Our Five Ring Circus: Should I Redshirt My Child (Who Has Down Syndrome) For Kindergarten...Or Not?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Should I Redshirt My Child (Who Has Down Syndrome) For Kindergarten...Or Not?

Should I Redshirt My Child Who Has Down Syndrome For Kindergarten...Or Not? #downsyndrome #kindergarten #specialneeds #school

Almost 4 1/2 years have flown by since we first heard the words "We think he has Down syndrome." A lot has happened since then, but it doesn't feel like that many years have passed. Yet here we are, just 1 month away from Liam's Kindergarten transition meeting, and 8 months away from the start of Kindergarten. This can't be possible!

Although we have more pressing matters to deal with, such as tonight's sleep study, and the upcoming (rescheduled) endoscopy to confirm the Celiac Disease diagnosis, I'm not ready for this transition. I'm not sure sending Liam to Kindergarten in the Fall is the correct decision. I'm not sure what the right decision actually is. For the first time on our Down syndrome journey, I'm completely at a loss, and I have absolutely no idea what we should do. 

Liam is eligible to go to Kindergarten during the 2018-2019 school year, based on his age, but his birthday falls just days before the cutoff date. He would easily be one of the youngest kids in his grade. That, paired with other factors, makes this a very tough decision for us to make!

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Redshirting was originally a sports term that eventually became popular in academics. When a child is "redshirted" he or she is held back to give them an extra year to build skills. Redshirting a child in Kindergarten simply means to hold them back a year, so they have a bigger advantage when they start school the following year.


There are a few reasons why parents would choose to "redshirt" their child for Kindergarten:

  • The child has a birthday just before the registration cutoff date, which would make them one of the youngest in their grade.
  • The child is male. Boys often mature slower than girls.
  • The child has special needs.
  • An educator recommends the child goes to preschool for one more year to build crucial Kindergarten readiness skills.
Despite all the reasons, ultimately, it is the parents' choice to send their child if they are eligible to attend. 


This is where things get confusing!

A simple internet search of redshirting yields numerous conflicting results. One study from a reputable source shows that redshirting a child for Kindergarten is extremely beneficial over the course of their school career, while another reputable study shows that redshirting a child can cause harmful results. Searching for redshirting a child with special needs yields similar search results.

Even the professionals give conflicting advice. It seems like many teachers are FOR redshirting, but the special needs experts argue that there is no value in redshirting a child who has an IEP. When the child is getting special ed services, they tend to get pushed into the public school system the moment they are eligible, without any further thought.

What should a confused parent do?!?


This is not the first time we had to make this tough choice for one of our children! Lily, who is now in first grade, also had a birthday just before the Kindergarten registration cutoff. After doing a lot of research, talking to the experts, and giving it a lot of thought, I wrote a post sharing why we would NOT be redshirting our child for Kindergarten.

Lily is one of the youngest kids in her grade, and the youngest child in her class. Due to the increasing popularity of redshirting, Lily started Kindergarten with kids who turned 6 months before she even turned 5.  A year (plus) is a big age difference, but Lily is neurotypical, and showed signs of readiness, so we decided to send her.

Although one could argue that an extra year in preschool would have given her a big advantage when she started Kindergarten, Lily is thriving in school. She had a great year in Kindergarten, and adjusted beautifully to first grade. For Lily, it WAS the right choice.


Although sending Lily to Kindergarten, despite having a late birthday, was the right choice, it may not be the right choice for Liam. Other factors are in play here:

  • His birthday is just days before the registration cutoff. He will be one of the youngest in his grade.
  • He is VERY small for his age. Right now, he is the size of a 2-3 year old. 
  • Although his social skills are top-notch, he has a limited vocabulary. He speaks in some short sentences, but sometimes his words are difficult to understand. This will make communication with his teachers, the staff, and his classmates more difficult. He is having a big vocabulary explosion right now, so this could become less of an issue over the next few months.
  • Thanks to our current struggle with Celiac Disease (which will hopefully be behind us soon), he isn't completely potty trained yet. We still have 7 months to work on that, and he was almost there before all his issues began in late Summer, so I am hopeful.
  • He isn't on the same level academically as his peers...and he won't be when he starts.
  • Because of his limited vocabulary, he won't be able to tell us in-depth details about his day. We won't know if another student bullies him or if something bad happens to him at school. 

Yes, Liam will have an IEP. Yes, he will be in special ed, although we will push mostly for inclusion. But what is the right choice for him? Would an additional year of preschool make a difference, or should we just go ahead and send him to Kindergarten?


The Down syndrome experts that we spoke with said we can't possibly compare the education plan for a neurotypical child to that of a child with special needs, so there is no reason to hold Liam back. They said an additional year of preschool would be the same as a year in Kindergarten, and it would make no sense to redshirt him. If anything, it would make more sense to repeat Kindergarten.

