Kindergarten-A parent’s tough decision

This week many parents of my Pre-K children have been registering their children to begin Kindergarten in the Fall. Many other parents are contemplating holding their son or daughter back and waiting a year to enroll them. This time of year comes that familiar question, “Ms. Jane, what do you think about holding my child back a year before starting Kindergarten?”

If only I had the magic answer. I have probably been asked this over 100 times during my career of an early childhood professional. Considering I have some first hand knowledge, I try to offer some honesty and a little of my own experience to help them make their decision.

I started Kindergarten in September younger than most of my peers. My parents felt I was ready and a local private school was their answer. I remember loving school from the very start. I loved my teachers, I loved having homework, I loved it all. I held my own in the early years. I kept my grades up through elementary school yet I do remember starting to feel a little inferior to my classmates about 5th or 6th grade. I’m not sure if that insecurity came from the difference in our ages or if it was puberty, but either way, that’s when I started noticing it.

Seventh grade, things started to take a turn. When we started middle school, everyone was still older and apparently more mature. My grades started to be harder to maintain and I struggled to keep up. I always wondered why most of my friends seemed to get A’s and B’s without much effort but I had to work hard to maintain a C in many of my classes. I never considered that I was the youngest in the class, I just thought everyone else was smarter.

High school brought a variety of differences. My friends got their learners permit and drivers license before me, their parents allowed them to do more than mine did and my insecurities grew. Again, I just thought it was me and never thought it was my age. I graduated at 17 and was accepted to a college with my average grades. I was still 17 when I went away to college that August. This is when things really went south. My maturity level was not where it should have been to start college. I did a poor job of regulating my balance of new found parent-less freedom and realizing I was going to college to learn and prepare for my future, not just to party and meet boys (sorry mom and dad).

I watched my room-mates and most of friends do so well, they studied, went to class, stayed on campus for the weekends and created great relationships with others. I struggled, my confidence was so poor that sometimes I would not eat because I was uncomfortable going to the dining hall and being around so many people that might judge me. As much as I wanted to be a teacher and knew I had to get my degree in order to do this, I gave into my insecurities and came home after the first semester. I actually began alternating semesters. I would make an attempt to go back but by the end of each semester I felt worse. I ended up studying my chosen field at various institutes, first the university, followed by community colleges, (yes there were three of those), and on line schools. My transcripts look like a jigsaw puzzle and advisers always shook their head helping me put my credits together toward the degree. Still I never thought any of this had to do with my age or maturity level. I thought I was just dumb.

So you thought I would have learned a valuable lesson right? Well then I became a parent. Sam, my son was born in July so when he turned 5, he went to Kindergarten. He did well, very few troubles and is now excelling college. My daughter, Ashley on the other hand was such a smart Preschooler. Her private preschool teachers bragged about her being so smart and, of course, I knew she was a perfect, smart, advanced princess. So when those preschool teachers mentioned they thought she was ready for Kindergarten already, I didn’t skip a beat. My princess skipped Pre-K and started Kindergarten as a 4 year old. Whoo, what a mistake. Not only did I not wait for her to start on time, I started her early. She wasn’t just one of the youngest, she was a whole year younger than her classmates. What was I thinking? I was an early childhood educator, I knew the deal, but, oh boy, EC professional or not, my parenting hat was the only hat I had on at the time. And just so you know, there is a BIG difference in those two hats.

Ashley did well, very well in Kindergarten, and not too bad in 1st. 2nd grade was a bit of a struggle for her to keep up, but I put it off to a different teaching style by the instructor. Thank goodness, she had a wonderful teacher in 3rd grade who I knew cared for all of her students as if they were her own. She had become a trusted friend too. When she came to me with the honest, practical advice that I should consider putting Ash back in 2nd grade, I listened closely. The children in 2nd grade were her age, she would struggle less, she would have more confidence and doing it now would be better than doing it in middle or high school, when there might not be an option. After talking it over with Ash, she was excited, it seems she had already been drawn to and made friends with the 2nd grade girls. (sometimes we just need to listen to our children for clues). Once Ash made this change, she never struggled again with school (as long as she applied herself).

My children survived my parenting decisions and I survived the decisions mine made for me, but I learned a great deal. Now, as the “go to” person for so many parents of children whose birthdays are in August or September asking what they should do my answer is usually the same.

You know your child best. We, as teachers, spend a lot of time with them as well, but ultimately this decision can only be made within the family. What does make me happy is that parents are thinking about “what is best for their child.

