Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has been working with children, adolescents, families, and schools since 1990, and has written dozens of articles and several books about children and adolescents. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for Parents Space, 'Ask Dr Dona.' Please send your questions to her at the e-address below. She'll do her best to answer your question as quickly as possible.

rsz 4 year old boy at easel 150x150 Redshirting Pros and Cons: Is It a Good Idea to Delay Kindergarten Entry?Question: My friends are telling me I should be ‘redshirting’ my son—keeping him in preschool one more year, to let him enter kindergarten as one of the older kids. Ryder was born in September, so he should be starting kindergarten this year, along with all the other kids born in 2008. I think he’s ready to start now, and we’re spending a fortune on preschool. But is redshirting the best thing for Ryder?

Answer: Redshirting is becoming an increasingly popular way for ambitious parents to give their children—especially boys—an academic, social, and athletic advantage. You’re right to wonder about it, though, because it certainly isn’t the best idea for every child.

Here are some of the factors for you to consider:

  1. Sex. Because boys tend to develop more slowly in their academic and school-readiness skills (especially the ability to sit still and focus on teacher-directed tasks), redshirting is advised more frequently for boys than girls.
  2. Age. Ryder’s September birthday puts him on the younger side of the age spectrum for this year’s kindergarten. By redshirting him, though, you’d make him considerably older than everyone who hadn’t been redshirted, which might mean he finds the kids too young to be interesting.
  3. Size. Children who are small for their age are better candidates for redshirting. Kids who are already big for their age can feel out of place a year later.
  4. Fine and gross motor skills. Children whose physical co-ordination is slower to develop can benefit from delaying school entry for a year.
  5. Emotional/social development. Kids vary as much in their social and emotional development as they do in every other way. If Ryder is advanced for his age in these ways—i.e., good at impulse control, getting along with other kids, sitting still, listening—redshirting is less advisable.
  6. Cognitive development. One way to ensure Ryder finds school boring is to make him wait an extra year to begin the learning he wants to do now, and to put him in a classroom with kids who are a year behind him cognitively. If he’s a keen, curious, good learner now, a delay can be a serious setback.
  7. Program emphasis: Academic vs play. If your local kindergarten is heavily academic (which is increasingly the case), it makes redshirting a more serious consideration. Most experts in early child development advocate an emphasis on play until at least the age of six.
  8. School’s flexibility. If your school is willing to accelerate Ryder if redshirting proves to have been a mistake, then it’s not so serious to delay his school entry a year.
  9. Cost. If sending Ryder to kindergarten (instead of preschool) releases a burden of financial stress on the family or enables you to work less, and spend more time with him, that may be more valuable than delaying his entry to school.
  10. Preschool teachers’ advice. Ryder’s teachers are a great source of information on his school readiness. Ask them what they think.

A boy born in mid- to late-December, who is physically small for his age, slow in his social/emotional and cognitive development, and whose parents can manage an extra year of preschool tuition, is a prime candidate for redshirting. Redshirting becomes even more advisable if your school’s focus for kindergarten is strictly academic and not at all play-based. To the extent that Ryder and his school fit these profiles, redshirting may be a good decision. To the extent that he deviates from that profile—that is, if he’s average or advanced in his physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development, and the kindergarten is play-based—it’s probably better for him to start school as planned, this September.

For more on redshirting:

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