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Delaying Kindergarten "RED Shirting," Healthy or Harmful?

Updated on February 21, 2014
Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy has been working in the field of education for many years specializing in both Waldorf and Montessori methodology.

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Red shirting is the term given to a young student that delays the start of kindergarten or the move from kindergarten to 1st grade and instead repeats a year of kindergarten. The negative connotation given to the term “red shirting” comes from the perception that holding a child back is being done by parents in order give their child an academic advantage against younger classmates. Many studies have shown that there are advantages to being one of the older students in a grade, while other studies show that the challenge of being the youngest member of the class might in fact be ideal. In the end the parent and school make the decision on an individual basis, based primarily on the readiness of the individual child to succeed in either kindergarten or first grade rather than to give the child a competitive edge.

Historically, young boys and girls would begin kindergarten based on their age. At this time they would leave the nurturing environment of home and enter the more challenging and stimulating world of school. Each school sets a cutoff age at which it determines that most children would be ready to make this big life change. In public school this age cut off was simply accepted, however in private schools a greater deal of consideration was made as to the “readiness” of the individual child. In private schools it was sometimes decided that a kindergartener was not yet ready to either begin kindergarten or move from kindergarten to 1st grade, this is a decision made by an experienced teacher. However, the final choice would be made by the parent after consultation with the teachers and sometimes other academic psychology experts.

In the past “red shirting” might carry a stigma, it was called being “held back” and might deter a parent from making that choice.

Today, in many instances parents disagree with the recommendation to redshirt a child and insist that the child be moved up to 1st grade along with his peers. In this scenario the problem would present itself to the 1st grade teacher who is tasked with trying to manage a child who is clearly not ready for the 1st grade, not to mention the classmates who are affected by a child in need of extra attention.

There are arguments both pro and con for redshirting; each expert has their statistically proven argument. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, gives inarguable proof that in Canadian Hockey, children with earlier birthdays have a huge advantage, so much so that children with later birthdays might as well not even try to make it to Professional Hockey. But does this advantage cross over into an academic setting? Some studies have shown that the older members of a classroom have a greater level of confidence and conversely the younger members are less confident. Biology and neuroscience experts warn against redshirting and instead argue that children thrive in a challenging environment and that “challenge” is a significant stimulus for learning.

The Montessori classroom consists of mixed grades, students "move-up" when they are deemed "ready."
The Montessori classroom consists of mixed grades, students "move-up" when they are deemed "ready." | Source

'Common sense' might lie somewhere in the middle between these arguments and studies. If we look at a large family or a mixed age classroom, such a Montessori classroom, we see a completely different set of rules. Age becomes less a factor for anything. Competition pales to cooperation, support and guidance. One size does not fit all and trying to measure and statistically justify why some children will excel whether they are older by 2 months or younger, might prove to be far more problematic than what statistics attempt to prove. It is important to note that Montessori teachers thoroughly assess a student’s readiness to “move up” as well.

There are many good reasons to redshirt a child. Some children might have failed to gain the needed foundation during kindergarten which would enable them to succeed in a challenging 1st grade classroom. One explanation for the increase in “redshirting” could simply be that the pace of education has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Children now begin reading in kindergarten, and they are expected to be reading by the time they walk into a first grade classroom. Kindergarten used to be a half day, play oriented environment meant only as an introduction to school. Now kindergarten is most often full day and children are actively learning how to read and are expected to complete daily homework assignments. The demands are greater and could easily account for keeping a less academically able child back, or redshirting. This child might have missed out on learning core reading foundational skills and might simply need another year to be “ready.”

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A child on the ADHD spectrum might also present a problem with moving onto the challenging first grade environment because they were unable to concentrate long enough to gain their these fundamental skills. An experienced kindergarten teacher would know which of her students is ready to make this big transition and which are not.


The decision as to whether a child begins kindergarten or moves up to first grade at a certain age needs to depend, primarily, on the experienced judgment of the child’s teacher, testing, perhaps additional experts, and of course the child’s parents. If this has the stigma of “red shirting”, so be it. There are a lot worse things to be labeled. Perhaps instead of seeing this as a trend that would give certain children an advantage, we can look at it as a more individualized learning plan, instead of the “one size fits all” model that tries to fit everyone into a box.

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Do you feel that red shirting can be beneficial?

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© 2014 Tracy Lynn Conway

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    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      FlourishAway, glad you liked the article and pictures, thank you!

      VVaNess, thank you!

      DreamerMeg, yes, each child has a different time table of development and readiness and it doesn't always coincide with their age. It is important that a student feels some challenge in the classroom, in terms of public school I have found the greatest emphasis to be on reading rather than math.

      Twoseven, it is good to hear that you have a sense of your own children's readiness. I am glad that you liked the article, thank you!

      Best, Tracy

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Hi Jed, you make an important point as to the long term effects of being red shirted. However, there are some that believe that it has no long term effect and that the red shirting benefit wears off in as early as the first year. Thank you for sharing your experience!

      Best, Tracy

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Mr. Archer, I truly feel for your difficulties with being the youngest in your class, while your age was easily measured, the emotional pain cannot be calculated. Glad to hear that you got that scholarship! A parent's job is to advocate their child's best interest, although a hard decision to make, sometimes red-shirting is the best one. Thank you for your great comment!

      Best, Tracy

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracy Lynn Conway 

      4 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Suzette, one size does not fit all, although many of my hats say so. Thank you for weighing in.

      Best, Tracy

      DzyMsLizzy, I agree with you, it is good to look at other methods of education such as the one room school house, Montessori, and even a larger family where there is a more cooperative environment rather than the typical modern competitive classroom which relies so heavily on testing. This reliance lends itself to pressure and the subsequent need to "red shirt" children. Thank you for your insightful comment and of course your supportive votes!

      Best, Tracy

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 

      4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      A nice look at a very interesting topic. We will have our own experience with this as one of our sons is right after the cutoff date and one is right before. So one will be oldest in his class and one will be youngest. I completely agree that it depends on the individual child's needs. So far, we're thinking that we will not red shirt the youngest, and it seem to fit with his personality that he'll be ready to go.

      Thanks for a very thoughtful hub!

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 

      4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Not every child is ready at the same age. As long as they do not feel stigmatised. Conversely, I have noted a worrying trend to avoid challenging children. I get my granddaughter 4 days a week and I know she is capable of doing maths, however, her attitude is younger than her years and she doesn't enjoy school. I only found out a few weeks ago that she is in the lowest maths group in her class. This is because she REFUSES to learn her multiplication tables, although I know she is capable of dong it. For some reason she has been "put off" maths but instead of challenging her to do well, the teacher has put her into a lower group of children who cannot do maths. I also don't agree with these golden time rewards in school, where group behaviour is punished, rather than individual behaviour.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 

      4 years ago from Fountain, CO

      Nice! Very informative article. I personally think that this is every parents personal decision. I love this article.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this presentation of possible benefits and downsides. I didn't know the new term. Well done and the pics are adorable.

    • Jed Fisher profile image

      Jed Fisher 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      I was accelerated; no kindergarten and started grade one two years early. I'd much rather I'd been red shirted. Makes a huge difference later on, in High School.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      4 years ago from Missouri

      I was one of those younger students, my birthday being only eight days from the cutoff. As a result, I was always smaller, not as athletic, had a harder time grasping concepts. Because I was younger, smaller, not as smart I was picked upon mercilessly. I was a poor student throughout school, yet when I took my ACT's two years after graduating, I scored high enough to get scholarship offers.

      I feel that if a child is not ready, don't push them. It will cause more harm than good and at the young age represented here "redshirting" them will not hold the stigma it would later when they have to be taken out for additional assistance or even held back a year at some point.

      This is a very good article and I enjoyed it. I wish I had been "redshirted" lo those many years ago. Who knows what might have been?

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      This is a terminology of recent invention, I think. I was familiar with the old "held back," but until I read your article, had never heard of "red-shirting." Where does that come from? Are they actually made to wear a red shirt? That would certainly account for any 'social stigma.'

      My own eldest had to repeat 2nd grade, but it was rather a non-issue, as we had moved, and the school she would have attended was full, so she had to go to a neighboring school for a semester. When she ended up repeating the grade, it was at the school she would have gone to in the first place, so a whole different set of kids; no one there knew her from the other school.

      I agree much more with the Montessori approach, in which children are in a mixed-grade class, much like the old one-room schoolhouses, and "moving up" is more a matter of different challenges/lessons, instead of a shift (or not) to a whole other classroom and teacher. The shift or lack thereof would be less obvious to the other kids. I would have preferred a Montessori education for my girls, but it was not in the budget to send them to any private school.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thought provoking hub! It always depends on the child. If the child is not mature enough yet or has some sort of learning disability, I see no reason not to wait a year for the child to start school. Decisions should be made on what is best for the child. Interesting hub!

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