I remember it well: nearly-5-year-old me, throwing a huge hissy fit at my mom because I wanted to go to school with my BFF, Erin, who had just started kindergarten. How could Erin go without me?? We lived across the street from each other and didn’t remember life without each other. Born just 10 days apart (she was August 26th and I was September 5th), we were inseparable.
Until her mom decided she was ready for kindergarten and my mom “redshirted” me. I was held back, and I was mad about it! Our cutoff for kindergarten was a September 30th birthday, but my mom, who went on to get a master’s in early childhood education, believed I wasn’t ready yet—and overall, that most August and September kids would do well if they were held back a year and started kindergarten as one of the oldest in the class instead of one of the youngest.
Spoiler alert: Erin and I both turned out fine. However, science agrees with my mom. A 2017 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted in Florida, where the kindergarten birthday cutoff is September 1st, says that August-born kids who are held back simply perform much better in school than their peers who are not. The study also found that those September babies who had no choice to start kindergarten until later because of Florida’s September 1 cutoff were more likely to go to and graduate from college than their August-born peers, and were less likely to commit crimes as a juvenile.
The reason for these findings is pretty simple: if held back, the child’s brain has more time to develop before kindergarten. Katherine Firestone, founder of the Fireborn Institute, a non-profit dedicated to parent training recently told Parents Magazine, “If you are the oldest in your class, your brain has had more time to develop than all the other kids, So, while an August baby may have the same IQ as a September baby, their brain hasn’t had the same opportunity to grow and mature. So, the September baby is socially adept and his brain is ready to learn to read, but the August baby is 11 months behind and may not yet be ready, making things like reading and friendships more difficult.”
There ya go, moms and dads. It’s science. It’s not personal.
Since I was one of the very oldest in my class at school, and my BFF was 10 days older than me but a year ahead in school, this issue has always fascinated me. As a matter of fact, I remember being very grateful that I didn’t have any “summer birthday” kids so I didn’t have to make a hard decision like this! As I grew older, I became grateful for my mom’s decision to hold me back. Though I was mad at her at the time, and I think I would have done fine academically no matter what, I believe that from a social and maturity standpoint, I benefited from being one of the older kids in my class. What’s more, I am INFINITELY grateful that I went to college as an almost-19-year-old instead of an almost-18-year-old. Not sure I could have handled being on my own a year earlier, and I believe that most kids who come from stable homes can benefit from an extra year at home before they are released into the real world.
I know the debate over “redshirting” can get pretty heated in the parenting world (especially when it comes to youth sports), but the bottom line is: most kids (because there are exceptions to every rule, of course) do better when they start school a little older.
Do you have an August or September baby? What’s the kindergarten birthday cutoff where you live?