So what is best? My opinion, which comes from experience and observations, if you are considering holding them back a year, then go for it. If your child turns 5 in October and starts Kindergarten the following Fall, then your choice should be to stick to that schedule. Those children born in the summer months, June through September, sometimes need that extra year to “be ready”.

What happens in a year? Maturity, physical growth, additional language development, improvement of basic skills, improved social and emotional skills including the ability to self regulate ones own feelings. But most importantly, confidence. The extra time allows your child to spend a year being “big man on campus” they develop leadership skills, they grow in so many ways. Their gross motor skills improve making them a little less awkward on the sports field. I think all of these things are only positive. I know I would have loved all of these extra’s throughout my school years.

Of course, I ‘m also asked, “well won’t they be bored in Pre-K again and in Kindergarten next year?” That’s when you have to check your involvement. If you, as the parents, stay involved and create an open line of communication with the teachers, then you should have no problem talking to them about these concerns.

Ultimately it is completely up to you, the parent. My opinion is one more year of maturity and confidence wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Three cute books for those going to Kindergarten soon

Early Childhood Sensory Play

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

Sensory play is an important part of early childhood development and education. When a child is engaged in this type of play, it may look like a mindless messy activity but the amazing things happening for this child is far greater than simple play.

Sensory play has multiple benefits for children. It supports language development, social interactions, fine motor skills, large motor skills, cognitive growth and increases problem solving skills. It has a calming effect for the anxious or upset child. It allows children to feel in control of their actions and in turn encourages them to feel good about their decision making skills.

Children uses their senses to to explore, understand and navigate their world. Teachers, caregivers and parents providing these activities is important to encourage brain development.

What is sensory play? Anything that activates any of the five senses. It can be fun, messy, and easily put together, It just needs to be engaging to the child. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. One of the most effective ways to provide sensory play is using sensory bins.

A sensory bin is typically a shallow, plastic container, but for one child it could be a

bowl, or a pot from the kitchen.

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Listed below are multiple suggestions for sensory play. As long as you are supervising, any of the materials can be used, but I recommend considering the age and developmental stage when choosing sensory bin fillers.

  • Soapy water
  • Kinetic sand
  • water beads
  • cloud dough
  • playground sand
  • mud
  • shaving cream
  • slime
  • play-dough
  • finger paint
Photo by David McEachan on
  • jello (prepared)
  • pudding
  • marshmallows
  • oatmeal
  • cooked pasta
  • potato flakes
  • ice cream
  • whip cream
  • Tapioca pearls
  • watermelon
  • rice
Photo by Pixabay on
  • letter squares from old scrabble game
  • Cardboard tubes
  • cut straws
  • shredded paper
  • cotton balls
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • bubble wrap
  • cut pool noodles
  • Bingo chips
Photo by Chris Gonzalez on
  • plastic leaves
  • fake grass (Easter)
  • feathers
  • tinsel
  • Spanish moss
  • pine cones
  • sea shells
  • corks
  • fake flowers
  • aquarium gravel
  • bird seed
  • potting soil
  • snow
  • ice cubes
  • sticks
  • hay
  • saw dust
  • rocks
  • epson salt
  • pebbles
Photo by on
  • pom-poms
  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • magnets
  • marbles
  • sequins
  • jingle bells
  • plastic coins
  • confetti
  • pony beads

The most important thing (besides safety) is to find something interesting and engaging. Remember children are always interested in thing they see in our adult world, so giving them a safe place to explore those items will always be a big hit and they won’t even know the amazing things you are doing for their growth and development.


Great example of an inexpensive sensory table available on amazon

Picture Perfect or Perfect Picture

This week at my school we held 3 picture days. With over 200 students under the age of 6, it takes 3 days to get them all done. This use to be such a stressful week for me. I always wanted every parent to be happy with the results. I searched for the best professional photographers, checked their references, made sure they were child friendly and insisted they take plenty of shots to ensure each child had the best. Everything had to be “picture perfect”

I would push my teachers to be sure that faces were clean, hair was combed, shoes were tied, collars fixed and every child had the brightest smile. If a child was upset and wouldn’t smile, I myself stood behind the photographer and did everything from making funny faces, faking a sneeze, jumping jacks to standing on my head (well maybe not that). Whatever it took. Every photo delivered to the parents had to be, again, “picture perfect.”

