Called to Serve: Red-Shirting Kindergarten for a Mission

 I taught elementary school for a number of years and observed, while teaching in Texas, parents deliberately holding their boys back a year to give them the advantage of size in sports participation.

Sports reasons not withstanding; is there a trend, in the North American LDS church community to red-shirt* five year old boys with an additional year in Pre-Kindergarten; when they are otherwise ready to attend Kindergarten for reasons to do with serving a mission?

Jared** is a four, almost five year old LDS boy, who is attending a Christian based Pre-Kindergarten program in our small southern town. Jared, unlike most of his peers, will not start Kindergarten in August. Jared’s teacher Miss Mamie** was understandably perplexed as to the reason behind this decision. Miss Mamie believed Jared could attend with his peers and do just fine. Miss Mamie went to Jared’s parents for an explanation. Jared’s parents told Miss Mamie they were thinking ahead to fourteen years in the future when young Jared would be nineteen.

Starting Jared in Kindergarten when he was six rather than five, would delay his graduation from high school just as he turned nineteen. Theoretically Jared would march to Pomp and Circumstance straight on into the MTC.

I have witnessed nineteen-year-old young men, who have left for missions the summer after their senior year in high school. However these young men were held back as five year olds because of readiness issues. Similar to the sports minded parents in Texas, is there now a trend to red-shirt five year olds for missions?

I can clearly see the advantages in the argument to hold back for a mission. The biggest advantage would be avoiding the freshman year away in college with the temptations any young man would surely encounter. Perhaps you like me, have observed many a nice young man who after a year away from college came home full of sin, debauchery, and maybe remorse.

I also see the disadvantages. My younger brother, who served in the Toronto, Canada mission in the early 1990’s shares the opinion of his mission President, who believed a year away from home attending college was the best training for a prospective Elder. It was this year away from home the young man learned to sink or swim. This mission President believed it was better for missionary service if the young man learned adult responsibility on his own rather than on the Lord’s time. This particular mission President also believed Elders with a year of college had learned the study skills necessary to be an effective missionary right out of the MTC.

So, in your humble opinion, dear reader, do you think a year in college before a mission is an advantage? Or do you think the temptations a prospective Elder will likely encounter during the year between 18-19 is just not worth the risk?

Finally is red-shirting LDS five year olds a trend or a rare anomaly?

Inquiring minds want to know.


**The names have been changed to protect the innocent

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About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

33 thoughts on “Called to Serve: Red-Shirting Kindergarten for a Mission

  1. Before my son even started kinderarten, we discussed having him repeat because of behavioral issues. Fortunately, after some sessions with a counselor and intensive work at home, he has overcome these issues and is doing well in his class. I never really thought about the implications to his mission, but it is definitely something to consider.

    I spent one year working prior to my mission and also served as a youth guide at the Mesa Temple Visitor’s Center. It was good for me to have that year prior to my mission in order to save and prepare.

  2. We started our oldest son a year late, because he didn’t seem mature enough, at the time it didn’t occur to us that it would turn into a “mission issue”. It never seemed like a big deal until the last year or so when he has started to have some doubts as to whether or not he even wants to serve a mission (he’s a junior now) and he has been very vocal about the fact that he wishes he were going to have that year between high school and his mission.

    Each child is different, as parents the hardest thing we do is make choices we hope no one will regret. In hindsight I think, at least for our son, it would have been good for him to have the break between high school and mission. As it stands now, it looks like he will take it anyway. Which is not the end of the world.

  3. I don’t think it matters if the missionary has a year between high school and missionary service.

    If anything, it seems advantageous to have a year of school under your belt before you leave, but only so you can get on to earning a living and supporting a family a year earlier, LDS culture being what it is.

  4. Welcome!

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this. Personally, I suspect that most of those who go away for a year of college and then do not go on a mission would not have gone even had they graduated from high school a year later. The path that leads to going on a mission usually begins much earlier.

    Red-shirting kindergarten seems like a gimmick, and no gimmick is going to replace staples like open parent-child communication, family prayer, FHE, etc.

  5. That said, of course some young men raised well will still choose not to go.

    Also, my comments do not address delaying children’s entry into kindergarten for other reasons. I have no problems with that!

  6. It has been my experience that it is very difficult to know what to do about readiness with a five year old. THe same kid at five is a whole different person at eighteen. Most of us parents do the best we can.

    Of our three boys the oldest two had/will a year of college and work before the mission. My youngest son Flash, will have the summer and a couple of months into Fall. The decision will be whether to work full-time or go to school and work. If so, Flash will delay his mision by four-six months.

  7. I never thought of it from a missionary point of view. I guess if someone will go astray one year before a mission, they shouldn’t be out there in the first place

  8. Although I have never heard of this “Red Shirting” kindergarten issue due to anything other than the maturity level of the child, this seems very possible. I believe that just as each individual is different each scenario will be different regarding a perspective missionary decision. Some children benefit greatly by a year away from home, while others are simply ready without that experience.