Most of the teachers (including current and former special ed teachers) said it would be beneficial to hold him back, and give him an extra year to mature and work on Kindergarten readiness skills. His current teachers and therapists, however, think he should move on to Kindergarten in the Fall.

So who is right? The general educators, the educators who actually know him, or the Down syndrome experts?


If it were up to me, I would keep Liam home with me forever, in the safety of my arms! I'm the person who can protect him and keep him safe. My heart tells me to keep him home (and homeschool him), but my brain tells me that it's selfish of me to think that.  By doing so, I would be depriving him of all the benefits that inclusion has to offer!

By going to school, he will have the opportunity to learn from his peers of ALL abilities. He will learn how work in a large school setting and how to live in the real world. And he just might be able to teach his neurotypical classmates a thing or two about diversity and acceptance.

It isn't just up to me, though. My husband's opinions differ from mine. While I'm still considering an additional year of preschool, he believes that going to Kindergarten in the Fall is the best choice for Liam.

But is he old enough/big enough/mature enough to enter that battleground in August? And is it the right choice?


Although we have options, the IU program that coordinates Liam's education and therapy is pushing him into the public school system. The Kindergarten transition meeting is scheduled for February, and that's when the entire Kindergarten registration process begins for the district. We don't have much time to make our choice.

My plan is to go into the meeting armed with an arsenal of questions and see what they think about my concerns. Although I want to follow my heart, I have nothing to back it up with other than my fierce need to protect my son and keep him safe.

Sending a child - ANY child - to Kindergarten is a tough transition. But it's even more difficult when they have special needs. For the first time ever, I am SCARED to send my child to school. I'm finding it so difficult to trust them with my son's well-being. It feels physically impossible to let him go. My heart is already aching, the uncertainty is causing me stress, and it's over a half year away. What is the right decision?

Redshirting for Kindergarten

So, my dear readers, I would love to hear your thoughts! Did you have to make this tough decision? If you have a child who has special needs, did you redshirt them for Kindergarten, and why? If you sent them as soon as they were eligible, what was your experience? What should I ask at this meeting? And if you are an expert (a medical professional or an educator), I would love to hear your opinion!

Should I Redshirt My Child Who Has Down Syndrome For Kindergarten...Or Not? #downsyndrome #kindergarten #specialneeds #school

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Down syndrome


  1. We sent Simon to Kindergarten "on time" but he's the youngest kid in his class. He's doing ok... I think if he had shown any signs of issues before kindergarten I would have said he shouldn't start. I guess in your case I'd go with what his teachers say!

    1. Lily is the youngest in her class, too. But like it was for Simon, it's the right decision for her. She's thriving, and I don't regret the decision one bit!

  2. Awe, good luck. I am sure you will make the best decision for your child.

  3. Oh man, what a tough decision. Jacob had a birthday right before the cut off but he was so advanced intellectually that we decided to go ahead and send him to Kindergarten even though he had JUST turned 5 two weeks before school started. I'm so glad that we did, though, because he has been way ahead of his peers (in the 98th percentile) every year since he started. Our only issue now is that he's still a little behind behavior-wise since he's younger, but that seems to be improving. Good luck making your decision. I know it will not be an easy one to make!

    1. Lily is the youngest in her class, too, but it was right for her. She loves school, and she's doing very well despite being almost a year younger (or more) than most of her classmates! It's just a bit harder with Liam since there are more things to think about.

  4. Such a tough decision! You guys will figure out what is best for Liam, I know that!

  5. This is such a tough decision. I would say that from my experience as a teacher, I have not heard a parent wishing they hadn't redshirted their child but I have heard a couple parents saying they wish they would have and didn't. I guess my gut says to redshirt him, but my heart says it's up to you as a parent.

  6. Hi
    I'm a third grade teacher and have had this conversion many times over the years with friends and family
    About red shirting. I think in your mama's heart, you know the right thing is to redshirt him. Since you have gotten so many different opinions, it's a hard decision to make,especially since Grant thinks he should go.

    My reasons to redshirt Liam:

    Being so close to the cutoff date, he will be almost two years younger than some kids and he is so small for his age to began with. This reason alone is huge.

    Liam NEEDS every advantage he can get to be successful, an extra year of communication skills and academic skills in preschool will help tremendously. Kindergarten today is what first grade was twenty years ago. If he goes to kindergarten ,he will be playing catch up from Day 1.

    As you know, an IEP is a law document that everyone agrees what Liam needs to help him, whatever services he needs, for example, OT, PT, academic support inclusion / pullout. That is great, but the special educator might come in for 30 minutes a day to help him. The rest of the day, he is one of 15-20 kids who get help from the teacher. He might have a hard time understanding directions and not know what he is suppose to do.

