Kindergarten Redshirting: Should We Hold Them Back?


Kindergarten Redshirting: Should We Hold Them Back?

As I limp toward the finish line of summer vacation, I start to cycle through thoughts of my kids being the youngest in their class.  And what, if anything, I should do about this.  I have three kids; boy, girl and boy.  I feel like I’ve been churning on this topic for years now, and I feel this way because I actually have been churning on this topic for years.

We just moved from the US to Canada and the age/date cutoff for the start of school is very different and has forced me to now consider AGAIN, something that I didn’t think I would have to worry about.

The cutoff in the Chicago public school system (CPS) is September 1.  This made my eldest child, a July baby boy, a candidate for youngest in the class.  He started kindergarten, as one of the younger kids in his class.  A few years ago my husband and I contemplated holding him back solely based on his age. But a number of factors changed our mind, primarily his social and emotional development.  That, and we were told that whenever we enrolled him in CPS they would put him in the age appropriate grade regardless, so without going to private school there was no way around being the youngest.  He fortunately had a number of July boys in there with him so in the end it all worked out just fine.

We moved to Toronto midyear that year where the cutoff is December 31st. He is now in the middle of the pack age wise.  His younger sister has a January birthday so was not terribly affected in either city.

My youngest son is a December baby, and he is 2 and a half, so I’m a tad crazy for even worrying about this right now. I still have another year before he starts school, but I can’t help but wrestle with the topic and every once in a while bring it up with my mom friends, friends who are teachers and family for their opinion.

His mid-December birthday just about guarantees that he will be the youngest in his class when the time comes, and there are a lot of factors to consider when thinking about whether he should be held back a year.

Now as a side note, in the US you are legally required to enroll your child in school in their Kindergarten year, Preschool or Pre-K is optional.  In Canada, you are not legally required to send your child to school until Grade 1, so Junior and Senior Kindergarten are optional.  However, my concern is not how old they are when they start school, he goes to a preschool now and loves it.

My concern is more around their ability to thrive in an environment where there is a significant age disparity of which they have the disadvantage.  Which of course, no matter when the cutoff is, there will always be a youngest and an oldest child.

So the question becomes, what do you do?   What measures, if any, do you take to keep your child from being the youngest?  Should you take any?  Or should you just trust the system?

Well, the answer isn’t the same for everyone and depends on a number of factors. Factors such as gender, individual personality and maturity all play a role.  Studies show that the brain develops faster in girls, and at a young age their performance in school tends to be better than that of boys.

Where a child falls in their family, whether they the oldest, middle, youngest or only child can matter.  I wrote a post about birth order and its impact on our personalities, too much to delve into here, but a first born child with a Type-A personality, even if they are the youngest in the class may not have an issue adapting to their classroom setting, whereas a third born child may.  Other considerations are the child’s individual personality and maturity.  You know your child best, how are they developmentally relative to their peers?

I love reading Malcolm Gladwell books and one of them called Outliers, looks at professional hockey players and their birthdays.  A disproportionate number of elite athletes in that profession have birthdays in January, February and March.  Is this a coincidence with the Canadian public school system and cutoff dates, or a direct correlation?  Gladwell says a positive correlation.  Children born early in the calendar year, so are older than their classmates, are physically larger (generally) than their younger peers. This means they tend to get selected for the elite teams, get more ice time and that increased exposure to the sport (along with a TON of hard work) gets them to the NHL, at a disproportionate rate to their classmates born later in the year.

Now, I have no delusions that my kids are NHL material since neither of their parents can ice skate (poor kids).  But take that example and consider that if my daughter and my youngest son were born in the same year, keeping their birth dates the same (January 6th and December 13th) she would have 25% more life experience than he would.  25% more time (nearly a full year at age 4) to develop her social skills, cognitive abilities and fine motor skills. All of the tools that are necessary to set a child up for success in future grades.

Conveniently, Malcolm Gladwell also has a book out called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, this one talks about the value of grit. Kids who are at a disadvantage but comprehend that if they work hard then they will succeed are much better off than those who have easy wins early on in school for example.

So really, Malcolm Gladwell is a great storyteller who can find a positive in any given situation if looked at from the right perspective. Which is what we should all be doing anyway, right?

Fortunately, I still have a year to stew about this and watch as his personality emerges.  But I really don’t know what the right answer is and I don’t know what we will do.

What did you do with your kids?  Would you do anything differently if given the chance?  What WILL you do with your kids?  Do you have thoughts on it?





  1. Suzanne says

    One we’re grappling with too and the cut off dates here in Australia are different again, but similar to Canada. Our youngest is a Feb baby (equivalent to an October baby in Canada) and there are a lot of people who hold kids back here – but at this point, ours is going. I agree, lots of different things to consider but guess we’ve got to go with our gut and then stand behind the decision (small hockey player or not!) :)
    Great article – thanks for tabling it for everyone to read. x

  2. says

    I think a decision likely made harder if the public school system provides it as an option, but it is pretty much taken off the table here unless you can afford private school. Tough decisions, but you’re right you know your child best, you have to go with your gut and what makes the most sense for your child. Thanks for sharing Suzanne!

  3. Naomi says

    ugh. i’m dealing with the same thing. 2.5 year old, born Dec 11th. I don`t really have to worry for another year or more but I`m still thinking it over. I just don`t know!!

