Reflections on Delaying Kindergarten For a Year

Posted August 5th, 2011 by amy mascott in Child, Parenting

Our son turned five last August, and he was slated to start Kindergarten here in Montgomery County three weeks after his fifth birthday.

But we decided to wait a year to send him to Kindergarten.

He didn’t go.  We redshirted him, and we couldn’t be happier.

Neighborhood kids who hit the big numero-cinco last summer walked up the street and to the school on August 30, brand new backpacks filled with super-cool supplies, packed lunches, and bellies full of butterflies.

But my son did not join them.

Kids all over the county just days or weeks older than my son—some even younger than he—sat through five hours of lessons, five days a week, for nine months of this year, but not my son.

Instead, my son scooted to and from the elementary school each day to drop off and pick up his first-grade sister, and he went to three days of pre-K—one half day and two full days where he stayed for ‘lunch bunch’ with his buddies.

Instead of going to Kindergarten, my son, my youngest daughter, and I hit parks, hit libraries, hit nature centers, and hung out during the times they weren’t in preschool.  We read books, did puzzles, went grocery shopping, had playdates.  We took the Metro into the city, we went to the zoo, we took our dog to the dog park.  I watched as mathematics and numbers opened up to my son, as his curiosity about the world around him grew and he became a reader.

Instead of beginning his public school career at the ripe old age of five, my son played a little longer.  His Matchbox cars, dinosaurs, and Legos saw a lot of action, ran a lot of races, fought a ton of battles.  He kicked around at indoor soccer. He helped me try new recipes.  We played games.  He played with his sister. Some days they were best friends; other days they fought like strange bulldogs.

Sure, waiting a year to start public school meant that we ended up paying a pretty penny for another year of pre-K, but we did it, and we are glad.  Though it was a decision that we labored over, talked about for months, and really questioned long after plans were firm, it is a decision we felt was necessary and right for our son.

Both my husband and I are professional educators; he is an administrator who taught both elementary and high school, and I am a Reading Specialist and former high school English teacher.  We understand the game, but it doesn’t make a decision like this any easier. It does, however, give us a little more insight as to the demands of school today and what our son will be faced with down the road—not only in Kindergarten but in grade three, six, nine, twelve.

Just because I could quite often discern my ‘young’ ninth grade boys from the others because they were a few steps behind socially doesn’t mean it’s the case for every younger student. There’s no scientific proof or compelling data that will demonstrate to us that the decision to redshirt our son was correct.  Maybe there will be down the road, but there’s nothing now. We looked. We researched. We had to go with what we felt would be right.

We might say we understand the public school game in our area because we have experience in this arena; we are, however new at this parenting gig for which there’s no manual, no degree, and no certification.  All we know for sure, as we walk this journey is that everyone we leaned on for advice—every seasoned parent who had to make this same decision—suggested we wait. They advised us to wait a year on kindergarten because they did the same for their close-to-the-cutoff birthday child, and they felt it was the best decision they could have made—for their child, for them as parents, for their whole family.

I will be sad beyond belief come August when my son, newly six and sporting his own brand new backpack, super-cool supplies, packed lunch, and belly full of butterflies, joins the neighborhood kids on their walk to school.  I will miss him terribly for the long day he’s in that building just steps away from our home. But he will enter that school more ready for Kindergarten than he was last summer.  He will be a more eager learner, a more patient friend, and a more capable student.  And it is our simple wish that our decision to wait on Kindergarten will set him up for a more successful—worthwhile, meaningful, pleasant, and fun–thirteen years and then some.


Amy writes about kids, education, and their happy intersection over at teach mama, and she is the owner and creator of we teach, a forum for parents and teachers to share ideas, learn from each other, and grow.  Head on over and join in on the fun!



10 Responses to “Reflections on Delaying Kindergarten For a Year”

  1. morninglight mama

    From my experience as an early childhood educator and mom, this is such a personal decision, and like you say, what’s best for one isn’t always for another. It sounds like you thoughtfully made your decision based on your son’s immediate needs, and I’m willing to bet he had an incredible amount of learning during the past year with you!

  2. Amy @ A Little Nosh

    I’m struggling with this issue. My son’s birthday is November 15th, so he’ll be almost 6 when he starts Kindergarten (in Fairfax County the cutoff is September 30). Intellectually, he’s ready for Kindergarten now, and he’s only 3 1/2. He can read a little, write all his letters, do a little bit of adding, etc. I really want him to have the academic challenge of Kindergarten and I worry about him having to stay in preschool with all the younger kids and not being challenged just because his birthday is 6 weeks after the cutoff.

