, but never the very youngest, in my grade. I was pretty advanced academically (I read at a ridiculously early age) but pretty socially awkward, unathletic, and dorky, especially in early grade school. I don't think holding me back would have done anything to improve that. My friends were almost all my age or older (in grade school my best friends were 2 years older), and it wasn't until high school that I regularly hung out with anyone younger than me.

It was kind of annoying being under 21 for most of my college career - not that I was itching to get drunk but it seemed like all the best shows were at the over 21 clubs! (Plus when I interned in NYC in summer 1994, everyone else in the program was 21 already and it got old watching them all go out clubbing in NYC while I, at 20, could not join them.)

I did take a hiatus between the time I started college and the time I finished...when I went back to finish my last year, I was 27. It was really startling, after years of being one of the youngest people in my classes, to being the oldest!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have experienced this first-hand with my son. In our school district (**cough**cough** Texas District 5A State Champs) athletics also plays into it.

We were pressured to hold him back in 1st and 2nd grades even though he is bright and gets acceptable grades. Seems he was too small and fidgety for the teacher. We said fuck that shit and have helped him improve his attention span and discipline a bit.

tl;dr - Fuck that shit.
posted by punkfloyd at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're in the midst of making this decision and it kind of sucks. My youngest two have September birthdays. Technically, the cutoff is September 1, so we're not actually redshirting, we're just following the rules. However, since all of my kids are big and smart and used to being around older kids, we had always planned to start them a year early (despite the fact that I was a year younger than my classmates growing up and it was kind of awful for me).

Now we've changed our minds and the four year old, at least, will not be starting school until he's almost 6. It's been a really hard decision for us. I spent some time in my older son's kindergarten class and could see a real difference in the behavior of the youngest kids in the class. The three kids who started at age four were the ones that I saw having the most trouble sitting still and paying attention. We also figured that if it isn't a good fit, it would be easier on the kids to move up a grade than to be held back a grade. On the other hand, we're in a gifted program that works at least one grade level ahead, and some of the other kids in the program are seriously smart. So even if he starts out ahead of the academic curve, he'll still be challenged and won't stand out as "the smart kid." If we were in a regular school, there is no way we'd wait a year.

Of course, no matter what we choose, we're going to be convinced at some point that we've ruined our children's lives in this and so many other ways.
posted by Dojie at 10:54 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My son was a September baby, and since he was doing well academically and socially, we started him in kindergarten as soon as he was eligble, even though he could have sat out another year.

When he was a senior in high school, there was a program he really wanted to participant in, but he couldnt because you had to be 18 to qualify.
posted by Billiken at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2012


There really is no rationale for education (as it is organized in North America), except rationality. Why have children sit in rows (or in groups, for that matter) at little desks in a big, boxlike building, listening to an emissary of the State (a teacher) explain what is right, and what is wrong?

As you might expect, I don't understand what is so wrong about a long summer vacation. The weather is warm, ideally there are plenty of other kids to play with, and there are books to read. I remember reading Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn over a summer vacation, in a tent in my back yard, when I was 10 or 11.

Schools themselves are not particularly effective ways to teach children anything, either. We've had to work at home to teach our eldest son math and spelling and penmanship (the important stuff) - we're really just reinforcing and refining the basic instruction that occurs in the classroom.

Our son attends a French immersion program, which means that somehow he's picking up English outside of the classroom. His English reading is not so hot, but he does okay in French. He also reads, writes and speaks Japanese, because we make sure he learns the language in a structured way.

But school as an institution is a great example of the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the time, it's a waste of time.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2012


It's really been eye opening for me reading all these stories of how being the youngest hurt kids. It was honestly not part of my experience. I think I received much more grief from my peers for being smart, tomboyish, and/or an only child that the fact that I was months younger than most never really occurred to us.

I guess it just goes to show that one's experience does not easily equate with another's.

Still think I would have been bored out of my mind if I'd been redshirted. That, and how else would I have gotten my fantastic ability to lie about my age and get into clubs with a shoddily crafted fake ID??
posted by teleri025 at 11:03 AM on March 7, 2012


Schools themselves are not particularly effective ways to teach children anything, either

Not compared to what you are able and motivated to provide, no. But compared to what a lot of children have, it's astonishingly effective.

As you might expect, I don't understand what is so wrong about a long summer vacation. The weather is warm, ideally there are plenty of other kids to play with, and there are books to read

Alternately, you're stuck inside alone because there's nowhere your parents feel safe to let you go, you're watching TV (because there are only twenty books in the house and you don't care about Dan Brown), you're bored and lonely and forgetting everything you learned in school because when they get home the last thing your parents (who still have their only humiliating memories of quadratic equations) want to do is force you into going through something they only half understand.

Of course there are wonderful long summer holidays for many kids, but the evidence that it tends to disadvantage education, and the disadvantaged most of all, is pretty extensive and convincing.

School is a waste of time for those who have better things to do with their time, but it is a sad fact that a hell of a lot of kids actually don't.
posted by howfar at 11:09 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Redshirting needs to be taken in context.

