Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Well, tonight seems like a good night to talk kindergarten, especially since I just came from the Kindergarten Roundup (just in case).

My dilemma is whether or not to try to have Mister Man attend kindergarten next year. His birthday is October 11, so he misses the cutoff. Easy decision, right?

Not so much, for a number of reasons. I want to do the right thing for him, but I won’t know what that is for several years, most likely. By then, it will be too late to change.

He currently attends preschool at our district’s Early Learning Center, which is the state mandated Pre-K program for special needs and at-risk kids. That should make the decision even easier, right? Of course not! He goes there because he had low muscle tone as an infant, which led to late talking and walking and fine motor development.

The late talking also led to social delays where he didn’t know how to interact with kids his age since he didn’t talk when they first started figuring it out, and when he finally started talking, they were beyond the initial stages. He still has an IEP for fine and gross motor (so he gets OT and PT once a week), but the rest of everything he’s graduated from.

This is all leading you to say I’m nuts, I know, but be patient with me.

He’s a bright kid. He has started reading (without us teaching him anything on purpose) and does some adding and subtracting. The kindergarten curriculum in our district teaches kids letters and sounds and sounding out words. There are about 19 words that the teachers told me they want the kids to sight read by the time they’re done with kindergarten. By my count, he already knows 13 of those, as well as some others.

When Mister Man is bored, he acts out. He gets goofy and checks out. I know that kindergarten is about more than just the academics, but he won’t make any social development when he’s constantly in trouble or bored.

He also is a follower in many ways. When he has strong role models, he brings his behavior up to them. When he has poor role models, he goes straight for the lowest common denominator. The role models he had in preschool last year were not the greatest, and his behavior deteriorated. This year, we put him in a class with better role models, and there’s a huge difference. The role models in kindergarten will be much stronger than the ones at the special needs preschool.

The kids in his class this year are all eligible for kindergarten next year based on their birthdays. Mister Man is the only one who doesn’t turn five before September 1, and he interacts fine with those kids and is making huge progress – especially in the last two months, socially in particular. His teacher talks about getting ready for kindergarten next year to the class, so we know they’re teaching him (and the other kids) the skills they need.

If he went to kindergarten next year, he’d be the youngest kid. I have mixed feelings on that one. First, he isn’t athletic, so that’s not a reason to hold him back (not that I’m of the mind that this is a valid reason anyway). Second, I was the youngest kid in my class (November 24 was my birthday – I made the cutoff by 6 days where I started school but then moved where September 1 was the cutoff), and I was fine with it. The fact that I saw other kids mess up with their privileges before I got them meant that I was more responsible when it came to those privileges. And I was never the first one to get something, so I didn’t have the peer pressure to do the wild and crazy things that no one else could do yet. But I know it isn’t always the same for boys as for girls, and every kid is different. Some kids don’t like being the youngest, and that makes things harder for them.

He’s also been in preschool for two full years already. If he doesn’t go to kindergarten for another year, that’s three full years of preschool. When I visited the kindergarten rooms, one of the teachers told me that until this year she would never have worried about it, but she has two students who did three years of preschool and then came to kindergarten this year and they were “overschooled” and bored. Nothing was new for them; they weren’t excited about anything, and academically, they’re already tuning out. That is definitely not what I want for my child.

And, if he does a third year at preschool, what will he learn or do there? Since he’s with all the kids going to kindergarten this year, he’s already gone through the curriculum. It would all be a repeat for him, which brings me again to the boredom and acting out issues.

One of my friends had a child in a similar situation. This year, he’s in kindergarten, and he’s bright and knows all the material already. He hates school. He never wants to go because he’s so bored. She’s told me that if she had known putting him in kindergarten early was an option, she would have gone for it in a heartbeat and now has huge regrets. Next year, she’s looking at a gifted school 45 minutes away (with no traffic) that she’d have to drive him to and from every day. I don’t want my kid to hate school. And I’ve heard many stories about kids who have been held back who get bored with school and start to check out academically, particularly starting in the sixth grade, because it’s too easy and they just don’t care anymore. Definitely not something I want to go through.

