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