My wife and I are having a bit of a debate (I won't reveal which side I'm on!). Our situation is perfect for this question, as we have two daughters: one was born Sept. 15th, and the other on Aug. 29th.

US schools (or at least here in Minnesota), typically have the requirement that children be of age 5 on or before early September (I've heard Sept. 1st and 2nd). For our Sept. daughter, this means she will be one of the very oldest in her class, and if we entered the Aug. daughter "on time," she would be one of the very youngest.

There are fairly opinionated folks on both sides of the argument regarding whether or not to hold a child back vs. starting them "on time" (i.e. should we enter our Aug. daughter in kindergarten when she's 5 by Sept. or wait a year so that she's one of the oldest instead of youngest?).

This quote speaks to the widespread nature of the issue/debate:

“Redshirting” – holding your child back from starting Kindergarten a year (or even two) – is the latest fad in so-called early education trends. It’s an extreme version of holding back “late born” children. No longer content with holding back fall- or even summer-born children, more parents are holding back their spring-, winter-, and even previous year’s fall-born children.

That means more and more kiddos are starting Kindergarten at the age of 6. More and more parents are succumbing to the pressure to have their child be the biggest, fastest, and most mature in the classroom. And, unfortunately, more and more schools are taking the easy way out and moving their Kindergarten “cutoff date” even earlier in the year.

A strongly opposed view

Thinking about holding your child back for another year of pre-school? Whether you're hoping he'll be the biggest kid on the football team or the smartest little dude at the spelling bee, it turns out you will be shooting that kid right in the foot -- academically speaking -- if you delay kindergarten. Not exactly what parents were going for when they made the call to let their 5-year-old wait a year before beginning his academic career. (Emphasis original)

However, a new study shows that children who start kindergarten earlier do better. (Emphasis mine)

An example advocating for holding back:

Parents who decide to hold summer babies back and have them start kindergarten a year later may be onto something.

New research finds that kids born in the summer are less likely to grow up to be company CEOs, mainly because being younger puts them at a disadvantage in school, according to researchers. (Emphasis mine)

As may not be surprising, the media has given us two "new studies" which support opposing positions!

Some facets of this debate I've heard (put from the side advocating holding children back):

  • Being emotionally under-developed compared to peers (especially females)
  • Being physically under-developed compared to peers (especially females during puberty)
  • Being one of the last to be able to drive or reach the legal age of alcohol consumption
  • A constant feeling of being overwhelmed, under-performing, not as capable, etc.

Intuitively I could theorize on some pros:

  • Constantly being challenged and thriving in an environment where you are learning "ahead of your time"
  • Having a year to witness successes and mistakes of your peers before being able to drink or drive
  • Having friends who are theoretically a year "more mature" for emotional/social support

So, which is it? From the above, you can tell I'm obviously interested in long-term impacts, which carry through to all grade levels and into adulthood.

I plan on looking for data myself, but currently don't know if such a data set exists (perhaps anonymous grades or other performance metrics paired with grade level and date of birth, for example). I have yet to dig into the specific examples of studies which have investigated this, but plan to do that as well.

As a side comment, if evidence/data/studies suggests that parents should hold kids back until they are at least ~5.5 before starting kindergarten, I might expect that this would have become part of school enrollment standards. To date, it appears that it has not been incorporated, hence some skepticism on my part.

  • I don't have time to read/write it up at the moment, but this study could help someone interested in answering. – Hendy Jan 12 '14 at 3:03
  • Since you have two daughters born only two weeks apart, if one of them will be the oldest in the class due being past the cutoff date, then I would hold the other one back also so they will have the same experience. – tcrosley Jan 12 '14 at 8:13
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    Good question. In my experience, it should be decided on a kid-by-kid basis. If the kid is clearly not socially ready, by all means, hold back. I don't believe in pushing little kids. All that sports/academic stuff is another issue entirely. What matters is what the kid's ready for. – Mike Dunlavey Jan 13 '14 at 22:10
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    Can't comment on what's better, but my daughter is tallest, and close to youngest in her class. When she was having issue with English, my wife's defense to teacher was 'she's the youngest' hinting at maturity level, which the teacher countered 'she's the tallest'. So ... if they are tallest ... my advice is for them to be smart... because it will be expected for some reason. – Alex Jan 14 '14 at 21:33
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    What studies say is generally better should be of no interest for you. Your question should be if your kid is ready for kindergarten or not. Make an appointment, let somebody from the Kindergarten talk to your daughter and trust their judgement. – Twinkles May 8 '14 at 6:37

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