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Should I “redshirt” my child for kindergarten?

kindergarten redshirtingRedshirting is a term originally used to describe a college athlete who does not compete for a year in order to grow in size, strength, and/or skill in order to give him or her an extra year of eligibility.  The term is now frequently used in discussions about whether or not to start a young 5 year old in kindergarten.  To redshirt a child means to not enroll him in kindergarten even though he is 5 years old by the cut off date, September 1.

While growing in popularity, the data on redshirting is fairly consistent — there does not appear to be any long-term advantage.  A redshirted kindergartner may sail through the first few years of elementary school ahead of the class, but the rest of the class has caught up by middle school and at that point may even surpass the redshirted child.

Studying the Issue

One of the most extensive studies on redshirting was published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in 2006.  This study tracked over 6,000 children and compared long-term social and educational outcomes of 5-year-olds who were redshirted to those who were not.  The results found that delaying kindergarten does not create any long-term advantages for children.  In fact, children who started kindergarten at the younger end of the age group (having recently turned 5 years old at the time kindergarten started) had better long-term outcomes than students who were redshirted.  Specific findings that came out of this study include:

  • Children who were redshirted had lower standardized test scores (measured at 8th, 10th and 12th grade), were less likely to attend college, and more likely to have behavior problems than children of the same age who were not redshirted.
  • Redshirted children were no more likely to participate in varsity sports than children of the same age who attended kindergarten at their scheduled time.
  • Any perceived academic advantage that parents or teachers observe usually wash out by 3rd grade and can wash out by 1st
  • Parents and teachers tend to misperceive the short-term advantages and do not notice the potential long-term impact.

The results of this study are consistent with other similar studies that have been conducted on redshirting.  Basically all the existing research says there is no long-term advantage.  Some of the disadvantages of redshirting might be overstated in the existing research because when redshirting came into practice it was typically done because the child was not demonstrating kindergarten “readiness” according to parents, teachers or other health providers.  That is, historically children were redshirted because people felt they had behavior issues or were not academically ready, so this group was likely predisposed to some difficulties in the long-term.  In today’s education system, children and parents have the option to redshirt simply because there are more “Young 5” or “Junior Kindergarten” class options in schools.  The long-term outcomes of children who are redshirted in these classes are less clear, but it is safe to say there are likely no real long-term advantages.

Making the Choice

Redshirting a child from kindergarten is a complex issue with many different viewpoints. There is no absolute test or analysis that measures a child’s readiness. If you have a child with a summer birthday and have some concerns about starting your child in kindergarten, start by discussing the topic with a behavioral health professional or your pediatrician.  He or she can help guide your decision-making.

While most of the studies indicate no long-term benefit academically, socially, or athletically, more current studies are needed because of the increase opportunities parents have to redshirt their children.  If you are on the fence about whether or not to send your child to kindergarten, it is probably best to send him or her as there is no evidence that suggests redshirting helps.

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blake lancaster phd 2Blake Lancaster, PhD, is a Licensed Psychologist and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child Behavioral Health at the University of Michigan Health System. His clinical practice focuses on providing behavioral health services in primary care pediatric settings using the integrated behavioral health co-location model. This integrated approach allows for delivery of empirically-based treatments for a wide variety of behavioral health concerns that arise in primary care pediatric settings (e.g., sleep problems, toileting issues, ADHD problems, anxiety, depression and general behavior problems).

The following individuals contributed to this post:

  • Erin Seif, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Departments of Pediatrics & Psychology, The Ohio State University
  • Andrew Cook, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Pediatric Psychology, University of Michigan Health System
  • Teryn Bruni, M.A., Psychology Intern, Division of Pediatric Psychology, University of Michigan Health System

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University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.