    I think with the limited vocabulary and not on the same level academically, Liam would struggle and not
    Like going to school. You want kindergarten to be a fun learning experience for him. You say is vocabulary
    Is exploding now, give him time to use it and he will be better at communicating with people.

    From reading your blog, I think I remember Liam goes to preschool part time, can you send him everyday
    to try and mimic the kindergarten schedule. Or can he go to preschool part time again and go to the public school for services he might need now, for example, Speech, OT and PT. I see 3/4/5 year olds coming in for services all the time.

    Last thought, I don't know how structured your kindergarten program is, how long can he stay seated and
    pay attention .

    I'm sorry this is so long, but when I read the blog this morning, I felt compelled to respond. Good luck with your decision.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing all that, Linda! I truly don't know what our district has to offer just yet, so I will be asking plenty of questions next month. It is still half day Kindergarten here, so it would only be two additional days, so only 5 hours extra each week. If we don't send him to Kindergarten, we will have to fight to send him to private preschool and have all of his therapists sent there. I know it's usually a struggle, but I want to do what's best for him.

    2. I asked my mom about this and she made a few points that I wanted to share.

      1. She wanted to redshirt my older brother, but my dad talked her out of it. He said she was just being over protective and wanted to keep him home for her and not because he wasn't ready for school. Dayton ended up being among the youngest of his class and struggled with behavioral issues and poor grades his entire education. My dad later admitted school would have gone more smoothly for him had they waited a year. So don't let anyone make you feel like you are being unreasonable or your mama-bear feels are clouding your judgement. Your intuition is worth factoring in.

      2. My mom taught 1st through 3rd and noticed that the youngest students in her classes that did well at first showed a noticeable gap from the older students by third grade, and the gap only grew wider after that.

      3. The staff at the transition meeting likely will have discussed before hand what they are going to say so they are all on the same page, so keep that in mind if you find yourself disagreeing.

      4. My cousin has Downs and was redshirted. It gave her a kind of faith in herself and conviction in her beliefs to be on the older end whereas being the youngest might have made her more likely to follow. She also had a bunch of amazing siblings to encourage her to trust herself like Liam does, but the whole family feels the extra year was a benefit to her confidence.

      5. My mom is an advocate of redshirting and were it her choice would absolutely wait. If you would like to read a book she wishes she'd read before deciding about my brother, she recommends "I Hate School" by Jim Grant.

    3. Thank you for sharing all that, Victoria! It's definitely a lot to think about!

  7. My Tori was a micro preemie born at just 22 weeks and 3 days, less than one pound, and had an apgar score of zero... She has always been very small for her age, has been behind intellectually in many different areas and has had to play catch up from day 1. When it came time for kindergarten I was so torn between red shirting or sending her off to kindergarten because I truly felt as if she was not yet ready but everyone else pushed me to send her so I gave in and did so... BAD CHOICE! I wish I'd have listened to my heart and my motherly instinct. She is now 11 and a half and has not only had to repeat kindergarten but 4th grade as well. It has taken a toll on her in many ways and she certainly lacks self esteem and confidence thanks to her former " friends " constantly bullying her calling her stupid, dumb, the R word etc.

    1. Oh, Charlene, that made my heart ache. It only shows that we, as parents, still have such a long way to go with teaching children about diversity, tolerance and acceptance. This is exactly my fear, and he won't be able to defend himself.

  8. So... I can totally relate to struggling with this decision. Let me say this... I'm not sure what PA laws are vs. OH or anything like that so it may be different but I read further up that you said if you redshirt him you'd have to do private preschool and fight to have his services come to him. Our son is in the integrated preschool program at our local elementary school and when I spoke to them about possibly redshirting they indicated that if we chose to do so that he would still be eligible to attend the integrated preschool program next year, even with turning 5 right at the beginning of the year. I'm not sure if things would be different where you are but just be sure to ask (ask someone who would know for sure like your IEP or pupil services coordinator... we've been given incorrect info from some school personnel before) and make sure that's not the case for you too.

  9. I am an Englishman living in Japan. I am a little late onto this and guess things have moved on with your redshirting story. I would like to know how. My wife and I are in a similar situation with our son, who has DS. We want him to repeat his last year at kindergarten but am finding considerable resistance from the school authorities here. Redshirting is very rare here and takes considerable action from parents. Our son, Kenji is small for his age, still wears diapers and can't yet talk. We feel he needs more play time for social skills development. Full on study can come later. But the rules are the rules here and there is no willingness to interpret the law according to individual cases. We just want another option. The authorities here are great believers in special schools. We are not against special schools but believe an integrated, onclusive society, everyone at the same school is better, is a truer society. Italy has done this successfully for 30 years plus. Why the rest of the world can't or won't...Anyway, I am beating the drum a bit but this is an important issue. I am finding little support out there and it was good to read your thoughts and feelings. I hope things are progressing well with you all and please let us know how the redshirting went or is going. Tony


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