We moved from a school district where the kindergarten cutoff date is 8/31 to a district where the kindergarten cutoff is 12/31 in the middle of the school year. We went to the school district to register my child. Instead of evaluating her for readiness they started her in kindergarten. She wound up in the bottom of a K/1 split class. The bigger kids teased her for being small and didn't let her join their games. Instead of getting basic homework teaching her how to write, she gets spelling tests. Probably we will wind up having her repeat kindergarten to get her skills up, as there is not much time for her to get to grade level by the end of the year.

According to this definition, we are redshirting my daughter. But if we hadn't moved, she'd be at grade level. Although I have problem with redshirting in the abstract, in this case I think it's appropriate. Not all parents make educational decisions for their kids based on trends. Every kid is different and placement can and should be done on a case-by-case basis, preferably with help from teachers.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:15 AM on March 7, 2012


There really is no rationale for education (as it is organized in North America), except rationality. Why have children sit in rows (or in groups, for that matter) at little desks in a big, boxlike building, listening to an emissary of the State (a teacher) explain what is right, and what is wrong?

Diminishing the professional of teachers is not more legitimate when you do in the service of dreams of children reading Huck Finn outside than it is when Rush Limbaugh, et al. do it. That "emissary of the State" is a trained professional who knows more about educating children than you do and for all the faults of the educational system it's a hell of lot more effective than hoping their parents and their internal motivation gets it right which is the only idea you seem to have.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:19 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does an classroom environment such as a Montessori school make this less of an issue? (The school just a few blocks from us is a public Montessori elementary.)
posted by statolith at 12:34 PM on March 7 [+] [!]


I was born August 9 and was always the youngest in my "grade," though I went to Montessori school through third grade. We did have mixed-age classes; I remember there being "lower elementary," that was after kindergarten but up to third, and then "upper elementary," that was fourth and fifth-graders. By what would have been my third grade year, I was put in with the upper elementary kids, making me by far the youngest.

I read at 3, and was always ahead of my cohort in reading, so I didn't notice that as much, but I was treated as the baby by the older kids. None of that gave me any trouble at all, though, till I went to fourth grade in public school. What a culture shock.

I read all of the readers the first week of school, and then proceeded to read all of the stories in the literature textbook. I was constantly in trouble for reading books under my desk during class. By fifth grade, my teachers had taken to just sending me to the library to read by myself because they didn't know what else to do with me.

In hindsight, I was very bored, but I don't know what else they could have done. I was in a GT program, but that was only half a day, once a week. I was already socially awkward just by dint of being so much younger, and skipping ahead wouldn't have helped that.

By high school it was barely noticeable, though -- I graduated at 17 and turned 18 just before freshman year of college. No big deal.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2012


School is a waste of time for those who have better things to do with their time, but it is a sad fact that a hell of a lot of kids actually don't.

I agree with you. In fact, stretching out the school year to 10 months instead of the current 9 months would probably help educational outcomes. The chief complaint teachers have is that there is too much curriculum to cover in the short amount of time there is during the school year.

However, kids already spend far too much time sitting and participating in structured activities, so summer vacation is good for allowing them to be kids (I live in essentially an inner city neighbourhood, in a townhouse complex - we're not middle class).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2012


stupid question--isn't someone always going to be the youngest in the class at this age and slightly behind the others?
posted by Hoopo at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2012


Personal anecdata: late September birthday. Held back in district with Dec. 1 cutoff, moved midyear to district with Sept. 1 cutoff, screened and sent to first grade that fall. Still bitter about missing kindergarten.

More recent anecdata: when the Girl Scout troop I lead started back in kindergarten, the range in skill and maturity levels was huge. It was obvious who had the late August birthday and just made it in and who had the early October birthday and waited a year. Fast forward several years and the gap is still there, just not as huge as it was.

My problem with redshirting is that almost always, it's the boys who are held back while the girls stay on track or are pushed ahead. Lil' Miss Culp is in a district with one 6-12 facility. The middle and high schools are largely separated, but you still have 10-turning-11 girls and 19-year-old boys in the same building. That's a little more of a gap than I'm comfortable with.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2012


Hoopo, not a stupid question: of course someone is. The idea is that people with more privileges (ability to pay for childcare, for instance) can make sure their kid isn't the youngest one.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a November baby that was not redshirted and started kindergarten at age 4. I was the smallest kid in the class through 10th grade, when I finally hit a growth spurt and at least got up to average. I was a major sport-o, but I was never particularly good at anything. So I got the respect of the other boys because I played baseball, football, basketball, etc. I wasn't great at anything, but I didn't suck either. Given the passion to play and effort I put it just to be average as an undersized player, I do sometimes wonder if I might have been a star with the extra year to develop. Oh well, my parents did what they thought was best...

My son is just turned 18, and I have remind myself to back off the pro-active parenting sometimes. I was on my own at away at college at his age.
posted by COD at 11:35 AM on March 7, 2012


Its efficacy is likely difficult to measure, but I have some ideas...
posted by PuppyCat at 11:38 AM on March 7, 2012


(Sigh.) I let my July-born daughter start Kindergarten this year at age 5 years, 1 month, 15 days. Now I'm going to spend the rest of her academic career wondering if I messed up her chances at success by letting her start school on time. What if she's a follower, not a leader? What if she's shorter than average? What if she has less than every possible societal advantage? How could I ever forgive myself? DAMN YOU, METAFILTER! I was so much happier spending my life in ignorance.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, crap. What if she spends her life in ignorance?!?!
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:49 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm, on rereading, the district cutoff dates are backward in my first paragraph. Well, you get the idea. Perhaps if I'd gone to kindergarten that wouldn't have happened.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2012


This article rankles me a little bit.

I wasn't redshirted since my birthday's in January, but after kindergarten I did skip 1st grade. I never felt like there was any sort of gap between me and my classmates who were all a year or so older than me. I was always big for my age so no one really thought I was younger, which may have helped. I never had trouble making friends either. I'm really glad that I was allowed to skip a grade because I would have been absolutely bored out of my mind for an extra year. I ended up graduating at the top of my high school class and went off to college at 17 without much ill effect. What helped me achieve a lot of this were my parents pushing me at home to be ahead of all my classmates even though I was already a year younger.
posted by astapasta24 at 11:58 AM on March 7, 2012


Around here (North Carolina) redshirting is such an entrenched part of the culture that it's become a vicious cycle. Parents with boys born in April and May are starting to hold their kids out until they're 6 1/2. Private schools have kids start with a "TK" year - Transitional Kindergarten.

We redshirted - our boy has an October birthday and would have just squeaked under the wire (cutoff was Oct. 17 when he started -has since been changed to August 31.) We felt that he needed a little extra time to mature and develop social skills. Turns out when he started K at almost 6, he was still way behind the social skills curve - that's when we found out he has Asperger's syndrome. If we'd started school a year earlier, maybe they'd have caught it then. (Or maybe they'd have blamed his challenges on being too young.)
posted by Daily Alice at 12:06 PM on March 7, 2012


I was born in late September in an area where the cut-off was September 1st. I started kindergarten a year 'early'. I would swear up and down that there was no problem/difference being one of the youngest in the grade (I think I was third youngest), save for one thing. I went to college at a public university in a state where the typical cut-off was December 1st or 31st (not sure). From time to time I'd find someone younger than me and it was exciting not being the youngest for once.

Granted, me starting school on time probably would have been a complete disaster. I was bored out of my skull for much of it, so god knows what would have happened if I'd had another year to learn things before I started. Coincidentally, on the subject of advantaged/disadvantaged backgrounds, my mother started school at age 3 and just did the first year (I think) three times. I think my grandmother wasn't really capable of caring for her all day and the easiest/only thing anyone could do with a bright kid in that situation was send her to school.
posted by hoyland at 12:11 PM on March 7, 2012


the diamond shape she drew was actually a "parallelogram"

The even-more-gifted kids were certainly snickering behind your back, insisting it was more accurately a "rhombus."
posted by ShutterBun at 12:42 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not necessarily. All four sides have to be equal for a parallelogram to be a rhombus.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:46 PM on March 7, 2012


...which in a diamond, they probably would be...oh, I'm done talking for today.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:54 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I completely agree with this. I have a pair of boy/girl twins and while they are starting to even out now at almost age 7, she is still at least half a grade ahead of him in reading. In fact, she's way ahead of him in *listening to* reading. I've considered dropping the almost-7 year old boy down to reading time with the almost-5 except that it would be so clear that he's "behind" his supposed-twin sister.

Needless to say, they have basically the same environment. Comparing her to all the boys when they were the same age, she's still way ahead (in fact, in some social things she's ahead of the boys *even without adjusting for age*).


I have the same scenario, at the same age, and six months ago he was way behind her...but he's leapt forward since then, and now he's reading at the same level. It can be hard to determine when you need to step in with class timing, versus when you can help simply by helping them practice, and sometimes just waiting for them to catch up is enough -- after all, if we didn't have another sibling of the same age to compare them to each day, would our sons seem "behind"? I ask myself that every few days.

Interestingly, I went in as a red-shirt back in the 70s, because my birthday fell just after the cutoff date, and I was always the biggest/oldest/most bored kid in my classes. I wasn't a bully, though. Meanwhile my kids are essentially the youngest in their classes, and guess what: they're not the smallest, and they're bored just like I was. Thankfully there was/is no boredom at home for any of us.

The one thing I worry about, then, is the parents who red-shirt intentionally, in lieu of helping their children succeed in school. Kids who are bored in school and out of school, and aren't getting the attention they need, are going to become bullies, especially hanging around kids who are younger than they are. A school with a preponderance of that sort of thing can be a real nightmare for the younger kids.

oh, and on the idea that you lose them a year earlier if you don't red-shirt: true, but if you don't red-shirt, they can take a year off between high school and college to work and save up some money, without seeming too old for college. That's a good thing, I suspect.
posted by davejay at 12:59 PM on March 7, 2012


What those of you who don't have kids yet may not realize is how much kindergarten has changed in 30 years. It used to be mostly social skills, learn your colors, know the alphabet, etc., and was more often half-day. And had recess in that half-day. Now most kindergartens are whole-day. Recesses (even in kindergarten!) are limited. Kids are often regimented into seats and free movement is limited.

It's hard to ask 5-year-old girls to sit still for 6-7 hours. It is CRUEL to ask 5-year-old boys to sit still for 6-7 hours, and for a lot of boys, it starts them a path of spending their entire school careers in trouble for behavioral issues. By the time their maturity catches up to school expectations, usually when they're 7 or 8, many have already decided they're screw-ups and will never be good at school.

One reason to have the conversation about red-shirting is that it highlights the fact that kindgertarten and to a lesser extent first grade have become developmentally inappropriate for 5- and 6-year-old children (but in particular boys), partly due to testing pressures. And having your first experiences of school be frustrating and boring and having you constantly in trouble for behaving like a normal 5-year-old is seriously problematic and undermines the entire rest of a child's school life.

(There is no difference between kids who begin reading at age 2 and kids who begin reading at age 6 by 5th grade, and no long-term difference academically, so it's relatively stupid to be worrying about who can READ in kindergarten (who is being read to is more important). There is, however, a lasting difference between kids who get to play at age 5 and kids who don't. The social skills HAVE to be practiced and learned. It's not innate.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:46 PM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Our son is born 6 days before the cut-off date, so in pre-k and at kindergarten he was always the youngest. He always liked school, but had hard time with stuff like writing letters repeatedly while loving anything math or logic related assignments.

At the end of the kindergarten we had lot of questions whether he should be held back. My wife was very much for it, while I was not sure at all.

He is now throwing at kindergarten - pro-actively picking-up more assignments, socially much better adjusted, etc. Best decision we ever made.
posted by zeikka at 1:52 PM on March 7, 2012


throwing = thriving
posted by zeikka at 1:53 PM on March 7, 2012


My daughter thankfully has stopped complaining (now that she's in fifth grade!) that we didn't push her ahead into kindergarten (she missed the cut-off by 3 weeks.) Partially this is becuase she got into a TAG program so she does work at the level she's capable of rather than the grade level. I think it also helps that she's not the only older kid in the class (there are at least three other September birthdays.)

I used to tell her that it's not a race but I think it was pretty hard on her for a while. So, I'm definitely not letting her read the NYT article!
posted by vespabelle at 1:53 PM on March 7, 2012


I know Malcolm Gladwell doesn't always get the greatest reception here, but his book Outliers touches on this quite a bit -- mostly with respect to sports. Most Canadian hockey all-stars tend to have January-March birthdays IIRC.

It's a fun read that helps address a lot of the "bootstraps" mythologies surrounding powerful, influential, and wealthy figures that climbed their way to the top thanks to a combination of raw talent, a passion cultivated by their parents, and series of advantageous events.

I'm pretty sure my son is going to be redshirted but he's 4 years old at this point and we have a little more time to decide. My wife participated in a "charter-ish" school program in high school and has a lot of respect for many of the teachers who made a significant impression on her development. She's gotten a lot of advice on this from one of these teachers who is a strong advocate for redshirting when appropriate. Boy - check...precocious - check...hyperactive as all get-out - check. But like I said, he's 4 and those things a re normal, and we're still deliberating and probably will keep thinking about it until we are forced to make a decision.

We're certainly doing our best to ensure that he's got a passion for learning for the sake of learning -- his current obsession is astronomy and natural disasters and he's in that 200 questions-per-day phase, which are are doing our best to encourage, and we also encourage him to raise questions in preschool as well. He's been conducting a lot of thought experiments lately about lava flows and gas giants and loves nothing more than to go outside at night and look at planets and constellations :)
posted by aydeejones at 2:02 PM on March 7, 2012


In Toronto, the cut off is Dec 31/Jan 1, not Sept. 1.

It makes absolutely no difference, you just have 5.5 year olds starting grade one with 6.5 year olds.
posted by jb at 2:03 PM on March 7, 2012


I was born in the summer and was one of the younger kids in school. I wasn't ready and struggled. Consequently I got "held back", as they called it back then, in first grade. The image of being the kid who repeated first grade followed me pretty much until high school. I turned out okay, but it isn't a pleasant experience. Many boys would do better to start school around age 6 from what I've observed.
posted by dgran at 2:07 PM on March 7, 2012


I got the feeling recently in Australia that this redshirting had become quite popular - however, with increases in the cost of child care and preschool more and more kids are starting school "on-time", because sending a kid to a public school is far, far cheaper than paying child care fees.

I'm a June baby in a state where the cutoff was June 30 - so I was always amongst the youngest in my class, even all the way through university - I turned 18 after the first semester of uni. But I was more than ready for school - reading well before I started kindergarten. I know that even if I wasn't ready, I probably still would have started school because preschool was expensive.

The only time I felt that being young disadVantaged me was when I was looking at gap year programs as an alternative to going straight to university, most of which required that you were 18. Looking back I think it was good that I went straight to uni - I was far to immature to take off overseas on my own. I don't think that immaturity was due to my being at the younger end of my grade though, more just a late bloomer type of thing.
posted by cholly at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2012


I wish I could say that being at the young end of my class (which had lots of redshirted kids and one boy who was so old as to presumably be double-redshirted) could be blamed for my social awkwardness, non-athleticism, and ambivalent attitude toward getting schoolwork done, but unfortunately our valedictorian (/varsity athlete/homecoming court/current holder of two Ivy League degrees) had skipped a grade and is a good 6 months younger than I am. I hate her so.
posted by naoko at 2:43 PM on March 7, 2012


I was always the youngest kid in my class, having an October birthday and entering Kindegarten at Age 4. I turned out fine, but that isn't the point-- most of Gladwell's comments in the piece and elsewhere are about the effects of cumulative advantage, which is the idea that not only do you get an advantage that first year, but that that advantage accumulates over time as teachers pay more attention to the brighter, more social kids, as do their peers.

In our situation, both of our children have late Summer birthdays. Our daughter went to K at 5 and is thus one of the youngest, our son went at 6 and is among the oldest. It seems to have been a good decision for both of them, especially the boy.

The only thing that I find annoying about this is that it's a formal practice now, and that some parents seem to be abusing what should be a legitimately tough decision to make about when a child enters school. All children are different.
posted by cell divide at 3:00 PM on March 7, 2012


My crazy pie-in-the-sky notion would be to teach children at whatever level they're at in a given subject and stop pretending that one-size-fits-all education based on age was ever a good idea.
posted by Zed at 3:14 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we hadn't put our eldest son into school last year, aged 4*, there would have been a fatality. There was no way that he was going to hang around home and kinder doing all the dumb stuff for another year. So he's 18 months younger than some kids. He doesn't mind.

He'll mind when he can't legally drink at O-week.


*school in Victoria usually starts at age 5-6 with a 'prep' (preparatory) year before 12 years of schooling.

Eyebrows McGee, sorry but that is not kinder, you are wrong. Kinder is still lots and lots of play and fingerpaints, very little deskbound stuff.
posted by wilful at 3:15 PM on March 7, 2012


I'm a September baby so depending on locale, I could go either way. It went the way it did supposedly because I was socially immature and extremely, extremely, extremely physically tiny (a head shorter than the next shortest person even when I was among the oldest in the grade). Even though I could read at 3. I couldn't not pull someone's hair if it looked eminently pull able.

I'm also a September baby, reading by 3, and couldn't behave myself to save my life.

My parents devised a compromise with the school. I would go to a special "in between" class after kindergarten for kids who were - for whatever reason - not ready for first grade. Some kids were there for academic reasons, others for social issues. I was doing second grade work but also learning how not to steal lunches or cause general mayhem. The agreement was that after this, rather than going to first grade, I would go ahead to second - thus putting me as one of the younger kids in the grade I would have originally been in.

It worked out... well... let's face it, I was never NOT going to think the other kids were insipid. I so should have been home schooled for the common good, but so it goes. Being a grade behind would have been so much worse as maladjusted as I was socially, I was at least a grade ahead in math and two grades ahead in reading.

I've recently realized that this did me absolutely no favors in adulthood. While I've never had problems with my work ethic - I have occasionally had issues where I just sort of *expect* to be good at something, even if it's something pretty new to me, and then when I'm not... I just drop it and/or get angry. I was always at the top of my class as a kid and never had to put in any effort into actually *learning* things, even if I was putting in a lot of busywork doing homework and taking exams. Socially, it would have been a total disaster for me to be any further ahead than I was - I could barely manage to interact in any kind of reasonable way as it was (not out of awkwardness, but rather out of total frustration that I felt every other kid was an idiot. This may or may not have had a grain of truth, but really is no excuse for constant assholery on my part, except, y'know, I was five.) - but...

... yeah, I was pretty much a case for homeschooling. Only my mother realized that this would have been the right course when it was already kind of too late. So it goes.

As for my own son - he's a March baby so when it gets to the point where he's ready for school, he'll already be one of the older kids in his class. I can't imagine holding him back a year unless it was really and truly necessary - which wouldn't make it "redshirting" so much as "holding him back because he's not actually ready."

The redshirting thing really seems to me like a slippery slope - if enough parents start doing this in earnest, the age range is going to be skewed so that kids who are currently a "normal" age for their grade are suddenly going to be a whole *year* younger and that's going to create a new set of issues entirely.
posted by sonika at 3:28 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our cutoff here is 9/5. My daughter was born 10/13. If you're within 6 weeks of the cutoff date, you can have your kid "tested in" to kindergarten so they start when they are 4 almost 5 instead of starting when they are 5 almost 6. My husband and I were very, very torn about this, and asked everyone we knew for advice -- including a good friend who teaches second grade in our school district, and who knows my daughter.

She said, "Absolutely do not test her in. She is bright and advanced, but she is small for her age. Plus she has big feelings and is super-stubborn, and those are a bad combination for the kind of work that kindergarten expects you to do these days. If she is SO bright that her age-grade is inappropriate for her, then just moving her up by one year won't do any good; but if you move her more than one year ahead, then the class will be inappropriate for her for other reasons, like attention span and basic cognitive development that's unrelated to intelligence. Either leave her in her age-grade, or send her to private school, but testing her in ahead is unlikely to work out well."

