Ruminating the Academic Redshirt


As I watched everyone head back to school in September, it got me thinking about my own sons who turned three in the middle of June. They just started morning preschool twice a week, but I often get asked if I will hold them back from kindergarten — a term in college sports that is referred to as “redshirting”. 

My sons are twins — meaning they have never been ahead in a single milestone so far in their young lives. They crawled, walked and talked far later than most of their peers, and both spent time in speech (and one is still in it). They also have summer birthdays — the trio combination of boys, twins, and summer birthdays basically means they are the perfect candidates to “academically redshirt”.

Ruminating the Academic Redshirt | Duluth Moms Blog

For those of us in the college athletics world, athletes — often male athletes — are redshirted their first year of eligibility so that they can maintain that eligibility it for a fifth year. The thinking is that the redshirted athletes get to train with their teams on the field and the weight room and gain valuable college athletic experience without having to lose a year of eligibility on a first season that many freshmen may not be ready for. In college sports, athletes typically benefit greatly from the process, and not just from a physical standpoint but from a maturity one as well.

For children, the concept is similar: hold your son or daughter out of kindergarten the first year they are old enough according to the school district’s age policy or preschool teacher’s recommendation so they can be more academically “ready” for school. Until I had twin sons born in the summer, I had never spent a minute in thought about this. Now I am posed the question regularly.

I can’t — and won’t — speak for other parents in this position. All I can speak to is how I am beginning to think about what redshirting would mean for my sons if we decided to go that route. Out of curiosity, I asked the question unscientifically on a social media platform a few weeks ago. The response was resoundingly in favor of redshirting children with summer birthdays — especially boys. Not a single person who chose that direction for their child regretted it. Interestingly, it was split on the parents that went ahead and sent their summer birthday children to school, and no one gave academics as the reason they wish they would have withheld their kids. In fact, the word that was used over and over was their children’s emotional development, whether at the time of entering kindergarten or many years down the road.

I always assumed, and wrongly, that parents redshirt children because they want them to be more prepared in academic settings. I even assumed that most parents have athletic ambitions in mind when they hold their children back. It never occurred to me that children aren’t emotionally ready for school, or that they may not be as ready as the rest of the peers later on down the educational road. 

It’s easy to google the term “academic redshirting” and pull up all the research and studies on it. I have since done just that as I begin to gather information on whether or not it will be right for my sons. Overwhelmingly, studies show that children, and particularly boys, are happy they were sidelined for a year later in life. I am sure there will be plenty of readers to this blog that will recite their own children’s experiences with it. I am constantly curious in those stories, and particularly with how parents arrived at the decision they made.

I also understand that not all families can afford to redshirt their children, even if they might want to. Preschool and/or daycare obviously come with substantial costs to families, and that burden is often eased when children start kindergarten. It’s simply wrong to assume all parents can afford to hold their children back when, without question, economic status often plays a role in the potential decision.

Ruminating the Academic Redshirt | Duluth Moms Blog

As for my sons, only time will tell. Like I stated earlier, they are still chasing their peers. I don’t anticipate a sudden surge in their cognitive or emotional behaviors, and I am okay with that. Until I started researching the topic on my own, I never thought about holding them out a year, and some of that was based just on their physical stature. The one area my sons are not behind is in height. They are extremely tall for their age and look years older than they are. Is that a reason to send your kids to school on time? I don’t think so for my sons now, but I wonder if I would think differently if I had daughters off the height chart. Is that harder on girls? I can’t say. I wasn’t taller until I was older in high school. But it certainly would pose a different question for another child or parents. 

Ultimately, we know our children best and are, by design, inherently their best advocates. It’s okay that at this moment, I am not able to say when my sons will start kindergarten, but it will undoubtedly be more clear in two years. What is best for my sons in the future may not be best for every child, but as parents, we make the best decisions we can for our children at the time. While there is no wrong answer on this topic, we can all educate ourselves to make the right decision for our children in the future.