Not Holding Back. Why I didn't "redshirt" my kindergarten-age son. By Holly Korbey for


Okay, things were getting a little wrinkled for me now. I couldn’t follow the conversation. Holden was acting young, and by young, we mean acting four – which was perfectly okay, according to her – but acting young was not okay for kindergarten? The other children, the ones not being held back from kindergarten, how were they acting? Old? Older? Older than what?

“What is he doing that’s so young?” I began to have nightmarish visions: Holden yanking down his pants and peeing on a kid. Hurling toilet paper wads at the bathroom ceiling.

“Well, for one, he sucks his thumb.”

Sucks his thumb? I knew kids who sucked their thumbs in high school! (Ones who went to Stanford, by the way.)

“I think if it continues, the other children will make fun of him.”

She cited other examples of his immaturity: when they did a silly song and dance on Fridays, he participated. (The other boys did not.) Also, he liked to play by himself.

Holden’s teacher explained to me that, in Texas, most young boys were considered unready to face the “social challenges” of kindergarten – though she couldn’t pinpoint what those challenges actually were – and were held back. Angry, I argued that she had not taken the time to observe my particular child. In my mind, somebody had to be the youngest, and why were we picking on the boys? Did the girls not undergo the same toxic scrutiny for “immaturity” that the boys did?

“The little girls are so much better at sitting still” was her only comment.

My sweet, smart, socially normal four-year-old would be held back. She said Holden was right on track, but that I’d have to hold him back because all the other boys his age would be held back. My perfectly sweet, smart, socially normal four-year-old was being told that he needed to be held back, because that’s what the other boys were doing. Peer pressure for preschoolers!

Recent studies done on kindergarten redshirting have shown that growing numbers of summer birthday boys are being held back a year before starting kindergarten, especially in white, affluent areas of the country. In Carroll, Texas, a wealthy south Dallas suburb, 158 of 452 kindergarteners were six at the start of the 2007-2008 school year, while 165 of 504 first graders were seven. In Highland Park, Texas, a small city within the city of Dallas, 96 of 452 kindergarteners were six, and 79 of 436 first graders were seven, or eight(!).

Studies have shown two negatives regarding redshirting kindergarten boys. First, boys who are redshirted don’t perform any better than the average students of the class they join – in other words, they don’t perform as if they’re six, but instead perform like the other five-year-olds in their class. Also, boys who are held back tend to have more behavioral problems later on.

Let me stop and rewind a bit: I am not talking about children with learning problems or developmental delays. Kids with delays and learning problems are a different consideration altogether. None of the summer birthday boys in Holden’s class were being held back because of developmental delays. They were being held back so they could have a perceived advantage over other children.

I couldn’t help wondering if Holden’s teacher hadn’t mentioned something about my conference tirade to the other preschool mothers, because each, in turn, began grilling me about my decision.