    I think I would have to agree with Ben…nothing will replace the fundamentals of testimony building!

  9. Hi JA,

    I have never heard of Redshirting a kid for K for a misson. My almost 5 year old twins will be redshirted but because they were so preemie that they have not caught up yet.

  10. Hey right back at ya bbell. Wow, two four year olds!!!! Hong Mei wears me out. I can not imagine having another just like her.

    Hong Mei is headed off to Kindergarten this fall and not because she is ready. The school district has evaluateed her and are confident that she will catch up soon and they want to be the ones to do it.

  11. I couldn’t imagine holding my child back for either sports, or missionary purposes. Sounds like kind of selfish on the side of the parents and not in anyway beneficial for the child. I was held back for a year because I didn’t apply myself in mid-school, and graduated when I was 19. I turned 21 in the MTC. I was not ready right out of high school. So, I think it’s possible that, rather than eliminating a gap between high school and mission, it may actually encourage boys to wait until they are 20 or so before they go. That’s no big deal to me. I think boys should go when they feel they are more ready, but it would be counter productive to their parents plans.

  12. My two boys (ages almost four and almost two) will go into kindergarten as soon as we can get them out of the house before they drive my wife to drink!

    But more seriously, I have close relatives who have held back their kids, but mostly because their teachers said they simply didn’t seem ready for first grade or second grade and needed another year of maturity. Each child is different. No evidence that future mission planning was the issue.

    On whether or not it is a good idea for young men to have a year away from home before going on a mission, I personally vote they should have a year away. That seems the best mission preparation you can give them (again, your actual results may vary based on the child).

  13. Having lived away from home before serving a mission certainly helped me. There seems to be a trend in Mormon culture towards protecting our youth. We send them to private “LDS” schools in an effort to protect them from the world–and, apparently, now some of us are trying to keep them away from college before the mission.
    This is silly. God did not send us to the earth to be protected. He sent us here to grow, and that growth isn’t going to happen if parents are constantly protecting their children from reality. The best youth I know are those who have learned to avoid temptations and stand up for their beliefs.
    Another problem with holding kids back–kids tend to adopt the maturity levels of those around them. So a nineteen-year-old senior is probably going to act like the rest of his classmates, even though he’s a year older. So he may be entering the mission field one year less mature than everyone else.

  14. Two more reasons why it’s bad to hold an otherwise normal kid back from Kindergarten:

    1. What if he legitimately flunks/repeates a year later on in his school career? Then your kid is going to be 20 when he graduates HS, not 19. Or what if he gets in an accident and is severely injured, or sick, enough to have to repeat a year due to lost time? Many high schools will kick out a 20 year old, and tell him to get a GED, and so you’ve just cheated your kid out of a diploma. High schools don’t even like 19 year olds anyway, so at 20, the schools are eager for them to get the heck out of there.

    2. At 18 or 19 and 20, your high school senior is not going to be allowed in the YSA branch (because he’s still in high school), and will be required to be with the “kids” in the priest’s quorum. I know of an 18 year old high-school junior who wants out of the Young Momen’s in the ward, but they won’t let her in YSA because she’s in HS.

    And, I totally agree with the mission president about having 1 year of college before a mission, and learning how to study and how to be independent and responsible on your own time, not the Lord’s time. There were too many immature 19 year old “babies” on my mission too.

    If I were a bishop, I would encourage 19 (and 20) year old High school graduates to take a year of college instead of going directly to the MTC. And if they aren’t going to college, then I’d suggest a year of work anyway.

    JA, parents who redshirt kids at the K level, unless there are legitimate health or emotional/mental reasons for it, are doing harm. I’ve seen two bad examples already.a

  15. Tim: kids tend to adopt the maturity levels of those around them. … So he may be entering the mission field one year less mature than everyone else.


  16. Hello,

    Yep I refused to redshirt either of my twins-son or daughter. Frankly, I feel it’s because kindergarten has become 1 st grade. Some very stange people think that the kids somehow will be better off academically if the kindegarteners are forced to behave and learn like first graders. Of course it’s the rage to hold back, now that first grade starts a year early. I am also seeing a ton of pre-first grades popping up. UM…. doesn’t this mean that just maybe kindergaten ought to go back to being kindergarten ? Everyone seems to agree, or they redhirtshing would not be happening.

  17. All I know is that we considered waiting a year to start our son in Kindergarten, mostly because we weren’t sure if he was emotionally ready. However, being as that both me and my wife are over 6 feet tall (and she is taller than I am), he was already physically bigger than some of the first graders. We decided waiting a year would be a bad idea for that reason – I suppose it would have given him an advantage in sports if he were held back a year, but he’s already a lot bigger than his age group.