  4. Blazhena says

    Our son will be 5 on December 11 and this is something we struggled with. He starts kindergarten in the upcoming weeks. We have been constantly asking the care providers, day care, camps, coaches and our pediatrician and they all feel he is going to be just fine. I think that asking for comparisons between he and his older peers to see if he’s ready has been helpful. In BC, the decision is tougher than it used to be because you can no longer choose to keep your child back in kindergarten like you used to be able to. Though I still have some question about it, I’m 95% certain he’ll be fine. The 5% doubt likely comes from me being a mom that is struggling with her baby boy growing up.

  5. Jennifer says

    My husband and I are both December babies. As he has an early Dec birthday he was one of the youngest in his class. However back in the day his teachers actually wanted to skip him a grade up. His mom was wise enough to say that he was socially and emotionally not going to be ok with peers that could be up to 2 years older than him. As someone who has a very late Dec birthday I was always not only the youngest in my class and even in my grade ( in a big urban school). The only time I felt it to be a disadvantage was when all my friends had turned 19 already and I hadn’t. Someone has to be the youngest no matter when the cutoff is. I think readiness has more to do with an individual child than a birthdate.

  6. says

    My son is a Christmas baby. He was of age to go to JK in 2012, he was 3 year 8 months. He was in daycare full time and has been since he was 9 months. He still napped 2 hours a day. Intellectually, he would have been fine. Emotionally and socially, he was not! We did not send him to school that year he stayed in daycare until September of 2013 when he started JK. And even at that he had some difficulties with adjusting to the structure and expectations. He will be starting grade one this year and doing great!!

  7. Desiree says

    My son, Aden’s birthday is November, 2003. Before he started school the cut off use to be October 1. But, they later changed it to January 1. So the year he started primary it was the first class with the new age limit. So that meant the kids that were turning 5 the prior year, after the cut off ,also started school the same year as he did. He’s very small for his age. He started when he was 4 along with children who were 5 and going to be 6 before he would be 5. My poor son was picked on and bullied so much durning his first year of school that most days I would get a call to come pick him up. He would cry at bedtime not to have to go back the next day. If I could do it all over again I would never have Sent him. Now with that being said, my youngest will be 4 when he starts school next year but he won’t have children in his class turning 6 before he turns five. Yes there will be older kids but only by a few months not more than a year :) I’m sure what ever decision you make will be the best for your child and family :) also, welcome to canada.

  8. Rachel says

    I too am struggling with this dilemma. My daughter’s birthday is December 12, and I fear that she isn’t yet mature enough to attend JK, as her brother (a May baby) was.
    As much as I struggle with this idea of maturity, my husband and I, along with the Kindergarten teacher agree. Register her for her regular year. If it seems that she is struggling, we can pull her and try again next year.
    I’d like to think that she will rise to the challenge, but we won’t know unless we give her the opportunity to try.

  9. says

    I did have to deal with this issue – TWICE! My oldest has a December birthday and my youngest has a late November birthday. We are in Alberta and cutoff is crazy – it’s the end of February – so a child who is 4 in September, not turning 5 until February of the next year, can go to kindergarten. Way too early in my opinion!!

    Anyway, based on some sound advice and evaluating my own children, both boys who needed some time to mature, I put them both in the second year they were eligible (5 turning 6). This tends to make them the oldest in their grades, other than kids who have repeated. And I thought it was a good thing in kindergarten / grade one. It has turned out to be a REALLY good thing now that my oldest is in middle school. I can so clearly see his maturity and readiness for some of the things life and that school level throws at him, and I see some of his classmates who are close to a full year younger struggle with that maturity – emotionally and physically. At 13 my boy is 5’10” – he’s fully into puberty and he’s enjoying being a bit advanced. It’s good for his confidence!

    I don’t think my choices are right for every kid, but I suspect that waiting a little is good in more cases than not :)

  10. Doe Twin says

    I’m sorry, but it would be completely unfair to other kids if you redshirted him. Kindergarten is designed for 5-year-olds, so a 6-year-old in the classroom will naturally perform above and beyond and make the age-appropriate kids look bad. You’d be sending him the message that it’s okay to cheat. I know other parents do that, but I feel that one of the most crucial lessons for parents to teach their kids is to play fair. He may also get the message that you didn’t have enough confidence in him to handle age-appropriate work, which isn’t bound to make him feel very good.

    I’m speaking from experience. My wife and I were both redshirted(we both have August birthdays) and we hated it. We felt like we were robbed a year. We didn’t graduate high school and get out into the real world until we were almost 19. It didn’t feel good at all. We both decided that we wanted to give our child the opportunities we didn’t have. We were living in Vermont when we had our daughter. She was born on December 25th and the cut-off is January 1st. We were able to enroll her when she was 4. Then, after she finished 1st grade, we moved to Minnesota, where the cut-off is September 1st. That meant that a third of the kids a grade below were older than her. And you know what? She feels really good about it. She’s now 11 starting 7th grade, and she enjoys being able to rub it in people’s faces that she’s learning the same material as them at a younger age. She does well for the most part, but when she does do poorly, we can always use her age as an excuse. She’s already a grade above most of her peers, so she’s under no pressure to do well, and we’re not under a lot of pressure to push her. Because we know that no matter how she does in school, she will always be above average.

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