Everyone has an opinion, and it is usually a strong one. Every parent who has sent their child late, every parent who has sent their child on time, and every person who knows somebody who has a child with a summer birthday has input.
Luckily for me, I wanted input.
From the time I was first pregnant with Brinley and calculated her due date, I knew I would have a hard choice ahead of me. Should I send her to school “on time” or wait a year (also known as red-shirting kindergarten)? Believe me when I say I thought about it constantly from November of 2011 until about February of 2017. I read everything I came across on the Internet about it. As the Internet does, the more I read, the more it showed me on that topic. I have read a lot of opinions, and there are a lot of variances in opinions.
I also spoke with everyone I know personally who is a teacher to get his/her wisdom and experience. I talked with every mom friend I have who had to make the same choice. I grilled friends who were born in the summer and sent “on time” or “late” to hear of their experiences. I even met with the principal at our elementary and discussed the decision at length with him.
I researched. I pondered. I prayed.
We reached a decision.
I am sending my little daughter, barely turned 5, to kindergarten on time.
She will not be red-shirted. She will be one of the youngest (if not the youngest) in the grade. She will definitely have children who are more than one year older than she is in her grade with her.
Most of what I read on the Internet tells me no! No! You cannot send a child to kindergarten on time if he/she (especially he) has a summer birthday! You are dooming your child to certain failure! Conversely, literally every teacher and the principal who I talked to in person, the people who know me and my children (including Brinley) told me yes! Yes! You absolutely should send her to kindergarten on time. If you keep her back, you strongly risk setting her up for frustration and then failure.
Today I want to walk you through the factors that went into my personal decision. These are the points I considered and what led me to sending her on time. Most of the information out there, as I said, says you must delay. There needs to be some contrasting points of view out there on the Internet so people can make the decision that is best for their individual child, even if that means sending the child (gasp!) on time. Each child is an individual and there is no one-size fits all answer. In my small neighborhood, I have children who have been sent on time and children who have been delayed. Sometimes it is right to delay and sometimes it is not. Here are the points I considered when making this decision for Brinley.
School is largely about learning (not fully, but primarily). I would not want to send my child to school if she was not ready to face the academics of day to day. I don’t want her frustrated. I want her to love to learn.
There is a flip side here. I also do not want to wait to send a child who is ready and have her end up hating school because it is far too easy by the time she gets there. Yes, I could wait to send Brinely and I could send her in a year with 99% confidence that she would hands down be one of the top 3 performing students in her grade.
Here is the thing, I have at least two children who are gifted (McKenna is too young to be placed yet, if that will happen). Because of that, I do a lot of research on gifted children. Many gifted children end up doing poorly in school because school is not challenging enough for them. They get bored. They check out. They act out. They break rules. Then when school finally catches up to them, they have not developed the skills to know how to learn. They have also given up on school and don’t have an interest in putting in effort because school has never been an interesting or rewarding experience.
This can also be true of high achieving children and really smart children. There is no doubt in my mind that Brinley will be at least high achieving, smart child in school. All three of my children so far have been that way and she is like them. I don’t know if she will be “gifted” or not, but I do know she is advanced enough that there is real risk of her falling into the “school is too easy” group.
One teacher I talked to taught Brayden and Kaitlyn (she teaches third grade). She told me I absolutely should not wait to send Brinley. She said if I had done that with my other children (Brayden was a considered option because his birthday is late May), she would not have known what to do with them. It was already a big challenge to find ways to keep my kids challenged in school. This teacher is at retirement age, so she has had the experience of teaching a disinterested advanced child many times.
So for me, the academics factor said, send her.
It is very easy to want to set your child up to have a great chance at being “the best” at something. This is a very common for red-shirting (either for sports or academics). In the grand scheme of life, it is often not in the child’s best interest to set them up to be “the best.” Sometimes that actually sabotages the child.
For me, another huge part of school is about social skills. I want my children to learn how to socialize and develop interpersonal skills. School is not the only place it can happen, but it is a great place to learn and practice social skills. I would not want to send my child to school unprepared to interact with peers on their level socially. A child who is socially behind can really struggle in school. This can negatively impact the learning experience and lead to hating school.