So, we left her in her fabulous (and expensive) Montessori preschool this year, and she'll go into full-day kindergarten next year. The extra year in the Montessori program has been truly excellent for her, not just academically but socially and emotionally/cognitively. She'll still be small for the class, but I think she'll be ahead of the game everywhere else. Of course, maybe she'll be bored, but . . . I don't know. It's so hard to know what to do.

I have to emphasize though that kindergarten these days is not what it was when I was a kid. Kids are expected to ENTER kindergarten knowing all their numbers, all their letters, and simple phonics. They have homework for pete's sake! And one recess, in a 7 hour school day. That is an environment in which I don't think my 4 almost 5 year old daughter would have done particularly well.
posted by KathrynT at 3:38 PM on March 7, 2012


When my son was 4 1/2, we went to the local school where they tested him to see if he was ready for kindergarten. Say what? Shouldn't kindergarten be ready for him? He was read to, properly nourished, loved, etc. Our school district had Early Kindergarten, and some kids spent a year in Early K, then a year in K. The principal and the tester were convinced that I was an overbearing Mom who was concerned that her baby would fail the test. They assured me that I'd be able to see the results, and would be able to discuss them. "Just call us" they said.

Here's why I didn't/don't like it:
- For every classroom of Early K, taxpayers are spending the money to educate those children for an extra year; that's a large expense.
- When 40 - 50% of kids spend a year in Early K, that means that classroom groups now span 2 years.
- If my kid tested into K, that means, with his August birthday, that he'd be the youngest in a 2-year cohort.
- Readiness is 1 thing; maybe some kids need more time, but actual developmental capability is pretty variable, and heavily dependent on home/daycare/etc. But kids make up for that pretty quickly.
- School has to be able to deal with children as they are. Kids have developmental growth spurts, too. If a kid has a rough patch in grade 3, we don't have to hold him back, we should be able to give him support while he develops in whatever way his brain and body need to develop.
- the testing didn't account for physical ability(sports) and other developmental growth. If a child has been doing lots of sports, her brain has been exercised, too, but not in the ways they test. Same with music, imaginative play, or pretty much any activity except watching tv, or being locked in a closet.
- There was no after-K childcare in the school area, and they won't bus kids to another area, even nearby. 2 years of trying to figure out after-K care?

So, a month or so later, we got a notice that he tested into K. I had questions and called the school to discuss them. The tester, and everybody else, was gone for the summer. We said Screw this, and he went to a private Kindergarten connected to a daycare even though we really couldn't afford it.

My experience with public school for my son stayed pretty horrible for 12 years. Teachers try hard, people care, but Education is fad-driven and bureaucratic. There has to be a better way to give children a useful education that prepares them for work and life.

On preview, KathrynT, I totally agree. Way too much homework, way too little physical education/recess. I think a good, active recess would keep more kids off ADHD meds.
posted by theora55 at 3:46 PM on March 7, 2012


You people (Kathryn, theora, Eyebrows) have a bizarre kindergarten system. Homework? Limited play? WTF? My son's kinder (which is not exceptional, it is the standard council owned one, run by the YMCA), they get into little groups to cut stuff up, they finger paint, they are read stories, they spend hours outside, they have chooks, they have a vegie garden. 12 hours a week, government mandated to increase to 15 hours a week (over three days) by next year. Devoted teacher with a tertiary qualification. One teacher and one helper for 20 kids (plus a parent or two typically there, always very welcome) All the kids are 4 or 5 (my boy was three at the start of the year, but had absolutely no problems). There's certainly no homework. This is par for the course, this is the experience we expected and got.
posted by wilful at 3:59 PM on March 7, 2012


I think a good, active recess would keep more kids off ADHD meds.

I could not agree more strongly if I tried with both hands for a fortnight. I think a lot of kids just need to be run like greyhounds. After my daughter gets out of preschool, we go straight to the YMCA, where she has extremely active play for another hour, hour and a half. Our days are MUCH better when she gets that; we've had to skip it the past few days because her baby brother has pneumonia, and it makes the whole day horrible.

On preview: wilful, this is our local school district kindergarten. It's run as part of our elementary schools; it's in the same building, on the same schedule, with the same school bus as the first through fifth graders. What you're talking about is called "preschool" where I am.
posted by KathrynT at 4:07 PM on March 7, 2012


So I guess the rest of this thread is going to be people from Asia, then Europe and Africa, then derelict oil rigs in the Atlantic, all logging in to tell the Americans that their early education system sucks.
posted by No-sword at 4:11 PM on March 7, 2012


No-sword, if that's your takeout from my posts, your school system has failed *you* specifically.

kathryn, ah, I see. What did Churchill say: "divided by a common language".

Yes my son is in "prep", which is part of seven years of primary school, he has a teacher and has to mostly sit still, with formal classes and a book to read every night. This is for five and six year olds.
posted by wilful at 4:19 PM on March 7, 2012


Reading through this whole thread is making me glad that through whatever metric of "planning" went into it, my son ended up with an early spring birthday rather than a fall one. And honestly, in terms of education, is making me think that this would be a beneficial trend for future babbies.

