Should you ‘redshirt’ your preschooler or enroll her in kindergarten?

If your child’s birthday falls near your school’s cut-off date for enrollment, do you choose to “redshirt” him, meaning you delay his launch into school by a year? Or do you go ahead and enroll him, making him a young’un for the rest of his academic career?

It’s a hard decision—and one that many parents struggle with. If you’re among them and considering redshirting, here are a few pros and cons to consider before delaying kindergarten for your child.

On the plus side, the practice of “redshirting” has several advantages. According to the parenting website What to Expect, an extra year of before starting school will allow your kid to develop his social skills, which can be especially helpful for young boys (who tend to develop social skills more slowly than little girls).

In fact, one Stanford study found that children who entered kindergarten a year later than usual showed lower levels of both inattention and hyperactivity. Those higher levels of self regulation seemed to persist, for some children, well into middle school.

An extra year of development can help in other ways, as well: Essentially, older kids tend to be a little further along in their cognitive abilities, giving them a natural leg up in the classroom. And that natural advantage makes a difference. A recent study found that redshirted students are more likely to go to selective colleges, like Harvard, than their counterparts who begin kindergarten at a younger age.

kindergarten photo
Getty Images | Matt Cardy

And it’s not just academics that is impacted by the age at which children start kindergarten. That same study showed that older kids in a class are also less 15 percent less likely to be arrested by their 16th birthday.

That said, there are also plenty of cons that come with redshirting a child. First of all, some experts debate the academic merits of redshirting: One Norwegian study found that when kids reached 18 years old, the youngest children in the class had the highest IQ. A Swedish study also found that children who started school later tended to take a financial hit over the course of their lifetime, earning less overall than their younger counterparts.

Parents who are redshirting their kids specifically because they want to give their child more time to develop (whether emotionally or academically) may also end up overlooking their child’s legitimate learning issues or special needs, according to What to Expect. Staying home, and out of a more structured school setting for longer, could also result in a child’s learning issue or special need going undetected for another year, meaning the start of treatment would be delayed as well.

kindergarten photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

“[Redshirting] is often done disproportionately to children with undiagnosed special needs who at the time were judged to be developmentally behind, but in fact were in need of special education services, not another year to mature,” educational psychologist Lori Day told Bayis Magazine last year. “Children with learning disabilities who are redshirted or retained in kindergarten lose any accrued benefit very quickly, and are then simply older children with special needs that still must be addressed.”

Finally, redshirting your child could lead to otherwise avoidable social problems, education experts have warned. Being a year older can mean more maturity, earlier puberty and quicker development that sets your kid apart from his or her classmates.

Of course, every child and every family is different, so you’ll want to do what’s best for you and your child. Speak to your children’s teachers, take a look at your kid’s individual needs, and then decide what’s right for you.