Kindergarten Readiness: 'Redshirt' or Enroll?

Determining the right time to enroll your future kindergartner
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Photo courtesy of Oksana Kuzmina/

Across North Carolina, many parents must make what seems like a life-changing decision for their rising kindergartners: Enroll or redshirt?

The option to enroll a child who is not quite 5 years old — or who may have just turned 5 — often complicates parents’ decision-making process. The redshirt option allows parents to wait a year before enrolling their child in kindergarten.


Too Much Too Soon?

If your child turns 5 on or before Aug. 31, he will be able bounce into a kindergarten class that year. If your child turns 5 on Sept. 1 or later, and you would like to enroll him in kindergarten, you must go through an intense application process that involves submitting work samples and letters of recommendation, as well as IQ and achievement testing, to determine if she is eligible for early entry.

Some parents say the school system and others discouraged them from considering the early entry process.

“Everyone I told that I was considering having my son, Connor, tested for early entry kindergarten did nothing but tell me that he would never pass the test because they never knew of anyone to pass that test,” says Melissa S, a mother of three in Apex who wishes to remain anonymous. “They continued saying it’s a waste of money and that I shouldn’t push my child to test because he’s a boy and they are too immature.”

Melissa proceeded with the early-entry testing and found it was the right path for her family to take. “I knew my son was more than ready emotionally, physically, socially and academically,” she says. “Connor is 8 years old now and going into the fourth grade. He is the youngest, but top in his class since kindergarten. This coming school year, he’s even enrolled in AIG classes. He is thriving!”

Potential advantages of early enrollment include:

  • Providing a challenging and enriching curriculum for a child who is ready and excited about school.
  • Sending a child to kindergarten with preschool peers and buddies.
  • Less financial obligations, since parents no longer have to pay day care or preschool tuition. (Keep in mind, however, there is a cost for early-enrollment testing and some working parents may still need to pay for after-school care.)
  • A child will be cared for during the day, which allows parents more time to work or focus on other siblings.

Potential disadvantages of early entry include:

  • If a child is emotionally, socially or behaviorally immature, you may be setting him up for academic and emotional struggles.
  • If a child is not academically ready, she may experience a very frustrating year and develop a negative attitude toward school.


Too Late or Just Right?

Redshirting is a concept taken from college sports, through which athletes practice with their team for the first year, but sit out during competitions to become stronger and more competitive for the next year.

When it comes to kindergarten, redshirting involves holding a child back from starting kindergarten at age 5 to give that child an extra year to develop emotionally, academically and physically.

Charlotte mom Michelle Vigor says redshirting her son was a very difficult and personal decision for her and her husband.

“We both agreed that he followed directions well and was a good listener,” she says, but decided “to give time for more development of gross and fine motor skills, as well as emotional growth.”

Vigor says she has no regrets because her son “had a fantastic year, and I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat.”

Retired Wake County teacher Patti Neptun, who taught kindergarten for 15 of her 37 years as a teacher, says the parents she knows who redshirted their kindergartners never experienced regret over this decision.

“I’ve had many parents who allowed their child to start as early as possible, and many ended up regretting it,” Neptun says. “But of all the parents who waited to let their kindergartener to start as an older 5- or 6-year-old, not one ever regretted that decision.”

Potential advantages of redshirting include:

  • Giving a child an advantage to succeed academically, socially and athletically.
  • Giving a child who may be socially or emotionally immature a chance to “ripen” before encountering the demands of kindergarten.

Potential disadvantages of redshirting include:

  • Facing negative reactions from critics who believe redshirting sets up an imbalanced and unfair playing field for other kids who are age-appropriate for their grade.
  • Missing the chance to make that leap to kindergarten with preschool or day care peers.

Making the Call

When the time comes to make the decision about whether to enroll or redshirt your child, try to be realistic about her social, emotional and academic skills. Focus more on academic and social readiness, versus chronological age or size.

Signs of readiness include:

  • Knows ABCs or sight words, and can count from 1 to 10.
  • Has demonstrated an ability to sit for periods of time in a structured setting and attend to a lesson.
  • Can handle separation from mom and dad well.
  • Is able to play well with peers and demonstrates respect for adult authority figures.
  • Can handle transitions during the day from one activity to the next.

Still aren’t sure? Get a second opinion. Ask your child’s preschool teacher, pediatrician or coach about whether they think your child might be ready for kindergarten. Many child psychologists offer a brief “screening” to more thoroughly assess your child’s emotional, social, behavioral and academic skills.

Consider what else your child will be doing if she does not start kindergarten. Will she repeat a preschool program with much younger children or enroll in a transitional kindergarten class?

Assess your child’s learning “window.” Is he excited about starting kindergarten and bored with preschool lessons?

No matter when your child starts kindergarten, it’s a new beginning for him — and you. Project a positive and calm manner when discussing kindergarten with or around your child so that when you do send him to kindergarten, your family will be able to cherish the memory of that special day.


Taking a Transitional Approach

Transitional kindergarten can bridge the gap between redshirting and repeating another year of preschool. Many parents and teachers view transitional kindergarten as how kindergarten was “back in the day.” Classrooms take a more developmental approach that emphasizes children’s social and emotional needs, versus taking a fast-paced academic approach.

Other benefits include:

  • Children learn how to wait their turn, share and play with other children.
  • Most learning is done through hands-on activities.
  • Teachers strive to make learning fun to set a positive tone and help develop a child’s love of school.
  • There is typically less retention of transitional kindergarten students once they enter a standard kindergarten program.

Negatives to consider:

  • Transitional kindergarten adds a year of schooling and can lead to boredom if a child is academically ready for the higher demands of a regular kindergarten classroom.
  • Although many parents and teachers believe holding a student back will result in higher achievement scores, most research suggests those advantages typically disappear by third grade.


Dr. Kristen Wynns is a child psychologist who owns Wynns Family Psychology in Cary and North Raleigh. She is also the founder of No Wimpy ParentingTM. Visit or follow Wynns Family Psychology to learn more.