Kindergarten redshirting is popular, but is it necessary?

Nancy Ferrari

Managing Director and Executive Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

A 60 Minutes segment this week focused on “redshirting.” That’s the practice of not starting a child in kindergarten until after his or her sixth birthday. It isn’t because of school-district rules, but is something that parents do to give their child an advantage from kindergarten and beyond.

The segment has generated a lot of conversation both online and in neighborhoods and preschools. Including the one my kids attend. As the mom of a boy with an August birthday and a September 1 cutoff in our school system, I was torn about the potential advantages of an extra year of preschool. (My husband was not.)

I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Ann Densmore, EdD, an expert in language and social communication skills in children and co-author of Your Successful Preschooler. While the 60 Minutes piece suggested that some parents hold children back from kindergarten to gain competitive advantages, Dr. Densmore pointed out that many parents are responding to the shift in what kindergarten is. “Standardized tests and other pressures have changed the trajectory of elementary education. This isn’t your mother’s kindergarten! Gone are the days when kindergarten teachers hold up a letter and ask the class to name it. Today, kindergarten is drawing, writing, literacy, reading, and science and math and all those subjects that kids didn’t used to get until first or second grade.”

What’s a parent to do?

Dr. Densmore doesn’t believe that holding kids back from kindergarten entry is the total solution. It isn’t necessarily better to have kindergarten classes full of 6- and 7-year-olds. One way parents can help prepare their children is to ensure that there is adequate facilitated play in preschool. That means adults engaging with children during play to help them develop negotiation skills or to share complex ideas. “Research shows that play actually leads to improved academic skills. In this fast-track world, it may be hard to believe that play is critical for brain development, but it is. Play, which is really a child’s ‘work,’ contributes to cognitive, physical, social, and emotional growth. And it is the cornerstone of a child’s well-being,” Densmore told me. The National Association for the Education of Young Children offers lots of information about the benefits of play and how parents and teachers can help facilitate it.

On the community level, Densmore encourages parents to take an active role. Parents should talk with teachers, principals, and other parents. Look for preschools with facilitated play as the center of their curriculum. Challenge school committees to reconsider whether standardized testing in the lower elementary grades is a good idea. Pressure to prepare kids for these tests starts as early as kindergarten.

No matter when your child starts kindergarten, it’s a new beginning for him or her—and for you. Dr. Densmore encourages parents to keep themselves on an even keel and project a steady, positive attitude. And there are many ways (beyond the myriad children’s books on the subject) to help prepare your child. ” See if you can meet the teacher before September. Ask the teacher if you can take photos of the room. Talk to your child about the routine in kindergarten and give him or her a schedule using pictures or words, depending on your child’s reading level. The more your child and you know, the more comfortable everyone will be when starting this new chapter.”

As with so many things in parenting, you can only be so prepared. I sobbed when I dropped our son off on his first day—not delicate weeping, but chest-heaving sobs. He was fine, and somehow thrived.

Your Successful Preschooler, published by Jossey-Bass in partnership with Harvard Medical School, offers parents concrete advice and strategies for helping their young children develop the social skills that will set them up for learning and enable them to develop and maintain friendships with more ease.

Related Information: Your Successful Preschooler


  1. mark

    Jane , to assume that you would be paying legal bills down the road if you put your kid into school is the most ridiculous thing I ahve ever read.

    Beucase the kids Dad had probelsm that ” YOU SAY ” was becuase he started school early is also a JOKE. Start yoru kid whenever you want to but to use that absurd rationlaization is weak .

    Most kids who9 are on the young side are smart adn in accelrated classes in my experience and do just fine in life, thie notion that it is EVIL FORCES will come into play if your kid is on the young ised is i can’t even say it so I won’t , good luck to you adn your kid I ahve a feeling you may need it

  2. Edward Jules

    Thank you very much for this educational and inspiring article! I enjoyed this article very much!

  3. Chris

    Apparently more and more teachers are all for redshirting as they believe more mature students are way easier to handle and have developed a maturity through their experiences with homeschooling. The use of simple home experiments and homework found at child specific websites or home educating websites are a great in-between. Initially these children are known to produce better test scores than their younger classmates.

  4. Amy

    I’m working on a story about redshirting and kindergarten reaadiness. I’d love to talk to parents who are considering waiting to put their child in kindergarten because of social or academic readiness. Please email me at

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    This blog tells us about the educational environment…….

  6. Augenlasern

    I feel like you could probably teach a class on how to make a great blog. This is fantastic! I have to say, what really got me was your design. You certainly know how to make your blog more than just a rant about an issue. Youve made it possible for people to connect. Good for you, because not that many people know what theyre doing.

