Erin- Smack. Hand on forehead. Every once in awhile we all just need one of those.
Ellen- I find it keeps me from throttling other people.
Erin- Today was one of those days. A few weeks ago, we had THE TALK. Not THAT ONE, the other one—the one where you meet with the preschool teacher about whether to send the baby to kindergarten.
All I can hear is Joe Strummer singing in my head, “Should he stay or should he go?”
Erin- Goodness, haven’t I been around this tree before? Am I still supposed to be wringing sweat from my hands about preschool and kindergarten?
Ellen- Shouldn’t it be one of the perks of being a mother of five to get a reprieve from kindergarten being a colossal decision?
I mean, really, you’ve been there and done that 4 times already. Isn’t it the consolation prize that you get to have some things on autopilot? I mean why else would you triple or quadruple your food bill, your electric bill, and your college tuitions? Except for, of course, you also exponentially increase your joy. (For real, Erin’s family is a joy to be around.)
Erin- One of the supposed joys of mothering a brood is the notion that decisions become less fraught because your experience (times 4 or 5) makes you wiser.
So when can I stop and smell the roses? When am I allowed to stop sweating every decision??
Ellen- Apparently never. No GET OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION FREE card for you. Doomed to sit in the little chairs yet again.
Erin- To be perfectly honest, although I love Eddie’s teacher and think she loves him back, I was a little annoyed that I had to take an hour of my time AND schedule it so that Steve could be there too AND this was all ON A SCHOOL NIGHT. Which meant the teens were running the evening routine. Enough said, and GRRRRRR.
Ellen- Shudder. But why is this decision so angst-inducing? He has done his year in preschool, and he makes the cut-off date for kindergarten, right?
Erin- The main arguments for holding Eddie back are that he is physically small, has a late birthday in the late summer, and the majority of his class cohort has much older birthdays.
These are fair arguments. They are just not compelling ones—at least to me.
Ellen- If we are talking about Eddie, specifically, and not in generalizations, they are not very compelling to me either.
Erin- And yet my husband had made me promise to muzzle it and let THE TEACHER talk: “We’ll learn a lot about what to do from what she tells us without our interpretation or input.”
The teacher had no concerns about his academic readiness, his social skills, or his developmental readiness, so my main takeaway was that another year could be a gift to him—another year to play and be a little boy. Hmmmm. Who wouldn’t get on board with that?
The only thing I said during our hour was “Thank you, we would like some time to think this over.”
And that’s what I did, except when I said “think it over” what I meant was give myself time to read everything I could find and poll every person I know.
Ellen- I’m impressed you could tamp down that niggling voice whispering, “This is all a big waste of time.”
Erin- Oh, it was niggling me! More than that really, it was saying, “Put this baby to rest. Send THAT baby to kindergarten. We have bigger fish to fry.” But I put on my Good Girl hat and started doing my research.
Ellen- Good Girl hat? I’m thinking you lost those brownie points when you didn’t immediately accept holding him back. So what did the research say?
Erin– At this point, I want to be able to say that the research (the paper kind and the people kind) clarified everything, but what I found was. . . contradictory at best.
There were some very good reasons for holding him back. One study found that the youngest students were much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and were three times as likely to repeat a grade. Umm, no thank you.
Another study found that the oldest students were most likely to become student leaders. Well, what parent DOESN’T want that? At this point, I started daydreaming about my sweet boy as class president circa Class of 2022!
But by far the most compelling argument for another year of PreK was what my mother (former preschool teacher, current kindergarten teacher) said: “You cannot underestimate the power of feeling confident and capable in the classroom.” Maybe Momma IS always right.
I was all ready to give him another year, but, of course, I then kept reading. The arguments against another year of Pre-K pushed me right back on my fence. There were negligible long-term academic benefits. The differences between the oldest and the youngest are the largest on the first day of kindergarten, but the advantages decrease over time. Younger students catch up with the oldest by third grade. Even studies that matched each child who delayed entrance with a child of like intelligence who had not delayed entrance did not find any solid proof that this practice made any difference at all.
