I don’t do parenting advice because what the hell do I know about your kids? Every kid and every family is different and so for any given question there are millions of permutations of the right answer. All I can give you is my thoughts on my family and the assurance that they are arrived at with no judgment and much respect for differences of opinion.
With that disclaimer, Kindergarten – to repeat or not to repeat? That is the question I’ve been asked by many. If you have a kid born between about May and September, you will have at least thought about this issue. Do you start Kindergarten in the year he turns five, making him one of the youngest kids in his class, or do you start the next year, making him the oldest?
I think you all know that after much angst, we went with the latter choice. Saige & Garrett are in their second year of Kindergarten this year, their first in public school. They turned six last summer & fall respectively.
I will say this: I love this decision. It’s probably the parenting decision I feel the most confident about in my six brief years of parenting. Last year, I watched them struggle a bit. Emotionally, they were too young. They were unsure. This year they are confident and certain. They have been labeled leaders and they receive a lot of praise.
Maybe that’s not important, but we are committed to a public school education and public schools track kids. It might be wrong; it might be right; it’s a fact. When I look at the pros and cons of free public education, I realized that mass anything is not a perfect fit on the individual level. Mass education – education aimed at trying to bring millions of school-aged children the knowledge categorized as necessary for an elementary education – has to aim for the middle. How else do you teach to such diversity? How else do you form a curriculum that can accommodate every possible level of learning?
When you take a curriculum aimed at the middle and apply it to a class of twenty-seven kids you get … tracking. The kids who have stretched beyond the given curriculum track high. The kids who are emotionally, socially, or physically not ready or who have less exposure track low.
So did that extra year of Kindergarten give my kids an advantage? Hell yes it did. They were emotionally, socially and physically more ready than 90% of the class this year. They had more exposure. They tracked high and I can see that it is going to follow them through their elementary years barring difficulty that we’re not expecting. How can it not? They know that they’re good at the required subject matter. They feel the confidence of picking up skills easily.
I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think these are the only criteria for success or that this is the only way to look at this issue, but I am personally very, very glad my kids repeated Kindergarten and started public school in the year they turned six.
But what about boredom? What about challenge? What about Garrett telling that sub that he might die if they didn’t move on to the next activity?
I don’t care.
I’m gonna say it again: I don’t care. I don’t care if they’re a little bored. I think both teachers have done an admirable job of meeting them where they are. I think the subject matter is new in enough areas that they are challenged at least some of the time and I think the social and emotional challenges of their first year in a class of 27 very diverse kids is challenging enough. And if they’re a little bored sometimes? If they have to wait for a classmate to pick up on an idea? Good. That’s life. We all get bored. We all have to suck it up and do things anyway. We all have to wait for people who are taking a little more time to pick something up. We might even have to help them. Twenty years from now, when my kids are in line behind the idiot that can’t work the automatic teller machine, or the struggling mother of four at the check out, I hope they are the sweet, young adults that take a deep breath and offer to help, not the entitled assholes that honk or mutter under their breath.
I see public elementary school as more than just an education in reading and math. In fact, that’s kind of on the bottom of my priorities for the next six years. We can teach them a love of reading right here, we’ve already brought them grades beyond what public Kindergarten teaches and that’s no praise to us. That’s by just living. We read. We converse with a fairly high vocabulary. We challenge them to understand math in day-to-day transactions. We can challenge them in these early years. I want elementary school to teach them other things. Community. Teamwork. Kindness. What it feels like to follow your peers and do the wrong thing. What it feels like to stand up to your peers and do the right thing. How teasing hurts. How to apologize. How to move on from embarrassment. How to talk about a problem. How to work with someone who doesn’t agree with you. How to stand up for yourself. How to be a friend.
These lessons have such low stakes right now as compared to the situations where they might be critically needed in the future.
In conclusion, yes, I am thrilled with our decision to repeat Kindergarten. I don’t think that there can be too much repetition of these early lessons. I don’t think you can have too much practice at coping skills in such a relatively innocuous environment. I’m in no rush to propel my kids into junior high a year earlier because I wanted them challenged academically. I hope that these playground apologies and embarrassments and friendships will translate into big skills. So that when a teen is tortured by his peers in ten years, my kids will still be leaders and they’ll have the balls to say “cut it out it’s not funny.” So that when faced with a crisis, a drunk peer at the wheel, pressure to have sex, a suicidal friend, drugs, they will have the self-confidence and the tools to make good decisions.
I could be totally and completely wrong and all my parenting shit could hit the proverbial fan spectacularly in a few years. I have no crystal ball. But I’ll trade a little boredom for that chance.
To end this rational, carefully argued piece on an emotional mother-of-four note, I’ll never forget this piece of wisdom that I received last summer: “Do you want them to graduate a year earlier or do you want them to be babies a year longer?”
Mercy, they aren’t babies nearly long enough.