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Red-shirting Boys : A Hindrance or Benefit?

July 9th, 2010by Jessi Arias-Cooper

Red-shirting is the practice of holding a child (often boys) back one year from entering kindergarten. Usually, children who are red-shirted are born in the latter part of the year.

When deciding whether or not to red-shirt my own children, I researched the practice and the logic behind it. I expected to find mothers advocating for the practice. Instead, I found that many were opposed to red-shirting. They felt schools were pushing them to keep their children out of school for an extra year, rather than giving them the opportunity to begin as soon as possible.

Many mothers believed teachers were shirking their responsibility by red-shirting, because younger children can be “a pain” and “involve more work” to teach. I read about outraged mothers who believed that red-shirting was solely based on the idea that if held back, a boy would be bigger and better for sports teams, therefore getting an advantage. Most of these mothers also argued that it isn’t beneficial to a child’s performance in the classroom. One argued that holding a child back would later lead to behavioral problems.

A 2007 study shows that while these concerned moms may have their hearts in the right place, there’s an anatomical reason for red-shirting. The study of 508 boys and girls indicated that boys and girls brains develop differently. Areas of the brain which develop earlier in girls include fine motor skills (similar to hand-eye coordination) and language. In boys, targeting and spatial memory mature faster.

Kindergarten focuses greatly on reading and writing, two areas that 5-year-old boys will be less developed in than girls. This is educator’s reasoning behind red-shirting. Underachieving teachers and bigger football players aren’t part of the equation.

Each child, however, is different. Red-shirting has left a lot of mothers indecisive about what to do. Your decision shouldn’t be based on the “advantage” your child has compared to his classmates, but rather, his emotional and social development.

For parents considering holding their child back or looking for more information, I offer the following advice:

1. Read Boy Adrift by Leonard Sax.
Educating yourself is essential to making a confident decision about your child’s education. Also check out this online document for statistics and more information on development studies, click here.

2. Research schools and their kindergarten programs.
If you can find out more about the curriculum, you’ll greatly benefit. As mentioned in the article above and in Boys Adrift, boys need physical, tangible teaching. Find a program that focuses more on physical and oral learning than on reading and writing.

3. Sit in on a kindergarten class.
Many teachers allow you and your child to participate in a trial class. This will help you see how your child interacts with the other children in large groups, and should help you gauge his social and emotional development.

4. Observe your child.
Is he independent, good at sharing and resolving issues? Can he focus for more than five minutes on a project or book? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, he might need to be held back so he can thoroughly benefit from his kindergarten experience.

The decision to red-shirt is tough for parents. The most important thing is to trust your instincts be supportive of your child, no matter what you decide. Nobody knows your kid like you do.

This guest post was contributed by Kaitlyn Gibbesch, who is a member of the fastest growing online education community that writes on topics like education, online mba programs, schools etc.

Kaitlyn’s personal blog is

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