Sarah 1Comment

redshirt

I asked for a lot of advice and almost everyone gave me the same answer. Give him the gift of time. He doesn’t have to go to kindergarten now, it’s so intense, it’s really first grade is what it is. Just give him another year. Boys need more time. No one regrets it.

They meant well, I know they did. And even his teachers were telling me that he would hate school if he had to go to kindergarten, that he would not be successful. That he was behind his peers. That boys need more time.

His birthday is in June. I got to make the choice, with a ton of guidance. I chose to “redshirt” him, to give him one more year in preschool.

But it wasn’t even September before I knew we’d made a mistake. On open house day, he sauntered in with his buddies like he owned the school. He was acting silly, like he could’ve cared less. The curiosity he’d shown the past two years in preschool wasn’t there. It was like he was over it before he even started.

By the end of September, I was talking to the teacher every day. I’d pick him up and cringe, and sometimes laugh even, because I knew what was coming. He wasn’t listening, he was causing problems, he was always ending the day on yellow or red on the motivational behavior chart.

We tried to motivate him at home. Sticker charts, rewards, consequences, everything. There was so much tension. So many angry afternoons. He was angry. I was angry. I kept hearing that he just wasn’t doing well, and I was told that there was no way he was bored because the curriculum was very engaging. Undercurrent..your kid is the problem.

Well, who likes hearing that? But I thought maybe they were right and I had no idea what to do. Around December, the school and my husband and I decided it would be best to remove him. And put him where? Who knows, but we had to get him out. The whole environment was toxic. I was watching my son fall apart and I had no idea why. Maybe it was the environment? Maybe it was the curriculum? Maybe he needed a different type of school? We had no idea.

In January, halfway through the year, we placed him in public kindergarten. And we held our breath. (I did spend the entirety of the winter vacation using all my reading specialist skills to catch him up.) When I dropped him off that first morning, 15 little pair of eyes turned and looked at him as he stood in the doorway while the teacher warmly welcomed him to class.

“I don’t want to go,” he whispered.

I’d never seen him nervous on the first day of school. Through two moves and three preschools, he’d never shown apprehension at starting a new school. But kindergarten is different. The room isn’t full of toys; instead it’s packed with books, pencils, tables, and a Smartboard. It was scary. I pulled a costume jewelry ring out of my pocket and closed it in his fist. “This is a magic ring. It helps us all to be brave. Put it in your pocket and touch it whenever you feel scared. It’ll help you be brave.”

He took the ring to school with him the whole first week.

But you know what? He’s rocking kindergarten. He’s reading. He’s doing fractions. He’s adding. He’s learned about 30 sight words in a month. And he’s so very proud of himself. We don’t argue anymore in the afternoon; the tension is gone. My happy boy is back.

He was completely, unequivocally bored in pre-K. And no one wanted to admit it.

The New York Times recently published an article called Redshirting Kindergarten-Age Kids Can Lead to Regrets. What regrets are they talking about? Well, some older children are starting kindergarten with three years of preschool behind them, and other kids are going on the expected time table, with two, one or zero years of preschool. So that means a few things:

The age gap is widening.

The academic gap is widening.

It’s much harder for the teachers to differentiate instruction and find lessons that are both challenging and engaging for all students. And, the kids who don’t need to, but are spending another needless year in pre-k are negatively impacting the curve. Because they come to kindergarten older, their maturity and experiences are more developed than a child who didn’t go to pre-k. This contrived advantage can throw off any academic data, because the average score is now tipped by kids who have more academic background than necessary. This skewed data pushes the curriculum even faster; too fast for the average student who is attending school on the expected time table.

And for a kid like mine, that extra year of pre-k can be the year they start hating school. Why? Because their boredom equals constantly getting in trouble.

In this current educational culture of hovering and overparenting, almost everyone gets the choice. “Do you want to send your child on or do you want the extra year?”

We’re putting the responsibility on the parents to choose when their child begins kindergarten. But should we? When is it the teacher’s responsibility to tell the parents that the child’s birthday is too early in the year, that pre-k is not a choice? According to the author of the New York Times article, no one is speaking up.

Our preschool regularly enrolls June and even May birthdays without any unusual need demonstrated…. The fact that my bright, typical, early June daughter is even being considered for a kindergarten delay just goes to show how far things have crept; she would finish kindergarten right around her seventh birthday if we held her back. Somewhere, a line must be drawn (Holbrook, Jan. 7, 2015).

This choice isn’t exactly freeing. Kindergarten is the new first grade. We’re expecting more of the kids, but they’re younger. So we hold them back because we don’t trust the new system. Some parents believe their child needs more time to emotionally catch up with the academic rigors of kindergarten, and that decision equals seven-year-olds in kindergarten. So we have first grade–age students attending kindergarten, which is actually the old first-grade curriculum. The plan of enhancing the rigor for younger students is backfiring for some. Parents are just waiting to send their kids on. But what if the kids can actually rise to this expectation? I have to admit, I didn’t think my son could.

But he proved me wrong. Looks like I was listening to the wrong people. Turns out, my five-year-old was trying to tell me something all along.

He didn’t need more time.

He needed more room to grow.

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