    Gah, I sound like such a “Tiger Mom” but I swear I’m not. He’s just such a smart, intuitive kid, and I worry that the extra year will hold him back somehow. This is an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot and it seems that I’m reading about so many moms of boys that are really glad they red-shirted their sons. I think I’ll just have to come to peace with it.

  3. suew

    We did the same thing with my daughter, who will turn 6 tomorrow and start kindergarten in a few weeks. It was absolutely the right choice for us… I agonized, but in the end, felt relieved. (She has lots of medical issues and is probably a bit delayed in maturity, so I know that extra year will give her much more confidence.)

    Amy (@ A Little Nosh), my only thoughts are that it’s not just kindergarten that you should look at. He will be younger and possibly smaller than his classmates even through college if he were to go to kindergarten early. (I know this because my husband skipped a grade because he was academically way ahead, but his social struggles really didn’t appear until high school and college… everyone was way ahead of him in every other area… size, socially, driving, sports…) There’s definitely a lot to think about.

  4. Elaine

    This debate is fascinating. I’m persuaded by the work of Sue Dynarski that shows redshirting has some negative implications later. Plus, it bothers me that teachers now must deal with age gaps of up to 16 months, rather than 12, when parents choose to redshirt their child. That’s a big gap! On the flip side, I’ve sent my kids to Waldorf school with the notion of holding onto childhood a little longer – so I get that side of the puzzle as well.

    I’m also trying to resolve the following issue in my head. I live in Arlington – which may or may not matter. At every open house I’ve attended, and often on the playground, I hear parents talking about gifted programs and advanced coursework. I have to wonder, if kids were sent on time, would there be such concern over finding an advanced curriculum for their child?

    I’ll be sending my August 2005 child to first grade (his first public school experience) this year. Hope I don’t regret it! My daughter, thankfully, has that blessed October birthday, so she gets to be the oldest in the class without me actively making a decision about it.

    Great thoughts!

  5. aimee @ smilingmama

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post, Amy! While I feel a tad bit guilty for my sons’ too-close-to-the-holidays birthdays, I am grateful for their late December and early January birthdays when it comes to them just being a little older when they start school.

  6. Jessica Haney

    Thanks for sharing your decisions and experience, Amy. My son is a March bday and is, at almost 5.5, headed to K this fall after being in a Waldorf school. I know he’s socially ready and figure he’ll do okay academically. It’s the lack of play and the need to hit benchmarks that make me a little sad. But my husband and I — having done little to no encouragement on numbers and letters — see his natural curiosity for learning and feel like it makes sense that school starts at about this age.

    My daughter, though, just turned 1 on August 2, and I am expecting that that she will not start K until age 6. Even though I still don’t know what her specific needs and strengths will be, I really don’t want to rush things. I’m also a former h.s. English teacher who doesn’t have the temperament for homeschooling a little one, but I do have lots of homeschooling friends and want to embrace these early years more with #2 as it sounds like you are doing. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Michelle

    I am honestly glad that my kids have November and December birthdays, because I do not have to make a red-shirt decision. My hat is off to you for making the best decision for your child.

  8. Jill Berry

    My August baby started K when the cutoff was December 31. I recall that I didn’t give a huge amount of thought to holding her back. I thought about it but, back in 2003, the whole redshirting thing wasn’t on my radar. Plus, most of the preschools in my community (it’s semirural) do not have a PreK. The options for schools with PreKs were over a 30-minute drive from my home. I had an infant at the time and it was awfully tempting to have my K and 2nd grader hop on the same bus to school. My August kid was in morning K so I felt that she had time to decompress in the afternoons as well as do library storytimes, play dates, and nature center outings.

    In addition, of her class of 17 preschoolers, 7 of them had birthdays in August through December. Of the 7 kids who had birthdays near her, 3 were retained in K. Her preschool class is a good example of why some kids should be redshirted.

    Looking back at her class I should have been more aware of how young she was. She started K just two days shy of her 5th birthday. She was so young and really would have been better prepared for K as an almost 6-year-old. Plus her K teacher could barely manage her class, much less deal with the varying needs of older Ks and younger Ks.

    The next year the cutoff was November 30, and on until the August 31 cutoff that we have today. Great post.