    (one big problem is that despite his grade status, teachers and administrators at school keep on treating him like he is two years older than he really is and express surprise when his maturity level is the same as he classmates rather than the other kids his size – this means he’s been labeled a “problem” child because he acts his age. Whatever. He’s a tough kid and can handle it).

  18. It’s interesting to read about this from my perspective. This past year, my two eldest children and I have been heavily researching colleges as they will graduate one after the other. In asking around, I noticed I was the only one with similarly aged children doing this much college planning which I thought was weird. Perhaps it is just the couple I talked to, but their boys were going straight from high school to a mission. My son has a July birthday and will not turn 18 until after he graduates so he will have a full year of college before a mission. He was certainly ready for Kindergarten and never suffered because I didn’t hold him back. I know I certainly didn’t think 18 years ahead and plan to redshirt him for a mission, but then I’m a crazy California convert, so I am abnormal in many regards!

  19. I served my mission when the minimum age to go on a mission was 20. I thus had two years of college before I entered the mission field. I’m glad my parents didn’t delay my entering school by two years. I think a year or two of college is great preparation for a mission. I had been away from home for two years when I became a missionary, and that two years brought a depth of maturity to me that helped me be a better missionary. That two years included six Institute classes that gave me a better knowledge of the scriptures. That two years gave me exposure to quite a few returned missionaries. That two years allowed me to make my decision to serve a mission, and I returned home after completing my Sophomore year of college and told my parents I wanted to go on a mission.

  20. Ivan #17 My youngest son Flash is also a big guy. We have the same problem with higher expectations for him than many of his peers. Flash was academically ready, but extremely shy. The teachers worked with this problem and now three years later he is still quiet, but more confident.

    Hong Mei, on the other hand, is a petite little girl. She weighs in at 33 pounds. She does not know her letters, sounds or how count. She does know her shapes and colors. However, she is a peer leader in her pre-school. She is confident, socially and emotionally mature. The principal and the the district psychologist are sure that she will catch up next year and do great at school. She is only eligible for ESL if she goes to kindergarten.

    Sometimes it is so tough to be a parent. I wish we all could peek into a crystal ball to know the future and what to do. Like I said before, we all do the best we can.

  21. I am definitely of the school of thought that a year of college or other post-high school experience is generally positive for missionary service preparation. Yes, boys do a lot of stupid things, but at least that way they aren’t doing those stupid things while wearing the Church’s name on a name tag. My anecdotal experience indicates a distinct lack of maturity and life experiences in many (though not all) missionaries who left straight out of high school. And I do think that 14 years is really too far in the future to be planning specifics.

  22. We want our son to complete his college degree before he goes on his mission, if he even goes at all. We want him to serve a mission, but we’ve been witness to many a failed marriage due to lack of education and such after a mission, when most young elders, and they’re still young, rush into marriage without much consideration for the financial aspects of love, family life and marriage. We plan on sending him to either BYU-Provo, BYU-Idaho or BYU-Hawaii so he can at least be in an enviroment of spiritual learning. Now, if he chooses to go on a mission while at BYU, instead of finishing his degree first, then that will be fine with us as well. As of now, he’s only six, he has no desire to go on a mission because one of our missionaries got shot back in 2006 and he doesn’t want to die, so he has no desire to serve a mission now.

  23. Eric J #22 Just a few things to consider. If you want your son to serve a mission encourage him while he is young. Also put strong emphasis on education and career. Have him set goals on *what he wants to do when he grows up…* The probable reason for those failed marriages is that we put it into their heads two things; mission and temple marriage. After the mission the young man has no other goal except marriage, and the young woman has only one goal of marriage. After the honeymoon is over, then what? Unprepared and having no other plan causes conflict and stress.

    A person at six is a whole different person at nineteen. Case in point, my son Elder GI Joe currently serving a mission and on deferment from the (ROTC) army, told a friend at about age ten that he was not going to be an army man cause he did not want to get killed. At nineteen he signed the papers for army service. It was his choice and we supported him in his decision. When GI Joe was five he found out that Christians sometimes get killed i.e. Stephen, Joseph Smith etc… and he did not want to die, so he was not going got be baptized.

    A couple of years later he screwed up his courage and said that he was ready to be a Christian and accept all that went with it. That boy was so ready to be baptized. He thought hard about his decison. Your son sounds like my son. They are serious thinkers. LIsten understand and talk the fears out with him. His opinions will/can change. Explain that a young man age 19-21 is safer on a mission than other guys that age in America.