  7. Renee

    I’m a mother of a 5-year-old born in early August. She made the Sept. 1 cutoff. I did not “redshirt” my child and didn’t even consider it an option at all. But when we got into the charter school where we live, I was pretty upset to hear what other parents were doing just to gain a competitive edge. But I am heartened to read this Harvard piece. I did not hold my daughter back because I believed she was ready for Kindergarten. She wasn’t reading yet. I never pushed her into anything because I wanted her to develop a natural spark for learning. Unfortunately, the entire situation has turned into a nightmare for us. Our daughter is now being made to feel (and we actually believed it at first) as if she has behavioral problems and problems focusing (she sometimes can’t finish all the “centers”) when in fact she is like most 5 year old kids her age. They can’t sit still from 8 am to 3 pm (yes – they get out of school at 3 pm!). Now the school teacher (2 weeks ago) tells us she is “not meeting grade level standards” and we may want to consider testing her for ADD. I was so crushed, deflated and otherwise oblivious that this was going to be a much bigger problem not just now but I’ve got to consider making a decision that’s going to affect her the rest of her life. I’ve been so torn about this and I’m not ready to chalk this up to ADD. I think she focuses just fine and people have always commented to us that she is smart. I think so, too. Now she can read “Hop on Pop” not just from memorization and other books that I know I didn’t have to read until First Grade (my Kindergarten was a half day). So I’m not sure what happened to letting the spark for learning occur naturally but I’m just at wit’s end. My daughter hardly has time for play because she needs to write numbers to 30 by May 25, the last day of school, plus 30 sight words. She’s making progress on sight words but she doesn’t know how to write certain numbers and her 16s and 19s are still upside down. Now the teacher is pushing to get her into first grade. I fear we’ll be struggling even more to catch up. Meanwhile, I just wish we could start over. I would want her to do Pre-K twice.

    • Linda Ross

      Renee, I am a retired Ontario, Canada school teacher,now a grandmother to seven. My advice would be to get her out of that school! Your daughter is young and far too much is being expected of her. At this rate she will learn to ‘hate’ school as she becomes frustrated and senses that she is not meeting ‘expectations’.
      I watched a very interesting program this week on ADHD, where researchers of a newer study now believe that students who are ‘December'(that is the cut-off in Canada) babies are more often labelled and treated for ADHD. I would also have a very frank conversation with both the teacher and principal as to your expectations and theirs, and also visit some other local schools and observe their programs. Charter does not always equate to being better. As you are aware there are many options including home schooling if it fits your particular situation.
      Good luck!

    • Karen

      Renee, that makes me sad to hear for your child and for you. I teach Transition at an independent school. It is between K and 1st, I get a lot of August and September birthdays in my class. It is an incredible program because students continue to move forward, academically, at the pace the child is ready while allowing them the time to continue to develop socially and emotionally. The social part is huge! I agree with Jane’s comment. There are many reasons to have a child go through school the oldest instead of the youngest, and I believe in all of the reasons… but the social part is the most important. Your children will be faced with the same challenges and pressures, but you want them to be able make more mature decisions… allowing them one more year provides them with an opportunity to make better choices. Renee, as a teacher…It is difficult to watch when the child(ren) are not completing work in first grade or even later grades because they feel stressed and frustrated… when the only thing they needed was time. I agree with the opinion of the other teacher, get her out of that school. You want her to love learning and school.
      Research to see if there is a program in your area that is between K and 1st. She should not feel stressed to learn the numbers or anything else, and either should you! She will get all of the skills on her time… Children all ‘take off’ at their own pace!

  8. Jane

    I am a parent who “redshirted” my child, but for NONE of the reasons mentioned on 60 minutes. My child has been reading on his own for over a year (self taught) and it was an agonizing decision to NOT put him in school. Academically, he would have been just fine and probably loved it.

    I was more worried about socially. His father entered school early and did fine academically. When he hit high school, he earned the same liberties and freedoms of his classmates, but being a full year younger, his choices and decisions were not good to say the least. He graduated from high school on time (after basically skipping his junior year) by going to school full time during the day and taking night classes to make up the credits he whizzed away the previous year.

    When I went away to college, it was very easy to point out all the freshman my freshman year who were turning 18 during the first semester (guys and girls) they were simply immature and not ready to be in college with all of the freedoms and responsibilities that come with it.

    It’s not the sports, or leadership, or any other reason now that I held him back. I did it because in 10 years, that extra year of maturity will hopefully help him to make better decisions and control his impulses more. Yes, I have to pay an extra year of childcare, but I think my childcare bill will be much smaller in comparison to legal fees and counseling fees in the future.

    • Jane

      I forgot to mention that I have always chosen smaller home-based daycares for him instead of larger centers. There is nothing wrong with a larger center, but due to size, they separate the kids by age which creates an academic encvironment. Once you enter school, you are there for a minimum of 13 years. I preferred to let my child be a child for as long as he could before entering the academic world. My choice.

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