Should We Keep "Redshirting" Our Kids?

By Sarah Smith, REDBOOK.

Would you redshirt your kid? That is, would you hold him or her back a year before starting kindergarten, because he's not quite ready academically, socially, or physically? (Or, for the true, thinking-scarily-ahead redshirters, so that he'll be the biggest, toughest football player in the senior class 12 years from now? Does anyone really do that? Let's hope not.)

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It's been in the news lately because New York City, where I live, isn't going to allow the practice anymore. If your kid is five years old in 2013, he is going to kindergarten this fall (or first grade next year - no more waiting). But every school district has a cut-off date, and when kids' birthdays fall near it, parents start to wonder: Is my child really ready, just because an administrator or school board picked August or November 1 as the date he needs to turn five by? Since the start of the 2013-2014 school year is less than half a year away, parents of kids born August-ish to October-ish have some serious decision-making to do pretty soon.

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September is actually the most common month to be born in, so it's no wonder this turns out to be an issue, year after year (it's not actually new: My own mother worried over the decision with my brother, whose birthday is in September). And we can bemoan the overprotective parents (when will it end? Will we start redshirting kids born in May once all the summer kids are held back?), but it makes sense for a lot of kids. Their parents and teachers know who they are.

Even though my own son is years away from kindergarten, I can see the sense in it: He'll be in classes with kids who seem positively ancient to me right now (that 14-month-old can stand on his own! That kid is advanced! Actually, he's just 6 months older). We see how age gaps become a lesser deal over time (a married couple give years apart is no big thing - but ew, she was in eighth grade when he started college!), but kindergartners are a world apart from 30-somethings getting married. That August-birthday kindergartner might even be a world apart from the one born in April of the same year.

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If only there were half-grades. Would that not solve a lot of these worries? But until that happens (read: never; our schools have some other priorities), I guess we'll have to be content with making the decisions we as parents know are best for our kids. It isn't always easy, but that's what we do.

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