  24. Yes, our son is a great kid. I actually have been encouraging our son to be a missionary, but my wife is the one who has been discouraging him by pointing out to him all the deaths of elders and such while serving on missions both overseas and at home in the States. She does not want him to go on a mission, plain and simple, and if he does, she wants it to be his decision, she does not want me to attempt to influence him into going, but it’s okay for her to do the opposite, so I continue to encourage him to go because I wish I had known of the Church before I got married, I would have went myself. In fact, when my wife and I were newly weds, I had often wished I could put our marriage on ‘hold’ so I could serve a mission, and in fact, I wish I had lived in the olden days when the Prophet Joseph asked married men to go on missions, despite having family and such, I would have went and served the Lord faithfully therein had I been born in the right time to have that privelege.

    God bless you and thank you for your comments.

  25. Dear JA Benson,

    Thank you and I will enjoy the journey of Fatherhood, and I will do what I can to bring both my wife and our son into eternal exaltation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

    Thank you so much.

    Bro. Eric J
    Branch Mission Leader
    Service Member Group Leader
    Sasebo Military Branch
    Okinawa Military District
    of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

  26. As a teenager of 17 who will hopefully be in college within this year, I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing short of God commanding me not to that would stop me from serving a mission. I honestly can not see the big deal, but then again, I am not as wise as a parent yet either. The fact that I joined the church a couple years ago and have great love for missionaries and missionary work could make me biased, I suppose.

  27. I’ve never heard of red-shirting kindergarten for missions; to me it seems like a strange idea. Personally, I think that parents should put their children into kindergarten as soon as they are ready for it.

    Speaking as a pre-mission 18-year-old college student, I can say that this year of college is indispensable. I have learned many skills, such as shopping for myself, doing my laundry, getting along with a roommate, etc. that I would not have learned had I stayed at home. And these skills will be especially valuable on my mission. However, speaking as a student at BYU, I don’t know and can’t imagine the moral and secular dilemmas that would come from attending a secular university. But if he’s going to be a missionary, he’ll have to be able to face those things and stay strong anyway.

    On a side note, I never went to preschool, my mom, with some of the other moms in the ward, taught a program called “Joy School” which I would recommend for any moms with the time to do it. It is a great program for kids. Worked for me! 🙂

    To sum up, here are my opinions:
    1) Parents should not hold kids back from kindergarten for that reason alone.
    2) College teaches extremely valuable skills for missionaries.
    3) If possible, send 18-year-old graduates to BYU before their missions – the positive environment and the religion classes will increase their understanding and testimony *immeasurably*.
    4) Any secular university will come with a myriad of strong temptations; but a person expecting to be a missionary needs to be able to face those things without faltering. If he is not strong enough, then it begs the question whether or not he is ready for a mission.
    5) Joy School is awesome, as an alternative to preschool.

  28. Thank you Eric for your service to our country.
    Anthony, I have a son your age and he feels the same way about a mission as you do.
    God Bless you both.

  29. Anthony,

    What do you recall your parents doing as a child that helped guide you into ‘wanting’ to become a missionary? I want to rear my son up to ‘want’ to go on a mission, I do not want him to feel ‘pressured’ by either me or his mom into going, I want him to have a vibrant testimony of the Restored Gospel and to want to go share these glad tidings with all the world over. From a 17 year old I can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do, so your input is most valuable, please share your thoughts and ideas.

    God bless you and thank you for your comments and let us know when and where you are called, so we can keep in touch while you’re on your mission.

  30. Eric J: The upper limit for going on a mission is currently 25 years old (25 at the start of the mission). Back when I went, the upper limit was 26, and I was 26.

    I had a severe lack of people skills and social skills at that age. Then, on top of that, difference in age and experience with other missionaries really put a strain on me, and my relationships and interactions with other missionaries.

    So, if someone were to ask, I would not recommend delaying past or 20, or 21 unless there were sufficient reason to do so. Some people are “late bloomers” and should wait until 21 or 22 or so, but they are some of the exceptions.

    Being too young and too immature is a problem. But being too old or too mature is also a problem, because then the person is not “equally yoked” with other missionaries.

    It’s really important for missionary companions and districts to be united and “be one” as the Savior said.

    Since Anthony said he joined the church at age 15, his parents efforts in raising him probably didn’t have a direct effect on his desire to serve a mission.

    Eric J: Is your wife a member of the church?

  31. I think the economic realities of our day will likely force more of our young men away from long-distance colleges. That is, those who choose to go to college for a year before their missions will be staying at home with mom and dad anyway, so the principle of “good preparation” for a mission seems unlikely.

    Frankly, as parents, we shouldn’t be sheltering our children at any age from the domestic requirements of life. My 3-year-old does dishes and floors. My 5-year-old gets on his knees and mops, and my 8-year old knows how to do laundry. I fully expect that, as they get older and wiser, we’ll teach them to do taxes, yard maintenance, and so forth, so that by the time their 18, regardless of what grade they are in, they’ll be prepared to be productive members of society.

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