The way for me to measure Brinley’s social ability was to send her to preschool with children her age. Through the year, I often spoke to her teacher to feel out how she was doing socially (and academically). She was on par and beyond, despite being young. She was kind. She got along with others. She had friends. She can stand her ground and not get pushed around (this is a concern with younger children. Brinley has never been one to get pushed around, however).
I also had Brinley in a playgroup where I was able to observe her in a learning and social environment.
If my child were academically ready, but not socially ready, I would probably not send her. I would know I would need to go to a lot of effort to ensure when I did send her the next year that she would have enough challenge in life that school would still be exciting.
There is a social aspect to school, however, and for a child who is behind socially, the social learning can be enough of an education that it can offset any frustration with academic ease.
Brinley’s social abilities led me to feel comfortable with sending her on time.
Before I knew Brinley as an individual, maturity was a high concern for me. I knew she would be the youngest in the family. The oldest is typically quite mature for his/her age. The youngest can be a gamble. Sometimes the youngest is mature because he/she is keeping up with older siblings. Sometimes, however, the youngest is quite immature because he/she is babied. You also have individual personality that impacts maturity level.
As the years went on, it was clear that Brinley is mature for her age. She does not seem too “young.” Her maturity level when interacting with peers and older children helped me be confident she is mature enough to attend kindergarten on time.
Length of Day
The length of the school day is a huge factor to consider when you are deciding when to send your child to school. If you are sending a barely five year old to full day school, that could very easily be too much for him/her. Some might still need a nap every day!
In my area, kindergarten is still a half day. If she were a full day, I would definitely be hesitant to send her to school at a younger age. I would prefer to have her be a year older before she was gone from me all day long.
With half day, it is not much different than preschool was, and she handled that very well. Since our day is only a few hours long, I feel like she can handle the length of a school day.
Speaking of preschool, I would not feel comfortable making the decision of whether or not to send my summer birthday child to school without a preschool experience. Preschool allows you a chance to know how well your child listens to a teacher, can sit still and focus, plays with others, and understands and follows instructions. It helps you know how she handles leaving you and being away from home. You can get an opinion on whether or not to send your child from an unbiased source. We parents can think very highly of our children. I know plenty of parents who think their child is a complete genius when the child is clearly functioning at an average level. I very well could be over-estimating my child’s abilities. I would not want to make this decision without the second opinion of the preschool teacher.
Brinley’s preschool teacher was fully confident Brinley will do well going to kindergarten on time.
When I first went to the principal to discuss if I should send Brinley on time or not, he looked at me like I had two heads. He was quite surprised I was asking the question. He furrowed his eye brows in confusion and inquired, “What would be your concern in sending her on time?”
There are a whole lot of people at our school who have “red-shirted” in the past, so I knew his reaction was not to the concept itself; he has seen it every single year for a long time. Several students red-shirt every single year. The question on “why” was particular to my child.
I am highly involved at the school. I have been involved in the parent/teacher organization and was the president of that organization for the past two years. Brinley is always my little sidekick. I was involved at the school before she was born and stayed involved after. She has sat with me in his office for meetings and often chats with him. He knows her. He has seen her grow up so far.
He also knows my other three children. He is aware of their academic abilities. He expressed that she would have no trouble in kindergarten and wondered why I was concerned.
This is the big question. By this point in her life, I knew she was socially and mentally capable of going to kindergarten on time. At this point, a big concern of mine was the fact that other people red-shirt their children. So instead of just being the youngest in a 12 month span, she is now the youngest in a 16 month span since many parents are keeping their late spring birthday children back. I also knew that many of the children being red-shirted were not being red-shirted out of actual need. She would be learning among children who were perfectly capable of being in a grade older.
So in her actual age group, I had no concerns. The idea of sending her to school with children who are 16 months older than she is concerns me. 12 months is one thing, 16 months is another.
His opinion was that even with that factor, she would be just fine and have no problems.
I do think this factor needs to be strongly considered. You can’t just figure out if your child is ready for school against her actual school-year age group. It has to be against a larger age range. This would be no issue of children were only held back if they truly needed to be academically and/or socially, but that is often not the case. Children are held back for sports. They are held back to give them an academic edge in hopes they can more easily be the smartest in the grade.
This factor was probably the one that held me up the most. In the end, I decided she is solid enough in the other factors that her age can be overcome.
