Monday, February 23, 2015

Child-rearing guilt and angst: Kindergarten edition

Today's episode of parenting frets will be devoted to Jordan and school.

DC has schools that start at Pre-K 3, and so, at age three, Jordan started school. Prior to that he was in daycare, and daycare in DC is costly. So for us it was no question but that he'd start school at age three rather than us continuing to pay many and many thousands of dollars for childcare.

In any case, he was going to be somewhere outside our home, whether it was daycare or school.

He has an August birthday, and there's a September 30 cutoff, so while he's not the youngest in his class, he's among them. There are kids in his grade who turned six in October, so are nearly a full year older.

We have Jordan in this terrific bilingual school. We bought in this particular area of DC so that we'd be guaranteed a spot.

His two prior years were at a different school. We loved his teachers and the school, but the Spanish instruction depended on the teacher. For us it was miss rather than hit. This was fine, because his primary teachers were wonderful for him. He just didn't learn much Spanish.

Now he's in Kindergarten at a school where half the day is spent in Spanish. He's learning math in Spanish.

He says he hates it.

He's in a good mood when I pick him up at the end of the day. I know he likes his teachers. He has friends.

But every morning he doesn't want to go and over and over he says he hates his Spanish-speaking teacher. And when you ask why he wails, "Because I don't understaaaaaand him!"

Jordan is, like his mother, someone who sits on the side until he is comfortable. Someone who is anxious about making mistakes. Someone who will not just jump in and barrel through. He wants to know he can do it well before he does it at all.

I'm sorry about the genes, little pal. And also all the stress I was under while pregnant with you. Oh, and the PPD. Did I do this to you? (Guilt and angst, guilt and angst.)

I wonder if we should've started him a year later. This is a pointless fret, because we did what we did.

But now we are wondering if we should have him repeat Kindergarten.

His class has a wide range of abilities, and he is at the low end in terms of reading and writing. When he brings English books home to read to us, I know he's just reciting what he's memorized, or what the picture is making obvious. "There is a tree."

When it's a Spanish book, he has no idea, refuses to sound out letters, and generally makes it all so miserable that I am just like fine, fuck it, never learn to read and go ahead and limit yourself to miserably few low-wage employment options.

I don't say that, of course. But I hate reading his Spanish homework with him. He whines and cries and says it's too hard and I just have to remember to breathe and be patient and try to remind myself that wine is not the solution.

But I've started to think that repeating this grade might be the answer.

I mean, I know that he will learn to read and write. I don't actually have that concern. Nor do I feel a need for him to be at the top of his class. What I want is for him to be happy.

Instead of struggling so hard, instead of feeling like he's hanging on by his fingernails, maybe he could feel good. Right now he feels like everyone in class knows what's being said and he doesn't (this is not the case, but it is how he feels, so it's real to him).

But if he did Kindergarten again, maybe he could actually be comfortable. Maybe he could feel like he knew what he was doing, and perhaps even do some things better than others. Which (I think) would make him a much more confident student.

However. I also worry about him feeling bad about himself for still being in Kindergarten when his peers go on to first grade.

I talked to the teachers, who said they could go either way with him. He could stay on grade level and get extra support. Or he could repeat. We're going to have this conversation again in June and decide.

Ultimately, we'll make this decision with his teachers and the administration. But I'd like some personal stories as I consider it.

Do any of you have experience with this? What are your thoughts?


  1. Zeke falls on the other side of cut-off date, and I always felt like it benefited him to be one of the older kids in the class. He was always able to keep up with school work, but if he had been a month younger and been in a class ahead he would have been way to immature. Josie, on the other hand, has a birthday that's a week before the cut-off and is the youngest in her class. Earlier in the year, I was worried because she was lagging academically, but the truth is, learning to read and those early literacy skills are so developmental - there's such a broad range of what is normal, in terms of how old kids are when it "clicks" for them. And then at some point, she started to get it and is now catching up with her peers.

