Should You Hold Your Child Back?

Experts weigh in on Kindgergarten “Redshirting”


Close to four years ago, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell sparked debate in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success” with his assertion that early development gains. For example being the oldest in your class, when combined with other small advantages, amount to greater success in life.

Today, this “accumulative advantage” hypothesis is still a hot topic of discussion, specifically with regard to kindergarten “redshirting,” that is, holding kids back from kindergarten so they can start school at age 6 instead of 5.

So what are the advantages, if any, of redshirting your kindergartner? And how do you determine if your 5-year-old is ready for school?

According to Darren Lubotsky, an associate professor in the department of economics at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there is no long-term effect in delaying school entry on completed education or earnings. Instead, in a study Lubotsky conducted with former U of I economist Todd Elder, research showed that older kindergartners fare better academically largely because they learn more before starting school, not because age improves aptitude.

“Our work argues that the reason older children perform better in reading and math in early grades is because they learned more of these skills before they entered kindergarten,” Lubotsky says. “It is important to understand, however, that these advantages are fleeting: As children progress through school, achievement gaps in reading and math between older and younger children close.”

Lastly, Lubotsky adds, there can be a cost to delaying entrance into school.

“By starting a year later, a child’s full educational career is delayed. Parents contemplating holding back their child need to consider the full range of trade-offs involved,” he says.

Shelley Brown has been teaching kindergarten at Roycemore in Evanston for eight years and believes parents should adhere to the September 1st cut-off date and enroll children in their appropriate age group.

“The idea of “redshirting” children for academic and sports benefits is not fair to the child who should be in the class with his or her peers,” Brown says. “It is not just kindergarten that we are making a decision about, but the long-term picture as well. Huge age differences start to become much more apparent in third and fourth grade and especially in middle and upper school grades.”

So how do know if your child is “ready” for Kindergarten? 

“Kindergarten is a year of transformations, and it can be difficult to determine if a child is ‘ready’ before kindergarten,” Brown says. “You have to trust your child’s teacher and school that they will provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child to grow socially, emotionally and academically.”

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