Monday, August 25, 2014

Holding Back: Why Our Five-Year-Old Isn't Going to Kindergarten

Monday was a big "first day of school" picture day on Facebook. We did not participate. We did celebrate a "first day of second grade," with photo documents and colorful signage as proof; we just didn't post them anywhere. Not because we're that worried about our daughter's privacy or believe that she is now fodder for a new wave of cyber terrorism. We may have just forgotten, or maybe it will be part of a "can't believe how she grew in just 9 months" montage come early June. Or because her brother isn't going to kindergarten this year and we don't want to draw his attention to it.

There were decidedly fewer "Held out of kindergarten this year" signs showing up on my feed today, though if we were so inclined, we could have pulled one off. We held our middle child-- all 5 years, 1 month of him-- out of kindergarten this year. It was not a frivolous decision-- this is one we struggled with for a while, back and forth, over and over. Right or wrong?

His July birthday puts him at the younger edge of the kindergarten class of 2014-15. In our opinion, this would put him at a disadvantage compared to his other classmates. Not for his entire academic career, but for the all-important first 3-4 years, up to third grade, when students generally get frustrated easier and begin to hate school.

The disadvantages aren't severe. Intellectually, he probably could handle the workload. And if they've added recognizing state shapes or translating hideous Curious George bleats into English to the kindergarten curriculum, he may have graduated this year with honors. He passed the 10-minute test administered to him at registration in March, even though his drawing of "Daddy playing baseball" looks exactly like his printed capital R. But there are other, less discernible factors weighing into the decision...areas that are often overlooked when green
lighting kids for kindergarten that won't show up in a 10-minute registration session.

  • Social and Emotional Factors -- He gets frustrated easily when things aren't going his way, or when things aren't perfect, to which the dent in the wall after a third-place finish in a family game of Trouble will attest. Poor sportsmanship aside, he also gets frustrated when he can't do things and, as we'll see in a second, there are quite a few things he can't do. In Day Care, he also tended to play with the younger kids anyway. Why throw him in with a bunch of older kids then and let him feel like the low man on the totem pole?
  • Physical Factors -- As we found out in a well visit to the doctor a month ago, this kid has inherited all of his father's physical shortcomings. He's on pace to learn how to tie his shoes in 4th grade. More importantly, at his first Occupational Therapy visit, a test of hand strength revealed he actually has no muscles in his arms. (Not really, but he scored a 0, whatever that means.) He has been working with his Occupation Therapist to build hand strength by threading beads with one hand, lacing string through cardboard, and pulling small tiles and lining them up with weights tied to his hand. Watching him struggle makes me physically uncomfortable, but watching him eventually succeed gives me hope. Hope that he continues to build this strength so that when he's asked to write 5 sentences by the end of kindergarten, he'll at least be able to hold the pencil.
          Also, after his first day of Day Care, one which involved a two-hour nap, he came home and nearly passed out in his spaghetti. He's not ready for full-day kindergarten.

None of this is done with sports on our mind. Our genealogy has made it quite clear we do not have the next Babe Ruth, Peyton Manning, or Larry Bird on our hands. We don't even have the next Rafael Belliard, my all-time least favorite baseball player. Fear not, fellow Delaware parents...our son will not enjoy any distinct athletic advantages over your kid and will not be awarded athletic scholarships at yours' expense because he's months older than your child. (Though if he did, it would in a very small way make up for my district's 6th-grade Track Meet, where we all lost to some kid who looked like '70s Ted Nugent. Digressing.) Talent determines worth in sports, not a few extra months of age. 

There are many, many reasons to simply forget all this and enroll him in kindergarten. One reason for every dollar we'll pay in Day Care costs this year, in fact. Plus we'll be delaying his earning potential on the other end when he graduates school, as people have noted. But he'll be working into his seventies anyway, plenty of time to get beaten down by the man. This will afford him another year to just be a kid.  One more stress-free year, with the hope of more stress-free years in the future.

How much would you pay today to have another year of your childhood back? This is in some ways a gift to him, one that he will never quite understand and certainly will not be able to justify or quantify when we can't buy him a car on his 16th birthday. Or even his 21st. But a gift nonetheless.

I come from a family of teachers. My parents, step-parents, brother, sister-in-law, step-sister-in-law, aunts, they are all over the family. I married a teacher. Probably close to 200 years of teaching experience at our fingertips and not once has any of them heard someone say, "I really regret not pushing Johnny through." You hear plenty of the reverse, however. But each child is different. Many with July birthdays are ready. My son would definitely survive.

But would he thrive?

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