Sending a child to kindergarten is a milestone in any parent's life.
But some parents of children with late birthdays are wondering whether they should hold their children back another year, a practice known as "redshirting."
Redshirting received national attention from a "60 Minutes" feature in March. Gail Wiser, supervisor of pre-kindergarten through grade five for Paramus public schools, said redshirting was "not frequent" in Paramus.
"I can't say rare, but it's very unusual," Wiser said.
Children must be 5 years old by Oct. 1 to enter kindergarten in Paramus. There are some children who come into kindergarten at age 6, Wiser said.
Some parents hold their children back an extra year because their birthdays come close to the October cutoff, Wiser said.
"Parents may say, 'My child was born in August, so he would be a very young five,'" she said.
Not every child is at the same point in their development by October of their fifth year, Wiser said. Circumstances like whether a child has siblings or whether their parent has exposed them to a variety of social activities can impact whether he or she is ready for kindergarten.
There are parents who hold their child back to give them an edge over their classmates.
"It's much easier on their kids to be able to achieve and excel when you're a year older," Wiser said.
Paramus resident Michelle Zakko has been weighing whether to hold her son back for months. He has a July birthday.
Zakko first heard of redshirting from a fellow mom at the Church of the Savior.
"At first I dismissed it," Zakko said. "But the more people I spoke to, the more worried I became about pushing our son forward."
Julie Flapan, writing for the LA Times, believes parents who hold their children back may be "falling into the trap of overparenting":
I recently met a mother who is choosing to hold back her son because he is small and she feared he would be teased by his classmates. No parent wants her child to be teased, but I think we're trying too hard to avoid typical childhood experiences that are important learning opportunities for dealing with life's challenges.
Leanna Landsmann, writing for the Detroit Free Press, said research is mixed on the effect of redshirting. One study shows that the youngest members of each grade are less likely to go to college.
However, other research suggests that holding students back in kindergarten leads to behavioral problems later on in their lives.
Sam Young and Sandra Aamodt, writing for the New York Times, say the advantages of redshirting fade over time.
In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment—in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.
Redshirting is a more feasible option for wealthier parents, who can afford to care for their children full-time or pay for preschool for an extra year. Christina Gillham, writing for Baristanet, thinks it's unfair for parents to hold their children back just to give them an edge.
It is wrong because it hurts those who are already falling behind: the disadvantaged. Those who choose to red shirt their children are generally more affluent. These parents can afford to send their kids to another year of pre-school. The poor cannot, which means that in a typical classroom the younger kids—those who are more likely to be behind academically—will also be the ones who come from disadvantage families. And as a recent study has shown, the education gap has grown substantially between rich and poor students over the last several decades.
Wiser said parents usually make the right call, and can talk to teachers directly for advice.
"Parents can usually analyze their children's needs very well," she said.