Emily Oster

3 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Should I Redshirt My Kids from Kindergarten?

Q&A on being the youngest in class

Emily Oster

3 min Read

What’s the real story behind “redshirting” kindergarten? Both my kids have later summer birthdays, so they’ll meet the age requirement for kindergarten but will be really young for their class. Does the data support holding them back for a year so they’re some of the oldest in their grade?

—Tove

For the uninitiated: “redshirting” is a term drawn from college sports that is now commonly applied to kindergarten. To “redshirt” your child is to hold them back from school for a year so they enter at an older age. It’s most commonly done for kids, like yours, who have a summer birthday, so they’d be among the youngest in the class if they entered at the “normal” time.

I spend a lot of time on the question of redshirting in The Family Firm, and there’s a lengthy excerpt in this post.

One lesson that comes out of the data is that children who are younger for their grade are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. This result comes from data that is able to isolate the effect of relative age, so the researchers are able to make a plausible causal argument that entering school on the younger side increases the chance of this diagnosis. Careful diagnosis of learning differences can be extremely important in getting kids the help they need, and there should be no stigma in this. But: in some of these cases, the diagnosis seems to be driven by the age of the child only.

It’s hard to know the precise mechanism, but it seems likely that a piece of this is peer comparison around impulse control. Kids who are older are, on average, better able to sit still. A much younger child may be perceived as hyperactive just by comparison.

Whether this particular concern should be relevant for your decisions depends on your child. It’s a more significant concern if your child struggles more with focus, for example.

On the flip side, holding kids back from kindergarten has potential negatives. Depending on your child, they may enter kindergarten bored with the schoolwork, for example.

There’s also the need to cover another year of child care, which means that it’s more common in wealthier families. As a result, kindergarten ages have increased more for children with more resources, and children with fewer resources are more likely to be on the younger side of a class. Any downsides to that will hit these groups disproportionately. One implication is we may be socially better off if redshirting was effectively not a choice. As long as it is, the bottom line is that the data is a little helpful here, but there are a lot of additional family considerations that matter.

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