My Kindergarten Son: An Academic Red Shirt

The age eligibility cut-off date for kindergarten in our town:  Oct 1st.

Our son’s birthday:  Sept 24th.

The dilemma:  To send or not to send.

Conventional wisdom:  No kid has ever been harmed by being held back, especially boys who are generally thought of as less mature.

My biggest fear:  Not giving my son the opportunity to reach his fullest potential.

My wife’s biggest fear:  Making the wrong decision and it not bearing out until years later.

My belief:  Nobody knows your child as well as you do.  Nobody.  We looked at this from every angle and analyzed all of the signs — the way he learns, the way he colors, how his eyes scan every detail of every page of every book we read him, how perceptive he is of the world around him, how well he makes new friends, how seamless he gets along with his cousins in NJ after not seeing them for months, and on and on.

The thought I couldn’t get out of my head:  What if he was ready for kindergarten and we held him back?

The decision:  We sent him.  The opportunity was there for us to send him and we did so because we both believed in our hearts that he was ready and capable.  We had our doubts, which were completely natural and healthy, but these doubts simply were not enough to overcome our convictions.  We sent our oldest son to be the youngest one in his class with confidence.

Currently:  Everywhere we go in town this kid is waving to or playing with friends from school.  Social concerns, a very big part of our decision making process, almost seem laughable now as we watch our “cruise director” at work.  We were probably most confident in his academic ability and are very proud watching him excel at his lessons and projects.  He even grills his mom (a second grade teacher) about what she is doing with her class when we are discussing our days over dinner.

My advice:  This is an enormous decision and ours was not made lightly.  I don’t have a yes/no answer for you, only you have that.  Getting to that answer is going to take hard work and much soul searching.  Your going to have to gather information and solicit the advice of those you trust.

My hope:  To make this post a place for that information and advice to be found.  Please answer any of the questions below or simply share something you want that’s relevant to the topic.  Let’s give parents who will be faced with this decision some of the tools necessary to find their answer.

What are your thoughts/beliefs on this topic?  

Did you experience this with your kid(s) or familiar with someone who has?  

Does anyone wish they could go back in time and change their mind?  

What are things to keep an eye on as kids advance in school?


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About Brad the Dad

Enjoy a unique, fresh and entertaining perspective on parenting as Brad the Dad learns what it takes to raise 2 boys in today's world. #DadsRT co-founder.

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  1. I was held for an extra year because of when my birthday fell too (Oct 31). My mom decided to keep me home. Like you, she had her own reasons. I don’t know if I ended up better or or worse for it and I think that’s what your son will think when he gets older.
    I think no one can answer the question, no matter how much data or reports they bring to the table, except for you and your wife.
    Keep supporting him like I’m sure you guys do and he will be just fine.

    • I never thought about that part of it, whether my son would even know one way or the other when he gets older. That makes me think about the friends I made growing up and how most of them were in my class, specifically one of my best friends to this day who was held back a year. My son left behind 2 close friends in preschool, that while he still sees from time to time, I can tell he is forming new/stronger bonds with those in his class. The ripples of life…

  2. James Hudyma says:

    Did your son start K at age 4 and then turn 5 on September 24th? Does school start in September for you? If this is the case, the cut-off date in your state is very realistic.

    The problem where I am is the cut-off is the end of December and for some districts it is January 30th. School starts in September so for parents sending kids just before the cut-off, they are sending 4 year old kids who don’t turn 5 until the year is nearly half over.

    • Yes, he started at 4yo and turned 5 in K and yes to Sept. start.

      Dec/Jan cut-off dates? Wow. That’s the other part of this that getsme, the dates vary so much! My 2nd boy is born in early October, mere weeks apart from his older bro, but with him this isn’t even an issue. Let’s say I’m in one of the districts you mention, both my boys get sent without an question. So weird.

      The dates are fluid, that’s why I think the focus should be on the parents’ assessment of their kid.

      • James Hudyma says:

        I agree. There should be a National Standard. October 1st is such an amazingly good cut-off. I would do backflips of joy if our area adopted this date.

        To stay on topic though, I had a fall birthday and always felt disconnected (socially) with my peers. I was an academic kid so school was always easy but all my friends were in the grade below me. Also, it totally sucked getting my drivers after all my classmates and not being able to go to the bar in Grade 12 (Drinking age is 18 here!).

        • Those are biggies, I hear you there. I’ve also heard size in sports as another factor. Was friends with younger grade a bunch in college…my wife the most notable one.

  3. We dealt with the same situation for our daughter this past Fall. Her birthday is September 27 and the cutoff here is September 30. We held her back a year.

    She was ready for school, but I convinced my wife that we should hold her back a year. My rationale was that we are not making the decision for now but for her future. I kept coming back to her age in school. If we sent her to school now, she would start 12th grade at 15 years old, not able to drive yet. Then in college, she wouldn’t turn 21 until her senior year. Those are social things and I weighed them more than the academic things. They have a major impact on your social circle in life, and I didn’t want her to be affected by that.

    Anyway, that was my take. Ultimately, we held her back. She is doing pre-school for 5 days a week now, 3 hours a day. The class is mostly boys, but they are all in the same boat…held back, or redshirted.

    • Thanks for sharing, Brian. You said, “convinced your wife,” so I’m assuming she wanted to send your daughter? My wife and I were on different pages to begin with, but I think ultimately she wanted to send him as well but just needed to vet it out in her mind. Honestly, it’s probably best to disagree as it gives you an opportunity to weigh both sides of the issue.