I wouldn’t ever want to make height a strong contributor to such an important decision, but where my child falls on the growth chart is a consideration for me. McKenna is 8 and as tall or taller than most 10 year olds. She has been this high above average since she was a toddler. I knew if Brinley was built like McKenna, I would have a hard time holding her back. It is hard to be super tall. Adults expect you to be much more mature than you actually are. You feel out of place with everyone being so much smaller than you are. If McKenna were a year older in her grade, she would seem gigantic.
Brinley is one who is usually around 75-ish percentile. She is above average but not so tall that she seems years older than she is. Her height is not a big deal in this decision. I do have a couple of friends with very, very short children who kept their children back because of height on the short side. They didn’t want their children to be so much shorter than everyone else, and an extra year gave some growth.
Fortunately, height did not need to be a factor that impacted this decision.
My Personal Experience
Brayden is a late May birthday. There is a girl his age who is in the grade younger than he is because she was held back. People keep late May birthdays back, especially boys.
When Brayden was in preschool, I waited several months into the year and asked his teacher if I should send him or not. She was surprised to have me ask the question and hadn’t even realized he was the youngest one in the class. She said she always thought it was one of the oldest. She assured me he was ready.
Despite being one of the very youngest people in the grade, Brayden has done very, very well. Several of his teachers have told me he is the brightest child they have ever taught. My decision to send him “on time” was the correct decision for him as an individual. This is especially true when I look at his peer group in his grade compared to the grade below him. He clicks and fits better in his current grade. That is a whole other factor that you absolutely have no idea how that will play out, so I try to keep that out of my mind.
Brayden is only a couple of months older than Brinley in the year and a boy rather than a girl (most people say boys need to be kept back more often than girls do). Considering his success coupled with Brinley’s abilities in the areas I have already talked about, I had more confidence to send Brinley “on time.”
Now, please know that I would never just send her because I sent Brayden and he has done well. They are individuals. At the time when I sent Brayden, there was not so much noise out there telling parents what to do. I was able to decide for him as an individual. Currently, there is a lot of noise and most of it says to wait, so me having some experience sending a young child has helped me move forward knowing it isn’t dooming my child to full failure in life.
At the kindergarten evaluation, I sent her back without saying anything. When the teacher came out, she said Brinley did great. I commented, “She is a late summer birthday…” and was interrupted by a firm, “She is ready.” I didn’t want the teacher evaluating to know she was a late birthday because I wanted an honest assessment as she is and not a “well, she is good for her age” assessment.
I was fortunate that the teacher who evaluated has not taught any of my other children. She hasn’t even ever been the one to evaluate any of my children. She is a strict teacher with high expectations, so I felt very reassured when she stated Brinley was ready. She was my final check box in the decision making process.
The High School Years
A very common argument for keeping children back a year in my area is, strangely, their age in high school. More specifically, the grade the child is in when he/she can drive. I say strangely because I find hinging the decision of when to start your child on one year of his/her life a little baffling.
In my state, teenagers get their drivers licence at age 16. It is a big deal here and pretty much every teen gets their licence the day he/she can. It is a very exciting milestone.
A cultural event at 16 for us is the age of dating. Our children will be allowed to date at age 16 and not before. So Brinley will not be able to date until she is in the summer between her sophomore and junior years. I have no doubt that will likely be a challenge for her (and honestly, a relief to me!). She will not be able to drive until that same time. That will be such a challenge for her! It will also be a challenge for me because I will have to drive her places when she is a sophomore (by then, McKenna will be graduated).
I was the oldest in my grade, and frankly, I loved it. I loved being older and thought it was great. I loved driving at the beginning of sophomore year and felt bad for my poor friends who had to wait.
But it is just one year of life.
I have visited with friends who were young in their grade growing up. Some loved it. Some hated it. There was no consensus. Maybe Brinley will hate being young when she is a sophomore. Maybe she won’t mind.
This is something I considered, but I could not let one year of her life impact the rest of it. She has years before and years after that will be affected by when she starts kindergarten, and this one factor could not be a make or break point.
Here is a final factor for me. Kaitlyn and McKenna both have spring birthdays. That means for the vast majority of sophomore year, they will not be dating nor driving. If those two can survive it, so can Brinley.
