Five years 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. Mothering a brood is supposed to make decisions like this one less fraught. Experience times 4 or 5 should make you wiser, right? Was I really supposed to still be wringing sweat from my hands trying to decide if my child was ready for kindergarten?
Unfortunately, there was no “GET OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION FREE” card for me this time. I promised my husband to muzzle it and let the teacher talk. The main arguments for holding my son back were that he was physically small, has a birthday in the late summer, and the majority of his class cohort has much older birthdays so he looks even younger in comparison. These were fair arguments, just not compelling ones—at least to me. With no concerns about my son’s academic readiness, his social skills, or his developmental readiness, the teacher felt strongly that another year could be a gift to him—another year to play and be a little boy. 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. 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 and 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, then I 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.
Wowzers. What’s a good girl to do with data like this? So I shared it with my husband and then with Ellen, who both love a good dive into some research the way I love me a Netflix marathon. In the end, this was the take-away: despite research indicating there is no real benefit, it is becoming a common practice to “red-shirt” for kindergarten. While 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 with summer birthdays. Quite frankly, there are also whiffs that it is recommended so that schools have better scores on their rankings.
But even after this fair-minded even-handed analysis, I was still undecided. I called 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.” Well, that was helpful. Thanks, Dad.
And my girlfriends? I leaned hard on those who had a summer baby that had started school already, but I was open to all advice. The results, while very much appreciated, were mixed and, in the end, not all that helpful. Asking the question did help move the needle a little though. I heard validated time and again what I already knew: all of these kids, including mine, are going to be just fine no matter what side I came down on. 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. I knew that. I needed to remember that. And the fifth time around this tree made it easier to see that.
At decision time, despite having to surrender my Good Girl crown, I went against the teacher’s advice and sent my child to kindergarten. This conclusion didn’t arise from any single thing we read or brilliant insight someone shared. The readiness assessments, while they did make us feel better, weren’t the deciding factors either. In the end, our son went to kindergarten, 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 went because he was ready, and we both felt that to be true.
So five years later, how did things turn out for us and our boy? Well, there were mixed results for awhile. While he adjusted to kindergarten well and was meeting academic milestones with his peers, when I had a meeting with his teacher in the spring, she still had some concerns. Chief among them was that he was the youngest in his class (sound familiar?) and because this particular class skewed old, he looked young. Was he still appropriate for his age? Yes. Was he a behavior problem? No. Was she concerned about him academically? Not really. Was he driving her a little crazy? Maybe. We repeated this pattern in the classroom for the next couple years. But by third grade, he was doing so well, he earned himself the Citizenship Award that earned him a dog. But that’s a story for another day.
Bottom Line for You: If you plow forward with your summer baby and keep him or her with their birth cohort, you might still be talking about this or thinking about this. For AWHILE. This means that if you follow this path, you may be sitting in the little chairs discussing issues a little more often than other parents.
Remember what the literature said: it can take until third grade until everything evens out. Or not. All kids are different.
We are still putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward taking one day at a time with this child, but that’s honestly just parenting as I know it. Now we ask questions like: is he ready for the next step, challenge, or opportunity? So far, with love and guidance, the answer has been yes.
For additional resources, we suggest you check out this great 60 Minutes 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.
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