(Which, was sort of the plan anyway. My husband and I have birthdays six days apart in August/September and really, fall is lousy with holidays.)

(What? Normal people don't plan several years ahead w/r/t potential birthdays and thinking about how many cakes will be eaten in a season? Oh.)
posted by sonika at 4:25 PM on March 7, 2012


willful:Eyebrows McGee, sorry but that is not kinder, you are wrong. Kinder is still lots and lots of play and fingerpaints, very little deskbound stuff.

I'm sure that's true where you are, but here in Texas, Kinder is basically what 1st grade used to be. There are arts and crafts, sure, but my daughter has homework four nights a week, and plenty of reading and math during the day. She seems to like it well enough, but it's a long way from preschool.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2012


I started kindergarten at the age of four years, nine months. (Born in December of '83; started school in September of '88.) My parents had to convince my school that this was a good idea, because I was smart. I turned out okay, academically.

(I may not have turned out okay as a human being, but I blame that on other things.)
posted by madcaptenor at 4:30 PM on March 7, 2012


Here is what my government says about starting kinder (which is the year before formal schooling, and determines the schedule from there on).
posted by wilful at 4:31 PM on March 7, 2012


My crazy pie-in-the-sky notion would be to teach children at whatever level they're at in a given subject and stop pretending that one-size-fits-all education based on age was ever a good idea.
This actually works extremely well. I went to a computer-oriented "magnet" public school for elementary education, and before I left my class was trying out individualized learning programs. These gave you more time to study subjects and subtopics where you were having trouble, while allowing you to avoid pointlessly repetitive busy work in areas where you could move ahead quickly. The teachers' time could then be far more focused on the students' rare problem occasions when the programmed instruction was insufficient for them. The result was that, for the years and the subjects where they tried this out, pretty much all of us progressed faster and had fewer gaps in our educations develop along the way.

That's especially impressive considering that these were new, basically experimental programs - after a few years of examining the results and improving the designs accordingly, we ought to... WAIT A MINUTE IT'S BEEN TWENTY YEARS NOW; WHO DROPPED THE BALL!?!
posted by roystgnr at 4:33 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an August birthday. I graduated HS when I was 17, and had a friend who was almost 19 in my class. He was never really mature, and I think being redshirted sucked for him.

I've always competed, always been capable of not being last at anything, but occasionally first, and more often than not, a step ahead of most.

My oldest went into K early. She occasionally falls into the middle of the pack, and has some issues with spelling. My youngest also went in early, and she is crazy smart.

I think people are different. The academic challenges are very different from the social challenges, and I think that working hard is what differentiates some kids from others. That, and how much we as parents demand of our kids. My parents struggled with their youngest child's academic issues...after 3 kids who went early or in "normal" time. I'm not sure it's not just a crap shoot.

I will say, however, having a sibling one year ahead of me in school really gave me a lot of advantages, so there may be something to the socialization thing.
posted by Chuffy at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I substitute taught in Kindergarten today. This was the schedule, to the best of my recollection:

Check in/Morning work: 40 minutes
Whole group reading: 30
Reading work stations: 75
Library: 20
Lunch: 15
Recess: 15
Writing: 45
Art: 50
Math: 60
Unit studies: 40

Literally the only times the kids are allowed to stand up and walk somewhere without express adult direction/permission is during reading work stations and recess. 100 minutes of physical freedom, and of course the vast majority of that is not playtime. It's really kind of unbelievable how bad things have gotten.

My son was born this year exactly on our new kindergarten cutoff date (July 31st) and I do wonder whether I will hold him back that year/day. Kindergarten is really freaking hard for kids who need to talk and move around every once in a while, and what really scares me is just how easy it is to get used to being in trouble. Age/social/size, whatever. I just don't want him to be the kid who developmentally can't sit still and shut up and is suddenly on a behavior plan and used to the principal's office. That's a path it's hard to get off of.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:44 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, a thousand times yes to what Eyebrows McGee and that's how you get ants said earlier. My mom remembers napping in school in first grade, for Pete's sake. School's just not like that any more. I have two boys, one with an early August birthday and one with a late January birthday. Our district has a 1 Sept cutoff. We are redshirting the older one.

I was one of the youngest (two years; graduated HS at 16) in my class and my husband was, too. We were both late bloomers physically, so that was also fun. Although MarmotSon#1 is huge for his age, he still naps almost daily and is immature in some other ways as well.

We did it after preschool and before K, because we talked to lots of parents in our area and the general consensus is that there's no stigma if it's done now, but being held back later is socially problematic. No one we spoke with had regretted it, but a few, who were looking at having their younger boys repeat 1st or 2nd grade, wished they had done it. We still agonized over it, especially after a heated argument with our pediatrician.

Oh well. Just one more thing to toss a dollar in the therapy jar over.
posted by marmot at 6:46 PM on March 7, 2012


neither of my kids went to kindergarden and entered school reading and writing and doing math at their grade level (THING1 4th grade, THING2 1st grade).

no, you don't need to send your kids to kindergarden. it's called un/homeschooling.
posted by liza at 7:24 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My daughter has a late July birthday. She is the youngest in her class - *every child* with an August birthday, boy and girl, was redshirted. So some of the kids in her class are almost an entire year older. We went back and forth on whether to keep her out another year or not, but after a lot of talk with her preschool teachers, we were convinced she was ready. It has worked out well for her, really. At least for now, she's only in third grade.

A friend who has a daughter with a similar birthday ended up switching schools and having her daughter repeat her second grade year, because she was just not ready. So that July/August birthday thing can be tricky, really depending on the child.

My elder son has a late October birthday. My husband wanted to test him to start kindergarten before his 5th birthday, but I and everyone else agreed that while he might be able to do the work, he was not nearly mature enough. Even now, at almost 5.5, he's less mature than his sister was at that age. I'm not redshirting him, but I'm glad he'll be older (turning 6 a couple months after school starts).

The baby has a January birthday. Barring some significant signs that he's not ready, he'll start kindergarten when he's 5.

My husband was the reverse of redshirted - he started kindergarten shortly before 5 (early October birthday), but was quickly moved up to first grade, and then he completely skipped a later grade in elementary school. That means he started college at 16, grad school at 20, and had his PhD at 26. He's brilliant, but being so much younger was so bad for him socially and emotionally, though he'll never admit it. I've known him since the beginning of undergrad, and I swear he didn't become a reasonable adult until he was 30. I'd like to avoid that for our kids.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:30 PM on March 7, 2012


I never had any of this early-late shit since I was born in spring, but I got held back to repeat kindergarten another year for not being "socially developed." Which is to say, I had glasses and was an obvious nerd and every single kid in my kindergarten class hated my guts from first sight on, so clearly it was all my fault.

While on the one hand it's kind of ridiculous to have graduated from high school at 19 (I could have been driving cars as a freshman had I not developed driving phobia), and I always felt kinda stupid for being held back and yet being in the gifted program at school...in all honesty, that did work out better for me because I was born small and scared and nerdy, and my second kindergarten class wasn't filled with assholes, so I had a lot less issues there. But on the other hand, as long as you don't tell anyone your exact age in school (or my high school graduation date to people my actual age), mostly folks don't care.

So! Redshirts for all! Unless you somehow have a super large, super precocious kid, I guess.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 PM on March 7, 2012


Redshirting is a bit whatever for me: what I find really awful is how poorly disabilities are identified and treated in most school systems. My sister repeated the first grade as they thought she had been just a bit too young the first time and it was only after that second year that teachers twigged perhaps they ought to do something more than 'try again'.

Myself, I was always the youngest in class, thought I didn't really think about it that much except when I started university and was too young to join any of the social clubs which made it very difficult to make friends. I started university the month after I turned 17 and finished grad school at 20. I often think I might have had a better experience if I had waited a year, as my brother ended up doing - he repeated the 12th grade to get a better mark to enter his chosen degree and really benefited from being just that bit older.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:52 AM on March 8, 2012


So! Redshirts for all! Unless you somehow have a super large, super precocious kid, I guess.

Oh man, being held back a year would have been the worst for me. I wasn't large, but "super precocious, super asshole" would sum it up.
posted by sonika at 4:51 AM on March 8, 2012


So, my birthday is December 23. And I was small for my age and scrawny besides. But my state didn't have a mandatory cutoff date before the end of the year; it was up to the parents' discretion. Since I was already reading and verbally precocious, my parents decided to go ahead and put me in first grade after kindergarten.

Strikingly similar to olinerd's experience, my writing wasn't right, which required my mom to do some intervention with the school to get me tested so that I'd be placed in an academically appropriate class.

I always felt sorry for the kids who had been held back, a year older than me but stuck in my same grade. I remember telling my parents that I would have been furious if they'd done that -- who wants to be "only" a third grader when you could be a fourth grader? Who wants to be stuck in middle school when by all rights, you could be in high school by now?

But I wouldn't have been any better off socially if I had been held back another year. I still would've been a bookworm who despised kickball and had wispy blond-white hair and slightly off-beat interests -- it's not as if I was super-cool among the kids in my neighborhood and church who were a few months younger than myself. And I would have probably done even worse academically -- I was already so far ahead in reading level that I would have been even more deathly bored, and an extra year of "confidence" would not have made math worksheets any more effective as a teaching tool.
posted by desuetude at 7:46 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh man, being held back a year would have been the worst for me.

I was an early reader and at the head of my class, but I wasn't precocious nor large, and yeah, getting held back for me would have been an unspeakable horror. There was a fairly negative stigma around getting held back in my day, and while I wasn't precocious, I was very sensitive and insecure.

Who wants to be stuck in middle school when by all rights, you could be in high school by now?

Exactly. That basically starts in kindergarten. To first graders, kindergarteners are babies. It's ridiculous, but a lot of childhood is ridiculous.

no, you don't need to send your kids to kindergarden. it's called un/homeschooling.

Reading this thread makes me want to quit my job and spend my children's kindergarten years unschooling them. (Actually, I'd do it in a heartbeat if I could afford to.)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:54 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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