There are three facets to friends I want to discuss.
First is Brinley’s current friends. 100% of her friends (before she went to preschool) will be going to school the school year after she does. If I kept her back, she would be with these friends in school. This was not a light point for me. It was quite heavy. She has zero friends going with her and all of them going the year after. These are all friends in our neighborhood and/or church congregation.
Here is where I look at experience again. Kaitlyn is the only girl in our church congregation her age. She has two boys who are in her grade (there are several more who were kept back and are now in the grade younger). She went to school having to make all of her friends organically–no crutches. She has thrived! She has great friends. Her friends fully share her values and interests because she has only gravitated to the friends she fully clicks with. There are no friendships out of convenience, ease, nor obligation.
McKenna is a strong converse situation. There are around 10 children in our church congregation who are in her grade. She has had a great time with that. She went to kindergarten already being good friends with a quarter of the kindergarteners. She has great friends she loves and has been friends with since toddlerhood. She hasn’t really made strong frienships with anyone outside of the church congregation group. She has a lot of additional friends–she is very outgoing and extroverted–but her best friends are the same ones who have been her best friends from birth.
I don’t know if that is better or worse than what Kaitlyn has grown in friendships. I think time (and junior high) will tell more there. I think Kaitlyn has a better chance of staying tight with her friends because they have become her friends out of real interest and not out of convenience. They are friends even though it isn’t the easy thing to do. I think McKenna might face a friend shift once they all get to the age when interests start to shift as they do in junior high. Kaitlyn is on a soccer team with her best friends. McKenna is on a soccer team with friends. Her best friends have zero interest in playing soccer. I don’t know how junior high will impact that.
The main point here is that my two girls have very different experiences in going to school with or without a built in tribe and both have fared very well thus far.
People can move. Church congregation lines can be redrawn. I could not base her starting school on when her existing friends were starting, as hard as that was for me as a friendship-oriented extrovert myself.
Another friend aspect. I looked at my personal friends from high school and the friends of my children. One of Kaitlyn’s best friends is a late August birthday and the youngest in the grade. She is super smart and does so well. One of McKenna’s best friends is a late July birthday. Again, super smart and does so well. This particular friend had a hard time leaving her mom each day when she started, but she has overcome that and is doing well.
I analyzed the people I went to school with. Facebook is nice and tells you everyone’s birthdays and for some reason birthdays have always stuck in my brain, so I remember the approximate date of my closest high school friends.
Some of what I read in researching suggested that the older people in the grade were the ones who would succeed in high school and in life. As I looked at the people I went to high school with and analyzed where they were then and where they are now, I have not found that to be the case. Some of my best friends were student body officers. Their birthdays ranged from the oldest in the grade to the youngest and in between. Age in the grade did not impact whether or not they were socially liked.
My friends from high school range in birth months, and guess what? The ones who were born late in the school year are just as successful as the ones born early in the year. Lawyers and surgeons now work from those last few birth months of the school year. Somehow they managed to get successful careers despite being young in the grade.
A final factor for me was considering our family dynamic. Brinley going “on time” means McKenna is in 3rd, Kaitlyn 5th, and Brayden 7th. To send her a year later would move them all up a grade when she was starting kindergarten. I didn’t want Brinley to have a huge gap in life from her siblings. Now, if she had not been ready, I would have allowed that gap to exist because I want her to find success in school.
This family dynamic trumped any friend dynamic out there. I don’t want her to feel like she grew up in a different zip code than her siblings (so to speak).
When it comes to school, someone has to be the youngest. There is an oldest and a youngest and everything in between. The decision of when to send your child to school is a big one. It strongly impacts their experience. It should not be taken lightly. Frankly, I would much have preferred Brinley to be born in a cut-and-dry time of year when it was no question (September-April here). May-August means a big decision needs to be made.
I have researched, consulted, analyzed, pondered, and prayed. In the end, my ultimate decision is not what the majority of people talking on the Internet would do. I feel it is right for her, however. I feel at peace. I do not mind if she has to work some in school. In fact, I hope she needs to put some effort in so she learns how to put effort in.
When you are making your own decision, consider your key factors and go with what is best for your child. Each child should be looked at individually and a decision should be made based on his/her abilities, not on the opinions of the masses.