The Gift of Time




Redshirting, a term most often associated with giving college athletes an extra year of eligibility, has replaced the phrase held back when it comes to describing the process of having children repeat their first year of school. I am fine with that, as I’ve long despised the stigma attached to the expression “held back.” My husband and I never felt we were holding our children back from anything; quite the opposite, in fact. We felt we were giving our kids, one who was born in late spring and the other a few weeks before the school year begins, the gift of time.

For us, the decision to have our children spend two years in the 5-6 year-old class was a no-brainer. Did you notice that I wrote 5-6 year-old class, and not kindergarten? It is much easier to redshirt your child when the system to do so is already in place. At the time of my daughter’s enrollment, there were several kids, all born between June and August, who entered her school with the same plan in mind. This made the process easier, as the kids didn’t feel as if they were being singled out. And because the school was private, the curriculum was designed to accommodate the skill set of both older and younger children.

I graduated from high school a few weeks prior to my 17th birthday. I realize now just how very young that was. It wasn’t my intention to graduate at the age of 16. My birthday is in June and I was always on the younger side, but for most of my childhood I attended Montessori where the practice is to mix children of different ages, so age was never really an issue. That was until it was time for me to exit Montessori. The plan was that I would attend the 8th grade at a more traditional school, but I was wait-listed; so I skipped the 8th grade entirely and began high school at the age of 13.

At the time, I would have told you that I was perfectly comfortable with being the youngest in my grade. I could keep up academically–and socially–I would be just fine.

This is what I would say about it now:

~ I hated that I wasn’t able to drive until my junior year and was beyond embarrassed that I had to bum rides from my friends, most of whom could drive a full year before me. As a parent, I am thrilled that my daughter drove before the majority of her peers. I prefer my children being in the driver’s seat.

~Older kids are often put in the leadership position, by both peers and teachers. I’ve never been one to follow, just not who I am, but… as I look back now, I can see that being younger did make me more self-conscious and less likely to take charge. My kids are both leaders, they are very confident, and again, I think that has a lot to do with who they are, but I also believe that being older and having had time to mature, helped.

~I didn’t want anything I said or did (or didn’t say, or didn’t do) attributed to the fact that I was younger.  I never wanted to be thought of as the “baby.” So, I probably did some things sooner than I would have had I been surrounded by people who were my age. Nothing horrible, I’ve always been a rule follower, but I did sneak into R rated movies when everyone else was old enough to see them and I wasn’t.  And I took a joy ride with someone, who while older than me, was still not old enough to be legally licensed to drive. I remember not wanting to get in the car with her, but doing so anyway because I wanted to fit in. I did other things too, but I won’t go into the details here. I don’t see this type of behavior in either of my kids. Again, I think being older means you tend to lead, not follow.

~And while I had good grades, I think maybe, attending the 8th grade would have helped. Pretty sure my lack of algebraic ability can be traced back to missing a full year of math. My kids, on the other hand, both had an extra year to get the fundamentals down–that’s never a bad thing.

If you are facing the decision of whether or not to redshirt your child, I highly recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s novel Outliers. Gladwell devotes an entire chapter to how being older benefits male hockey players in Canada. You might not be Canadian, or plan on your son playing hockey, but if you have a child with a summer birthday, I’d say this is required reading.

An article in today’s Daily Beast inspired me to write this post. The author looks at why the practice of redshirting is potentially harmful. You can read that point of view here.

My daughter will be heading to college soon and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that she will be 19 when she gets there. Recent studies of the brain have shown that the frontal lobe, the area that is responsible for reasoning, is not fully formed until the age of 21–why not give kids a little more time to grow into their brains?

What are your thoughts on redshirting?


12 responses

  1. Timely article for me. My little guy could start kindegarten this coming fall (ate the age of 4 almost 5), but we’re holding him so he will start the following year. Being a sensitive child, I think he needs that extra time; it has nothing to do with sports.

    I even wonder if my June baby should be held; as I am a June and felt like the youngest in my class.