And a much smaller reason, but a reason nonetheless is Little Miss. Her birthday is August 1, so she’ll be only one year behind him in school. I remember some of the families where the kids were one year apart in school from when I was in elementary school. Invariably, the younger sibling was a troublemaker. I don’t know if it was that they were too close together in school, whether there were too many comparisons from teachers and parents, or whether it was pure coincidence. Little Miss is already a firecracker, and she doesn’t need any encouragement. Plus, I remember both siblings always feeling a little “weird” about having a sibling just one grade above/below.

When I visited the kindergarten, I asked the teachers what they looked for in kids coming into kindergarten from a social and emotional level. They want the kids to be able to separate from their parents; no screaming and crying kids at the doorway. They want kids to sort of know how to share a little. They want kids to be able to start following some classroom directions and rules. And that’s it. Mister Man does all of this now. I was expecting the bar to be so much higher, but it isn’t.

The more I talk to the school, see the curriculum, see what the students in kindergarten now are actually doing, talk to moms who’ve been there, and so forth, the more I lean towards sending him to kindergarten next year. The real sort of kicker is watching him blossom socially. As I posted a few days ago, he’s finally getting it. He plays with kids every day and truly has friends. With that component missing, I’d be more in doubt, but something’s clicked lately.

But it isn’t all up to me. His team at preschool has to recommend him for kindergarten. Then he has to be tested at one of the schools in district. Then they have to get my and others’ opinions. A lot of it is out of my hands, but the more I learn, the more comfortable I am moving forward and starting to push to have him go to kindergarten next year.

A friend of mine went with me to the roundup tonight. Her son turns six on September 2. She didn’t put him into kindergarten this year, as she also didn’t realize it was an option. He reads. He does math. He likes learning and does first and second grade workbooks for fun. And he hates going to his daycare/preschool because he’s bored there and isn’t learning enough. After going to the roundup, she’s seriously considering trying to move him to first grade next year for the same concerns I have. At least I’m not alone… but that doesn’t make it any easier.



Jules April 3, 2008 at 12:45 AM  

Okay... here are my thoughts...
First, I teach. I've taught little ones - primary grades- for over 15 years, so I've had a bit of experience with kids. And the kids who act socially immature tend to STAND OUT, and not in a positive way. Often kids will avoid these immature ones, especially as they get older. They younger kids are always playing catch-up with the more mature ones, and this can be really bad for their egos.

Secondly, my oldest son has a birthday on December 6th. He missed getting into kindergarten by 4 days. I was sad/mad at the time because he could read and do higher math. When he was in kinder, the teacher sent him to a first grade class to read. Turns out he didn't like it because he wasn't the top dog and he had to sit still for long, long periods of time. We stopped sending him to first grade after 2 weeks. He stayed with his kinder friends.
He is now in grade 6, and he is one of the oldest in his class (thank goodness). He is also one of the top students academically (along with 4 other boys who were also held back a year) and near the middle (and at times bottom) socially - he still acts immaturely compared to the girls his age.
My second son is 9 now. His birthday is on October 12th. We held him back as well, not because he was low academically, but because he was not mature enough socially. In kindergarten he was bored, and he did cause a bit of trouble. I worked half time, so I ended up pulling him out after half a day, and doing stuff at home. He really hated kinder, and much preferred doing stuff with me... which was fine by me. I had him working at home in a math book a grade ahead.

Just as an aside - kindergarten is not mandatory here in California, and, I believe it is true in the rest of the country as well. He is now in third grade and at the very top of his class academically - midway socially.

Both my boys are in the GATE program - gifted and talented - and both have really good male egos - they are proud of themselves and what they can do.

I did a lot of research before making the choices. Some of the most influential things people said to me? Don't imagine your child now. Imagine him in high school.

Mine will be the some of the bigger boys, instead of the smallest - good for boys, because research has been done to show that, in boys - bigger, stronger ones tend to be more popular ( who knew?). They will be one of the first in their class to drive, instead of the last (the all-important male ego thing again). And since boys, in general, tend to mature much more slowly - in a social way - mine will hopefully be a bit more on the mature side when it's time to go away to college and make life-altering decisions. And middle school bullying - now he is mature enough, and strong enough to handle it.

I have talked to many, many people about this. I have rarely had people tell me that they regret holding back their kids, especially when they reach the higher grades. But I have heard a lot of horror stories from parents who regret - too late because their child is now grown - starting their kids too early. One parent told me her child was always the youngest in class. But the effects didn't show up until she was ready for college - and then her child just didn't want to go - she was too young socially, and didn't want to move away.