    All this is to say that, in terms of his maturity level, I think doing kindergarten again might be good for him, because it's better for boys to be a little older. But if it's more of a worry about his academics, it will click for him, and once that happens, he'll catch up pretty quickly.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. This was very helpful. I guess it's more about emotional maturity and self-confidence. India is an April baby, but she'd be fine as an August one. I wish their birthdays were reversed, because I have no fear that she'll just charge forward and be fine, no matter where she falls academically in the class.

      Jordan is emotionally young, and he gets anxious, and he doesn't want to do things unless he feels confident about doing them. He needs a lot of prompting from his teachers, a lot of attention to get him to do stuff he doesn't feel good about, like writing, like reading, like any and everything in Spanish. He doesn't act out in school; he just withdraws and checks out when he's not comfortable.

  2. Yes my oldest now 20 had a birthday right on the cut off date. I sent him early and had him do a couple years there. I am so glad. They (he, his sibling, friends) don't remember the beginning being anything other than me sending him early as a day care alternative. He has no idea he went extra then. In some ways he was very ready but in other ways I knew the extra year would help. He then was one of the oldest and confidant in his grade. The high school years really, really reinforced that I made the correct decision. There is so much pressure there socially and academically. He was in way better shape to face it with the extra year. The boy intelligent switch seems to flip at a different time than it did with his sister both with common sense and classes. He also could mess up and learn from it some before going off to college - my kids are not angels. Many lessons but glad he had the extra year before thrown into the college scene. He is excelling, great grade point but having a blast also. I don't think that would have been the outcome without the extra year - more likely he would not have had the discipline to get his act together to go to class and would need a liver transplant. Not to frighten you about the parenting adventures ahead...

    1. Thank you so much for the perspective as the mom of a kid in college, Cathy! And oh my hell, I can remember back in Ecuador when you were pregnant with him!! You've really made me think about this as a decision not just for next year, but for life. Thank you so much. And also, I'm not scared...not yet. :) Big hugs to you!

  3. I wanted to share my experience. My parents held Lora and me back in Kindergarten. We are December babies. My parents determined Lora and I were not ready for 1st grade at 5 3/4, which was allowable in MD at the time. First, they determined we weren't really mature enough socially, Second, we still needed a better command of English, as we lived in Afghanistan from 8 months to 4 1/2 years of age, and knew Farsi better than English. They made the right call from my perspective because I personally do not think I would have done as well if I had not had an extra year of foundational work in Kindergarten, which is so important. The foundational work is so important. I probably would have had to have been held back down the road had I not been held back in Kindergarten. On the other side, I have a nephew who was promoted a grade when he changed international schools when they moved from one country to another. However, when he returned to the states several years later his parents decided to hold him back a year, not because of academics, but because he still needed to mature socially. Chris Dunn

    1. Chris, I really appreciate you sharing this - and telling me that you think your parents did the right thing for you two, which it totally sounds as if they did. I bet it was helpful for your parents that they had experience with your older siblings, so they had a better feeling for where they wanted you to be.

      I was talking to my dentist about this yesterday. Jordan's her patient, too, and she recently saw him because he face-planted into cement and knocked in his front teeth. She was asking about Jordan, and I told her what I'm thinking. She said she's considering moving her son from Russian school (she's originally Lithuanian) to DC public school, and as he is young, she wants him to go back a grade. But he's adamant about not repeating 8th grade. Which is understandable. I get where she's coming from - wishing he were older in his grade, worrying about the switch, seeing this as a way to rectify. But I get where he's coming from, too. But in Kindergarten, kids are mostly sweet and get past things like this much more easily.

  4. My oldest and youngest boys were both late birthdays and really needed that extra year at home. We took the oldest out of school and let him start the next year. The youngest, we have pushed through and I am regretting it. To add to it, we also put him in Chinese Immersion, against my mother's instinct. Now, more than halfway through the year, we had to put him in reading resource to catch up, he is behind in math, we had to remove him from the Chinese program, and we are now taking him to a counselor and he is in special ed all day just to get him to work through his anxiety about school. I don't want to scare you with all this because every child is different. But definitely listen to those mom instincts...they are always right.

    1. Oh, that sounds so hard! Thank you so for sharing this. I think that you are so right, and I do need to listen to my instincts. I don't want him to be anxious about school, and I don't want every year to be a struggle for him. I wish the best for you and for your son.


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