Redshirting

I Sent My Cusp Birthday Son To Kindergarten, And I'm So Glad I Did

Like a lot of kids, my son has a birthday on near the cut-off. Here's how and why we made that call.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

Maturity (or lack thereof). Daycare and preschool costs. Convenience. Academic ability (again, or lack thereof). Birthday cutoffs. Test in requirements. These are just a few of the dozens of factors my husband and I have considered for each of my four sons, two of which have already boarded the Big Cheese headed off to kindergarten in recent years. For some, the decision is obvious — the kid turns six, summer wraps up, and off they go. For others, with more borderline birthdays, or who are less mature than their counterparts and maybe not as “ready,” the decision gets a little murkier, and talks of redshirting begin.

It was a pretty obvious choice for my oldest son, who has a winter birthday. He was around 5 years and 8 months when August rolled around and seemed about as bored with preschool as he could be, so it was a natural transition. In retrospect, I could have held him another year if I’d wanted, but pandemic living and working pushed us into having at least one child out of the house in public school as soon as possible, filling in those gaps from his missed final months of preschool in lockdown.

Then the fun (chaos) started.

My second son is a classic class clown. He is an expert fart joker, spends a serious amount of time pranking people, and therefore isn’t the most mature kid any of us have ever met (but oh-so-lovable). His birthday fell just a few weeks before school was set to begin. So we were faced with a more complicated dilemma. He had already finished the traditional preschool route offered, and could go to kindergarten as a very freshly turned 5-year-old. But his personality mixed with pandemic gaps gave us pause. Was he emotionally able to make it through a whole school day, with the stamina that required? Could the kid even open his own lunch box and figure out a juice box, let alone tie his shoes and wipe his butt? Mayyybe.

But the alternative was spending thousands of dollars in daycare money. And what would he learn there? He’d also eagerly asked about starting school after watching his older brother board the bus, come home with library books, and more. They’d be just a grade apart, and the idea of having two of them move through school together seemed super convenient for carpools and bake sales and logistics.

So my decision had been mostly made — we would send him. Until I chatted with another mom with a son with the exact same birthday month, who was redshirting hers for a year. “We don’t want him to be tiny when he plays sports.” I hadn’t even considered this aspect: physical size, not just in kindergarten but throughout school. Should it matter? We went back to the drawing board briefly. My second son was around the same height and weight as my first son, though he was 18 months younger, so he’d never been on the small size for his age. He also seemed to prefer games and drawing over athletics, so I decided his ability to tackle in tenth grade was less of a concern that maybe it was for others.

It also assumed a lot about development. What’s to say even if I held him back, that other kids wouldn’t have a height advantage on him anyway, come high school sports (if he even wanted to play them)? We’ve all met a small 11th grader who shows up for senior year seemingly a foot taller, being a late bloomer, and the opposite. I’d gone down a rabbit hole of things that potentially didn’t matter, considering decades into the future pros and cons.

Finally, there was the consideration of academics themselves. Should he be “more prepared” before heading into kindergarten, to be able to succeed, or should we send him there to learn to read? The chicken and the egg were in full swing. This is where the pandemic made quite a difference in our choice. He and all the other kids had lost months of learning, through sheer accident of circumstances. So not only could he definitely not read headed into kindergarten, neither could many of his classmates. It was the ultimate leveler. Ultimately, we decided school would do more to fill in those gaps than flash cards and read-alongs at home every night.

I’ll make this decision two more times in the next few years, for another late summer birthday and May baby. As I wonder if we made the best move, and if we will skip “redshirting” again with our next children, I reached out to Dr. Mary Carol Burkhardt, Pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center for a little professional input. She confirmed what I think I already knew deep down: the overemphasis of sports in general in our society means that maybe we let that aspect fall away from the decision making equation.

Instead, she looks at social-emotional development and maturity. “Parents should look for a child’s ability to follow directions fairly consistently, focus on a task for 5-10 minutes, transition between activities, interact with peers positively, and persist at tasks that are challenging. Many of these skills are present in five-year-olds ready to start school,” she says.

And she gave me a tip I’m definitely planning to use for my next two kids — not making the decision alone. “When in question, talk to daycare and preschool teachers, friends and others that know your child well.” And finally, she pushes families to make a decision for each individual child, a point that I needed to hear. This is a relief because it doesn’t matter if my philosophy for my second child in the pandemic is to send him early, and that it’s totally valid to make the opposite decision for another child a few years later. While this might seem like good, obvious, differentiated parenting, it relieved me of the idea that we are a family who redshirts, or doesn’t, and instead helps me zero in on each of my children as widely different, special and unique beings who will move through life on their own schedules.

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice. She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

Alex has a Master of Arts in Teaching, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications/Journalism, both from Miami University. She has also taught high school for 10 years, specializing in media education.