Well, I've kind of rambled on for more than I was expecting... oops... sorry. Hope some of this helps .

Time is a gift. Childhood is so very short. I wanted to give my boys the gift of time, and I'll never, ever regret the decision to hold them back. It was the BEST thing we did.

Michelle April 3, 2008 at 9:44 AM  

Wow, thanks, Jules! That's a lot of info to digest. It's funny, I actually think being the last to drive etc is a good thing, not a bad one. But I haven't been there yet with Mister Man (or any other child)!

It is good to hear that your kids do well academically after being held back, as the only feedback I've heard on that side from various teachers and parents has been negative.

And again, I don't know if he'll even be eligible. There are a number of steps first, so I may be agonizing over this for naught! The principal from his preschool actually did call me last night when I was at the kindergarten roundup, ironically, to talk about where he stands and some of their thoughts. Obviously, I missed that call, but I'll hear from her today.

Thanks again!

morninglight mama April 3, 2008 at 7:58 PM  

In my preschool teaching experience of 10 years, I've had MANY parents going through this exact struggle. In Maryland, the cutoff is 9/1, earlier than many other states. One happy-medium I know that many parents have chosen as their option was to send the child to kindergarten at 4 (turning 5 in Sept/Oct/Nov, if it's allowed) and reassessing the following spring. If there are concerns academically, developmentally, etc, they have the option of doing a second year of kindergarten. (For my families, it had the added bonus of no potential stigma as our school only went to kindergarten, so if the child were to repeat kindergarten, it would be at a new school.)

Take it for what it's worth. I don't know how applicable that might be to your situation, but a thought.

Michelle April 3, 2008 at 8:14 PM  

Thanks, Morninglightmama! That's actually something that I'm comfortable with: if kindergarten doesn't work out for whatever reason, have him repeat it. No stigma at that age.

However, I found out that we have a "Getting Ready to be a Terrific Kindergartener" summer school program in our district that -- if everything falls into place -- I would have him do as a proof of concept to ensure that kindergarten were the right place for him. If that didn't go well, he's definitely back to preschool without any of the drama.

I had a 45 minute conversation with the principal at his preschool this afternoon about this -- going through most of what I had in this post. She completely gets it and sees where I'm coming from, so she's going to make sure the teachers get together to think it through. We'll see what comes of that. In a way, I feel like I'm putting the cart before the horse, but I'd rather think it through than be caught unawares.

The good news is that since his class is all kids who are going to kindergarten next year, there's a real fair comparison to say how he fits in with them -- is he doing what he needs to do, is he at the bottom of the class, etc. That answer, I don't know yet.

I just want to do the right thing for him!

morninglight mama April 3, 2008 at 9:06 PM  

Boy, I understand that desire to do right for your child!! My 7-year-old struggles so much with his emotional regulation and social development as a big result of his ADHD, and it can be so challenging to get school officials to listen to your concerns, so I'm glad to hear you're feeling 'heard' by the principal so far. Keep us updated!

Mrs4444 July 16, 2009 at 9:26 AM  

Wow. What a tough decision to make. My son was a May baby and so ready for school when I sent him at age five, but sometimes I wondered (he's 17 now) if it would have been better for him to wait, given the year of emotional maturity that everyone else had on him. Today, though, he has caught up, so I have no regrets.

One thing I know is that I have never heard of anyone who regretted waiting that extra year to send a boy (girls never seem to wait, but girls are much more verbal/social than boys, usually). Your decision is a tough one! I kind of like the idea of taking the year off, taking a fun class or two, and entering 1st grade in the the next year. He could still have playdates and such with the friends that he's made. Just a thought. I wish you luck with this one!!

Michelle July 16, 2009 at 10:17 PM  

Mrs 4444 - Ironically, I have two friends in my neighborhood who regret holding back their boys and another friend from preschool. And seeing the gifted studies (my husband teaches gifted and had to take a class last summer) that quantify things... children who are gifted do better in the long run when they are with their academic peers up to two years older rather than staying with their age peers. We stayed with the age peers, and fingers crossed he's still ok when he hits middle school.

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