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Redshirting: Should Your Child Delay Kindergarten?

The research on this may be more complicated than you think.

Key points

  • Research finds that redshirting is associated with both positives and negatives.
  • The findings are contradictory partly because parents tend to have very different motivations for redshirting their child.
  • Children with special may want to start school as soon as possible to gain access to important services.
  • This choice is often a privilege that is not an option for most families.

An increasing number of parents seem to be considering “redshirting” their child—that is, delaying kindergarten for a year even though their child is technically old enough to attend kindergarten. Does research find that redshirting will provide an academic and or social advantage for children? The answer may be more complicated than you think.

Some research shows that redshirting is associated with a small academic advantage (that is, higher academic test scores) and a slight increase in IQ scores. However, this effect may begin to fade as early as the end of first grade.

Other research finds that redshirting is associated with less hyperactivity and inattention and greater educational attainment (getting farther in school), while other studies show increased dropout rates and a greater chance of committing a felony. Further studies find no differences between children who delay kindergarten and children who do not.

Why are the findings on redshirting so mixed and contradictory? It may be because parents usually have one of two reasons for delaying kindergarten:

  1. They can afford another year of child care so would like to give their child a “leg up”
  2. They are concerned that their child may be delayed so they give them a year to “catch up”

Research suggests that the “leg up” group is more likely to show positive impacts of delaying kindergarten while the “catch up” group is more likely to show negative impacts. For example, a recent study that only included a low-income sample in which most children fell into the “catch up” group found that children who delayed kindergarten showed poorer “school readiness” skills and were more likely to be placed in special education.

Another study examined the impact of redshirting on children with and without disabilities (such as autism, developmental delays, learning disabilities, or health impairments). They found that children without disabilities who were redshirted showed improved math and reading scores in third grade. However, children with disabilities who were redshirted scored significantly lower in their math scores in third grade when compared to children with disabilities who were not redshirted. Another study found no differences in academic performance for children with learning disabilities or children with ADHD who were redshirted.

More importantly, for children with disabilities or special needs, delaying school entry may be associated with worse academic performance, because they would be delaying free essential services through the public school system (such as speech therapy and learning support). This short delay may have a big impact as research finds that services before age 5 are more effective in improving a child’s long-term outcome than services after age 5.

It is important to note that this choice is a privilege. For most families, delaying kindergarten means paying for full-time child care or delaying a stay-at-home mother or father from re-entering the workforce for an additional year. This is simply not an option for most families. Redshirting as a practice may also increase the ever-widening gap between students from high-income and low-income families, as only high-income families may be able to afford this option when wanting to give their child an advantage.

It is also important to note that this line of research only involves associations (meaning we do not know whether delaying kindergarten actually causes any of these positive or negative outcomes). The lack of high-quality research on this topic may also explain the contradictory findings.

Translation of the Research

Based on the research, there is neither a clear advantage nor a clear disadvantage to delaying kindergarten. Redshirting your child to give them a “leg up” may provide a small temporary advantage but you may want to consider that this choice could increase the ever-widening gap between low-income and high-income children.

If you suspect that your child has special needs, it may be helpful to start school as soon as possible, to get them the services they need as soon as possible.


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