It may seem innocuous to have your baby on Aug. 31, but that
date will loom large as soon as your child starts to walk and talk.
With a Sept. 1 cut-off date for starting kindergarten at Chicago
area schools, whether or not you should delay your child's entry
into kindergarten-commonly called academic redshirting-is an issue
that troubles both parents and experts alike.
Chicago mom Amanda Doblin and her husband talked with
friends, family and early-childhood educators before deciding to
redshirt their son, Evan, 5. They even read Outliers by Malcom
Gladwell to better understand the book's famous study of Canadian
hockey players who have later birthdays, and therefore were found
to be the biggest, most skilled and most mature, compared to the
"By translating this study to education, we realized that
by 'redshirting' (Evan), we were setting him up for a more
successful educational experience," Doblin says. "After our
research, we felt validated on many levels in making our
The Doblins decided to let Evan have another year in
"The Sept. 1 date is arbitrary and will make little
difference in the future," Doblin says. "Once he goes to college
and enters the working world, Evan will be on an equal playing
field competing for college entrance, job interviews and the
Research on the topic tells another side of the
One review of the studies done on academic redshirting by
Hermine H. Marshall for Young Children in 2003 suggested that any
perceived advantage to redshirting in the kindergarten year all but
disappears by the third grade.
Another influential paper on the topic, "Living the 'Gift
of Time'," University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers liken
academic redshirting to a game of "'rock, paper, scissors'… where
'one strategy does not guarantee a win.'"
Aimee Yermish, owner of the da Vinci Learning Center in
Massachusetts, specializes in working with children who are
bright-to-gifted, learning disabled, or a combination thereof. She
calls the redshirting trend disturbing.
"The basic problem with 'redshirting helps kids' is that
we cannot ever know what would have happened with any given kid if
we'd made the opposite choice," Yermish says.
She thinks parents and academics look at everything a
redshirted child does "wrong" as proof that the child should have
been redshirted and conveniently ignore everything the child does
Gifted boys, who are most likely to be redshirted because
of perceived behavioral issues, are most at risk.
On the other side, many Chicago area educators see
distinct advantages to academic redshirting.
Ruth Luke, director of the preschool at the First
Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, works with parents to adapt to
the academic challenges of a late summer birthday.
"We can't change the system, but we can help children have
a better entry experience with redshirting," Luke says. "Little
boys take longer to cook. You give them another year and they are
really where they should be."
Katie Williams, principal of Lake Bluff Elementary School,
thinks the decision is a team effort.
"We have to be totally flexible with children when they
are within our boundaries," Williams says. "I think there are
exceptions and we need to have a process to take a second look and
look beyond the law or policy and then work with the
Karen Faust, a River Forest mom, did not encounter any
debate about whether or not to hold her son Carl back a year for
"Carl was born Aug. 3, 2003, and he's in first grade
instead of second," Faust says. "It really just seemed like the
Faust does not believe parents hold their children back to
have them be a "super kid" or for them to excel, but because they
want their children to have a more "normal kindergarten experience
academically, socially and emotionally."
Faust's situation in the River Forest School District is
Chicago Public Schools do not offer any leeway when it
comes to deciding when a child should enter school. While
kindergarten is not required in Illinois, a child must adhere to
the Sept. 1 deadline for the school year.
After unsuccessfully applying for their late-summer born
son to attend Chicago Public School kindergarten at age 6, Lisa
Foran of Evanston finally gave up on her dream of raising children
in the city.
"We applied to 18 public schools, and didn't get into any
for the 2010-11 school year," Foran says. "We moved to Evanston
this past June so our children could attend school and we as
parents could be certain that our child/children wouldn't be
regarded as just a number."
Parents who want alternative options for their late-summer
born children must look elsewhere-like Foran, to suburban districts
or to private schools-to adjust their child's entry into
kindergarten or first grade.
For example, North Park Elementary, an independent school
on the city's North Side, does not have a policy on redshirting,
but will tell prospective parents to work with a child's preschool
and other experts to determine the best start date for that child
to enter kindergarten.
Another prominent independent school in the city, Francis
W. Parker, however, does not support the concept of
Admissions Director Karen Fisher wrote in an email that
its admission process is firm with a Sept. 1 and age 4 requirements
for junior kindergarten.
"Our guidelines are well considered by our educators and
have served children well over the years. There will always be a
spectrum of birthdays in a class of children and it is not
necessarily a disadvantage to be on one end or the other," she
With CPS making one recommendation, and some suburban and
private schools offering other options, the decision about how to
handle a child born on the cusp of a school year can be
There's no statistical proof that redshirting will
actually help a child in the long run, but a parent's intuition
means something if they are willing to compromise on location or
In that way, Doblin's advice may end up being a good
guidepost for parents.
"My husband and I made a choice that suits our family
best," she says. "Trust your instincts and the choice
that you make."
Sara Fisher is a mother of two living in Roscoe Village. She also blogs at selfmademom.net.
See more of Sara's stories here.
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