      You mention the driving and turning 21 social things, and to be honest, the flip side of that was an ENORMOUS factor for me. My 5yo is my clone in nearly every aspect, but especially his brain. It’s always turning and needs constant stimulation. For me, in grade school especially, I simply wasn’t challenged by the curriculum. When I got bored and/or was finished with work ahead of the class, it resulted in mischief. In short, I was as familiar with detention as I was good grades.

      This was one of my biggest fears, knowing his brain and how smart he is (hopefully not coming across as bragging, but more so a factor we had to consider), and thinking that there is a good chance he would turn to mischief just like I did.

  4. James Hudyma says:

    We did not send our daughter to Kindergarten this year. She turned 5 in late October. The cut-off here is end of December. Like you said, parents need to know their kids. Our daughter was ready academically, but not socially. Plus, she is a very challenging kid and the changes we’ve seen in her since September to now in her ability to control impulsive behaviour and to be more empathetic are huge and we know for sure we made the right choice… for her. When she starts K in September, she’ll be ready.

    • That sounds like one of those “as parents you know best” things. Always a chance she could have made the wrong friends based on these behaviors and start down a path that’s hard to reverse. The cousins in NJ was a big factor for us. We’d go down there and drop him in the middle of 15+ loud, NJ cousins he hasn’t seen in months and within minutes they are all holding hands, wrestling, running off to explore, etc…

      Very few things gave us pause about sending him, which is my personal hope to convey to others. If you analyze it, flip it on it’s head, look at everything, gather information, seek advice, and STILL feel like you should send, then go for it. Ours is now crushing his school work and just the other day I was told to buzz off at the hockey rink because he was hanging with friends. Be careful what you wish for on my part, I guess.

  5. This is great! I wish more parents knew their children as well as you do and that school districts trusted the parents more. My older two (Dec birthdays) were not ready for Kindergarten at age 4/5, but age 5/6 are much more prepared to learn. The olders needed another year of pre-school to get ready for the classroom. They were always great socially, since they were twins and had interaction with another person their size from the beginning, they needed to learn how to learn. As I watch the baby, Oct 4th bday with a Sept 30 cut off, I know I am going to be fighting some battles. He is so outgoing and smart, he will be ready at 4. Im researching now, preparing for the battle to come.

    • Your baby probably WILL be ready for K, but a handful of days and a rule say otherwise. This is the part of the equation where the “evil capitalist” in me takes over a tad, in that my boy squeaked in on the other side of this rule and I’ll be damned if we aren’t going to seize the opportunity. Obviously because we believe he is ready first and foremost, but after that because we can. Because it’s there.

      So twins socially advanced because they had each other, but maybe this same dynamic curbed their learning a bit? Just guessing here as I think to my oldest, an only child for three years and basically getting 100% of the attention from a family of a teachers. Sure he seems to have a want for learning, but seemingly every play activity was a learning event just because, and add in the 100% focus with no other kids vying for attention, and I have to think this is something of a factor.

      Thanks for sharing, Lynette and hope to see you around again. Good luck with your youngest and let us know how the battles turn out.

  6. Robert Loftus says:

    I agree with you that nobody knows a child better than the parents. It depends on all the factors listed. Growing up for me, the oldest kid in the class was always the coolest so holding them back probably doesn’t hurt socially. Good to see he is a starter this year

    • Did you hang with kids from the grade above you as a result of his? Just curious as to James’ point earlier about hanging with younger grade. I have a June bday so I was caught in the middle and only had to experience the mental trauma associated with never being able to bring cupcakes into the classroom for my birthday.

  7. Our cut off for me was October 30… My birthday is September 28th. I was always the last one to drive, drink (legally) vote, whatever. I never felt like I was not ready. A few kids did get sent back in second and third grade which I think is much worse for a kid. Socially a kid I think will develop with friends at either age. My youngest will be one of the oldest in his grade but from an intellectual stand point I don’t know if he is completely up to speed with what Kindergarten entails nowadays. Of course I have half day kindergarten which is a whole separate issue all together.

    • A topic for another RTD, maybe? I’m curious about this driving/drinking last thing. Yeah, it’s fun to rant about now, and was kinda annoying at the time, but is it something to really put down in the Cons columns of a Pros/Cons thing? I think I gauge you don’t believe so, that it wasn’t that big of a deal.

      Getting booze (illegally) was never a problem, as you hint, and friends driving first is a tad annoying, but for what, a handful of months? Bum a ride, get over it? No?

  8. My older brother has a November birthday. He started on time, but sometime in either 1st or 2nd grade, my mom put him in an accelerated program. So he ended up ahead a grade. The effects of this are not seen until the teen years. He was good at sports but he was a year behind and a year undersized. He had a good head on his shoulders, but I wonder what would have become of him had he been able to grow and mature with his age group. It also sucked for him because while his classmates were getting their driver’s licenses, he was getting his learner’s permit!

    • This got me thinking about athletes we see in college/pros. Seems like the little guys who had to fight for everything are more grounded individuals with stronger character than the guys who were always bigger/better than everyone else and success always came easy.

      But I agree in that once you get into Nov/Dec this thing becomes a bit more glaring, but late Sept isn’t that crazy to me. (right now…lol)

      • James Hudyma says:

        If you haven’t, you should read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. There is a whole chapter in the book about birth month and success in the NHL.

        September/October babies are not the ones teachers worry about. It’s the November/December who are typically the most disadvantaged by sending them young.

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