    In my opinion, if most states say the cutoff should be September, then that’s the rule I’m going to follow. California is changing their laws in the coming years, but I’m going to take that as a hint and follow that rule now.

  2. I would never allow my children to go through being the youngest as i did.

    At 17, I was in no way, shape, or form prepared to go away to college. I may not have realized then, but I have often wondered how it would/could have been different had my parents not start me so early (November).

  3. Agree 100%. My wife is an elementary school educator with public and private school experience and strongly believes parents are much too anxious to “get ahead”. Overall, older in the grade level is a better situation.

  4. It depends on the child. Academically, I was always ready for the grade I was in. Socially and physically, I was behind. The year I started first grade – 1976, they started instituting the September 1st cutoff date for kids to be 6 when they started first grade. My birthday was September 10th. My parents wanted me to go to school with my kidergarten friends and I passed test to do so, so I went. I was the youngest kid for 12 years. I was also the smallest boy in my class until the 9th grade. I hated being young and small.

    My youngest daughter is 6 and in kindergarten. Her b-day is Sept 12th. Academically she could be in first grade. Socially and physically, no way. I’m glad she’s going to be 19 when she started college.

  5. I agree with Mike I graduated from high school at 17 (December Birthday), I was in not ready to go away for college. My middle child was on the cusp with an late August Birthday and we delayed him starting kindergarten. No regrets and feel it benefitted him.

  6. I decided to have my oldest repeat Kindergarten and looking back the only thing that I wished I would have done differently was to not put him in at 5 years old in the first place. It was hard for me to explain why he was doing kindergarten again and his friends were moving on to 1st grade. But my son clearly wasn’t ready at that time to go to 1st grade and I know now it will form him into a more self confident person in the long run. Thank you for your post. I wish more parents would stop trying to push their children through life and just allow them to be who they are.

  7. this is so interesting to me because it hits home for us right now – our daughter just turned 4 at the end of january, but she’s in the 4-5 year old classroom and most of her buddies will start kindergarten this fall. she’ll wait until the fall of 2012 to start, so she’ll do a year of “jr. kindergarten” at her current school. and while i’ve questioned it at times, because she seems ready for regular kindergarten, i’m glad she’ll get that extra time. i think the book “nurture shock” talks about it too, about starting kids in kindergarten before they are ready.

    also: i’d love to hear your take on montessori school someday!

  8. My birthday was October 18 and I was the second youngest kid in my class for 12 years (one girl was ten days younger). Truthfully, it never hurt me as I was always a decent sized kid and academically did very well. That said, from an athletic standpoint there were kids that were older than me playing in the grade behind me. The guy who was the star football, baseball, and basketball player at my school was a nice guy… and was also born on October 18… exactly one year before me. That one year might have had a major impact on my athletic career. That said, I am still best friends with the guy I met in 9th grade at baseball tryouts when it was made apparent that we weren’t going to be among the chosen few. So, I really don’t think I’d change a thing.

  9. I had no idea you were so young. That is young. I can’t even imagine. What is nice about the school we’re at now is that they have a class set up for kids that won’t go on to kindergarten. They’re just a bit older but they will never know the difference. It does bug me to no end that most parents I run into cite driving as the main reason to hold their kids back. Maybe that’s an easy response, but still, there’s so much more to it than that I would hope.

    • I get why parents don’t want other kids driving their kids around, but I agree, that should not be the main reason for having a child repeat a grade. I wish all schools offered a “transition to kindergarten” program. Having seen the difference between what my children have experienced versus what I did–I think it is a no-brainer.

  10. I commented the first time around, but with my teenage daughter in her junior year of high school and deciding on colleges already, my perspective is even more refined, I think. My daughter will be 18 and a half when she graduates. That’s 9 months older than I was when I graduated high school. Her maturity level is greater than mine was at that age (many would argue she’s more mature than dad, now.

    I think redshirting is not only a great idea, but the most sound one.

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