Through the years, I guess you might say, I have “chilled out”. This however, did not come easy. I spent many years, once I became a parent, stressed every time my children had picture day. I wanted to be sure I picked (usually bought new) the perfect outfit, hair was freshly trimmed, fingernails clipped and shoes were in great shape.
I have evidence of this practice and results of this stress, lots of evidence, in photo albums, in boxes and in drawers throughout my house. Evidence that I had done everything I could to be sure everything was picture perfect. I found picture day to be another stressful moment of early childhood parenting. Another stressful moment that we instill on ourselves.

I watch so many parents of the children in my school going through the same thing. Stressed that everything must be “picture perfect”. They go through the same routine I did over 20 years ago, and some even take a half day off from work to be there to be sure their child’s picture is perfect. (Side note: this never works the way they want it to)

Now, when I find one of those overly stressed parents during picture week at school, I try to share with them my new found “perfect”. It’s not about “picture perfect” it’s about the “perfect picture”.

What’s the difference? I have learned the perfect picture is one that captures a moment of time in your child’s life. There doesn’t have to be new clothes, or fresh haircuts. It’s o.k. if your child wants to hold a toy car, favorite baby doll or your young toddler wants his security blanket to chew on. Let them decide what and who they want to be in their picture. I promise you, when you look back, as cute as those new outfits are, there is nothing more precious then remembering the story behind the picture.

I have had parents tell me they were going to skip picture day for a variety of reasons. Their child fell the day before and had a goose egg on his forehead. A three year old girl decided to give herself a hair cut. The preschooler had a busted lip. They forgot it was picture day and didn’t fight their child when they decided they wanted to wear their pajama shirt to school or they forgot and their child was only wearing school play clothes.

I want them to know the perfect picture is the one that expresses your child’s personality or ignites a memory years from now. A goose egg? I’m sure there is a great story behind that one or who doesn’t have a scissor mishap story, now there is evidence to reminisce about it later.

One of my favorite pictures of my son is when he was about 16 months old, I was unable to be in the room when it was time for my son’s pictures. Somehow the only the photographer captured was him with the perfect tear rolling down his cheek and his bottom lip poking out. Not sure how it happened, but not what I was hoping for, then. When the pictures came back, the owner of the picture company actually called me and apologized. He couldn’t believe that out of all the children in the school, the Director’s child’s was not picture perfect. He offered me discounts, retakes, gift cards, and many please forgive me’s, to make up for what he termed their mistake.

Now my son is 24, and it’s not often I see those tears. Thanks, however, to an inexperienced photographer’s mistake and despite my countless efforts to make everything “picture perfect”, I not only have a special memory but I also have the “Perfect picture”.

Parents, please don’t stress, the pictures will be perfect because of who is in the picture. Your child in any picture is a treasured memory and therefore each is a “perfect picture”. Don’t let the crooked smile, half closed eyes, red punch mustache or even black eye prevent you from enjoying the captured moment. Embrace those photos the most because they will indeed end up being the most “perfect picture”.

Here we go…..

Wow, I never thought I would be writing a blog but here it goes. I’m really not sure what I am doing but what I do know is that after spending thirty years in the field of Early Childhood Development and Education, I have had many conversations with parents, teachers, caregivers, students and more. I have answered questions for first time parents, young mothers, grandparents, foster moms, single dads, anybody and everybody who had a question or concern. I have hugged and comforted tearful moms as they left their 6 week old baby at my center/school for the first time. I’ve assured moms and dads that they are not “that parent”. I’ve told parents my opinion of holding their child back a year before starting kindergarten. I have played the role of counselor, teacher, mediator, judge, financial adviser, manager, student, bus driver, plumber, cook, carpenter, but yet all I ever dreamed of being was an advocate for children. Little did I know it takes multiple hats and roles to do just that.

I’m hoping with this blog to encourage parents, teachers and caregivers to talk about what’s on their mind. I know most of us want to be the best we can be when influencing the children in our lives but I also know that there is so much pressure and fear that you might “screw it up” or “scar them for life”. I want to share some of my many experiences and conversations that might help lighten the stress to be perfect. Honestly, it’s my belief that if your are making your decisions in the best interest of a child, you are doing right by them. It’s not about never making a mistake, it’s about loving the child you are caring for and with that love, a little luck, some supportive friends and/or family and maybe a glass of wine -(or two) you got this. Trust me, you will make it! (And so will the children)

So let’s get talking, what are your concerns, questions comments. Let’s get real and talk about the children in your life and how we, as those that care for them, can survive these early years. Every day or so I will pick a topic but I would love to know what you want to hear about first? Don’t be scared, I always thank parents/teachers when they bring up a question or concern because I can guarantee someone else is thinking the same thing but afraid to bring it up… give it to me. Let’s talk. Can’t wait to hear from you.