To Red Shirt, Or Not to Red Shirt

That is the question for parents of 4 year olds everywhere at this time of year.


Our kids have attended kindergarten in 3 different schools, in two states and two countries.  They’ve attended five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.  Zack is the only one whose entry into kindergarten ever came into question.  His birthday is in July.  He started preschool when he had just turned 2, was reading at age 3 and had a photographic memory.  His preschool teacher said he was ready for kindergarten.  Before we moved to Kansas, where he eventually started school, we lived in Missouri, where children must turn 5 by August 1 in order to enter kindergarten.  We were staying at my parents’ house at the time, because Horatio was deployed and the boys were so young.  The school district, where they live, screens children for kindergarten entry.  Despite the fact that we would not be living there when Zack entered kindergarten, we let them screen him.  He was my first kid.  I was curious, and a little sure of myself his abilities.

I’ll never forget it.  The educator took wee Zack to a classroom at the local elementary school, while I waited in another room.  When she brought him back, he played while she went over the results with me.  She raved about how well he could sit and listen and follow directions.  She commended his reading skills and gushed over his math abilities; and then she said, and this is an actual quote, “so, you should probably hold him back.”


Wait… What?  I was more than a little stunned.

So, I asked her why.  She said it was because he had a late July birthday.  Full stop.  I thanked her for her advice, and Zack and I left the building.

He started kindergarten that August, at Dwight D Eisenhower Elementary School, in Leavenworth, Kansas, and I could see, pretty early on, that perhaps she was right.  The issues were never glaring enough to warrant holding him back after that year, but I could see the logic.  He was definitely less mature and smaller than the other kids.

Young Harold attended kindergarten in Fairfax County.  His birthday is in December and I could see a clear difference between him and the “just turned 5s.”  He stood out as a model in the class and thrived.

As Dwight, now in grade 8, progresses through school, some of the younger kids in the grade are still clearly identifiable by their lack of maturity.  The older kids in the grade steer away from those kids in many cases.  They get annoyed by the immature behaviors.

I am a strong advocate of sending kids to kindergarten at the age appropriate time.  Trying to get a waiver to bypass the deadline and send a kid early might not have a detrimental effect on you child, but why risk it?  Yes, I know, preschool is expensive, but so is therapy when the kid is suffering from confidence issues or is the target of bullying, later.  When in doubt, err on the side of caution and wait.  Really.


I speak to this issue from so many sides, that I feel I can offer sound advice.  As the parent of four kids, born at 3 different times of the year; as a teacher, who has taught nearly every grade from Kindergarten through 12; and as an Autism parent.

If you are wondering what to do with your child who will turn 5 in September or August, I urge you: talk to the child’s teacher, talk to the child’s doctor, watch your child interact with other kids, and then make an informed decision.  If there is even the slightest bit of uncertainty in your mind, spring for the extra year of preschool, or send him/her to a different kindergarten program before sending him/her to the school that will be a more long-term setting.  Give your kid the advantage from the get-go.  I’ve never heard a parent say the regret waiting to send their child to kindergarten, but I’ve listened to many parents speak of wishing they had waited.

Think long term.  It’s over in a flash.  Let your kid shine!

young graduate

About Commander in Chief At home

Erin is a military spouse and, sometimes temporarily single mom to 4 boys. She's a writer, editor, teacher, and (Autism) mom.
This entry was posted in No Nonsense Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to To Red Shirt, Or Not to Red Shirt

  1. You bring up very valid points. My grandson started too early and had to do summer school for Kindergarten. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. He was not mature enough. It was really hard for him and it gave him a bad taste for education.


  2. lesliesholly says:

    My child was the right age, but I can see in retrospect that he was not ready. And I do wish we had waited.


  3. karyl henry says:

    This is such an interesting an eye-opening article. I never really thought about the maturity level. When I was a kid, MD/DC went on the calendar year for school so with my October birthday I guess I started technically early. And when I got to Purdue University, all my friends were so surprised I was in the same year, because they go on the school year.


  4. Gunjan says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts. All kids are unique and different and should be given their own time to grow up and be ready to take new challenges. 🙂


  5. Allison ( says:

    I am a “I wish we waited” person too. One of my many not so great decisions I will make during my life as parent. I spoke to lots of people including the pre-k teacher, and they all said to go ahead. So we did; and realize now it would have been better to wait. Thanks for sharing – maybe another late birthday parent will read this and it will help them with their own tough decision.


  6. JcCee says:

    I love how you said, “Give your kid the advantage from the get go.” The beginning does not have to be rushed. I totally agree that waiting to send them at the right time could prevent issues in the future.


  7. Great article. My son is a late September birthday and he is certainly less mature than his classmates which has been a struggle for him. When he started Kindergarten I was just happy his birthday came before the December 1st cut off and he could attend Kindergarten. It never occurred to me that he might not be ready for Kindergarten.


  8. As a new mom these are excellent questions I ask my self. We want to put her in preschool since she has a late birthday and when she does start kindergarten she will be the oldest in her class. Thank you for sharing them with us!


  9. byecomparison says:

    This is so wonderful! I taught elementary art for 5 years and largely because of that I knew I would always hold off on sending any of my kids to kindergarten too early. Last year quite a few of my friends had this very decision to make and I urged them all to wait until the following year. NONE of them took my advice. Wish I’d had your article to show them!


  10. momonthemove35 says:

    Great post! My daughter has an August birthday and I started her in preschool when she was three and then continued when she was four. By then she had already established what would be her kindergarten classmates. It seemed a little mean to make her repeat preschool just to let her be a little older for kindergarten. Academically she was ready, size and maturity maybe not. We ended up sending her and there have been a few times I’ve wondered what difference it would have made to hold her up a year. She’s in a very bright class and she fits right in but there are also a few that are even younger than her and you can definitely tell the younger ones. Like you said, pushing them ahead is not always the best choice, consider carefully!


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