At this point, my head was spinning. I heard Joe singing, “If I go, it could be trouble. If I stay, it could be double.” What’s a Momma to do?
Ellen, singing: “This indecision’s killing me.”
Erin: THIS Momma remembered her maxim to Have a Little Ellen in her life. I handed this mess over.
Ellen: Are you getting the gist? Erin read pages more of research and she sent them to me. Here is my take-away: despite research indicating there is no real benefit, it is becoming a common practice to “red-shirt” for kindergarten.
Erin: We did not make that up. It’s a term. Oy.
Ellen: There are no large studies with good statistical significance to show that it is beneficial to hold back. It is most often recommended to white males, and quite frankly, there are whiffs that it is recommended so that schools have better scores on their “No Child Left Behind” rankings.
Erin: Wake up! At this point, I’m cutting her off. She could analyze statistics for hours. The links are there if you want to read what I read. My last call was to my dad, the fair-minded judge and father of 4. It’s his daily work to evaluate two sides of an issue, balance interests, and come up with good solutions.
He just said, “What did your mother say? Do that.”
Ellen: At this point, I had heard this talk long enough. It was now time to call on The Sisterhood.
They were only too happy to share their thoughts:
SIL with two summer babies: “Was worried, but both kids are doing great.”
SIL with two fall babies who got that valuable extra year: “Kids are happy and doing great.”
Friend with a Summer Birthday Baby and a December birthday Baby: “Hold him back, because you are thinking ahead. If he moves on to kindergarten, he will turn 18 a month before he goes to college. He will be the last in his class to get his driver’s license.”
Ellen- Must interject here. I also have a summer baby, Coco (13), and a December baby, Jellybean (11). And while it is true that the preschool teacher initiated a mortifying conference to discuss Coco using yips to answer questions instead of words, she is doing fine. Upper tail of the bell curve and all that.
Sisterhood Friend: “I wish I had thought to hold X back. He’s struggling socially in middle school, and he has a late summer birthday.”
Other Sisterhood Friend: “I don’t think you can make a wrong decision, but you will definitely know which one is better.”
Ellen: Eddie is ready for kindergarten. He is articulate. He is one of the few 5 year olds I can have a conversation with that I enjoy. His best buds are moving up. And besides, it will make it much easier to work on the blog.
Erin: Rest assured, no decisions were made based on this blog. You did catch that Ellen took the time to read my research.
Then my sister called to weigh in. My mother and father had filled her in on our Big Dilemma.
My beloved sister: “Are we seriously even talking about this?”
Erin: OK, so, maybe my sister Karen is the voice in my head. Hmmm.
So here is the thing I learned that I already knew: all of these kids, including mine, are going to be just fine. The decisions to start preschool or kindergarten and when are important decisions, but they are not deal-breakers. Kids grow where they are planted and nourished and cared for.
Hence, the forehead smack. I knew that. I needed to remember that. And not for nothing, the fifth time around this tree made it easier to see that.
Eddie is going to kindergarten next year. He is curious, inquisitive, and ready to learn. He is still small, will still have a birthday in the late summer, and will still be the youngest in his class. He will still have time to play and be a little boy, but he will also learn to read and write and, if we’re lucky, eat some paste, because that’s what curious, inquisitive little boys do.
He is going not because of any one thing we read or brilliant insight someone shared. He is not going because of any readiness assessments we took (although they did make us feel better—really). He is going, because one night after we put him to bed, Steve and I looked at each other and at the same moment said, “He’s ready.”
He’s going, because he’s ready, and we both feel that to be true.
I could break into song, but this time it’s not Joe in my head, but the Hallelujah Chorus. No more hand-wringing or sweating this decision.
Ellen: Get Eddie a bigger backpack, because he’s goin’ to kindergarten!
Addendum: As we were working on this piece, 60 Minutes ran a segment about kindergarten redshirting. Definitely worth a look if you are also in the midst of this decision.
Also, Steve and I found some great resources online to determine academic readiness from sources like Scholastic, BabyCenter, and FamilyEducation.com. We took two readiness assessments—one from School Sparks and one from Covenant Home.
By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski