Just Precious

Pre-Kindergarten? Kindergarten? What’s the right decision?

Posted in education by Julie Meyers Pron on November 4, 2009

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True, its only November, but the scurry to find the perfect placement for next year is a hot topic, as usual, at our preschool this fall.  This year, I’m a voice of experience. Not only am I the former teacher, but I’m a parent who’s made the decision and experienced the result.

We opted to hold our son back and enroll him in a year of pre-K, affectionately called “The Fives” at our preschool. Not for academics, but to allow him to “grow up”, to mature and to be socially fit for a school child’s real world. Big has an end-of-August birthday and our school district has an August 31 cut-off.

It was, definitely, the right decision. In fact, I have yet to meet parents who would disagree. Many parents who push their children to Kindergarten express that they wish they had held their child back.  2 or 6 years later, I know parents who are struggling to help their child to keep up with their peers or that they would love to have their child repeat, but short of a transfer to a private education, its barely possible.  But I have never found a parent who regrets an extra year of preschool, or a year of Pre-Kindergarten.

In our case, we’d rather Big, and next, Middle, and, likely, Little, be the oldest than the youngest. Our decision didn’t consider academics (lucky thing, because during Big’s year in the Fives he didn’t learn much academically. His pre-Kindergarten curriculum didn’t focus on academics that matched his needs –nor, in my opinion, should they have — but far more on the maturational needs of him and his classmates). We wanted an opportunity for our son to grow. Most important, to take an extra year to still be a child before the pressures of Kindergarten and elementary school began.

After a year in Pre-Kindergarten, we opted to keep Big in the same private school and enroll him in the full day Kindergarten program. Just as I did the November before, I visited Kindergarten programs in our area, trying to find the right fit. There are two things I learned in my search:

  1. whatever decision we made will be fine. It will be the right one for many reasons, and the wrong one for many reasons. No placement is perfect. But with the joint support of the family and school, a child will be happy and excited and learn something in Kindergarten.
  2. Kindergarten, just like Pre-Kindergarten, is only for one school year. And after (or, if need be, during) the school year a change can be made for the following year. Its only one year. And there’s no way that 13, or 14, years of education will all be stellar.

Recognizing these two parts of educational choice have made me  more relaxed and confident in our educational decisions for our children. And while we have a lot to decide before next year (where will Big go to first grade?!), I know this is not a decision worth losing sleep over. I’ll do my research, visit any schools I have yet to visit, and talk to his teacher often, because I value her opinion and trust that she sees a different Big in the classroom than I do at our home.

Just as we did in the past, we’ll follow our gut, which I presume is based on the knowledge we are learning about our kids and their opportunities. And I’ll always remember that, whatever the decision we make, we’re doing it with the best of intentions.

To read more about our decision, click here.

Here comes Kindergarten: NOW he’s ready

Posted in education by Julie Meyers Pron on August 26, 2009

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About 6 months before having my first August baby, I gathered with teacher friends in the teacher lunch room at the elementary school where I taught. I knew then, without even knowing my child, that with an August 31 cut-off, the baby would be “held back” prior to Kindergarten.

There were many reasons. To start, I’d rather him or her be the oldest than the youngest. He’d drive his car and drink legally first rather than last. I recognized that no matter how much he could handle academically when he was 6, 7 or 8, it was the maturation of the child I was more concerned about. So I wasn’t just thinking ahead 6 or 7 years, I was  thinking ahead 12 or 13 years.

While this decision was based on emotions, it was also based on experience. Each year, by the time the first week of school had ended, I could practically place my students in a line by age, youngest to oldest, and without even glancing at the class roster. This wasn’t an academic judgment, it had nothing to do with the children’s skills in math or reading. It was based on transitions, conflict resolution, neediness. Birth dates went hand-in-hand with maturation.

Jeremy was the shortest child in my 2nd grade class. Freckles speckled his face, his toothless grin lit up his brown eyes. He skipped around the room, always chipper, always happy.The shortest child in the room (both his parents were short) by almost a head, visitors walked into the class and asked who this adorable child was. Unfortunately, they weren’t just asking because he was such a cutie, they also asked because he didn’t sit through an entire lesson like his peers. Concepts taught to 2nd graders took longer for him to comprehend and, usually, when there was a problem in the cafeteria or on the playground the “innocent grin” belonged on Jeremy’s freckled face.

Jeremy, whose birthday was September 6, started Kindergarten and 1st grade in a different school district where the “cut-off” was September 30, versus our August 31. Having completed Kindergarten when he transferred, my district slated him to enter second grade when he moved to our school, a grade where he would be the youngest, if only by a few weeks. There were children in his grade who lapped him, being older than he by more than 14 months. He wasn’t just small. He was small and young. When we paired up with a first grade class he fit right in, with the first graders. But amongst the 2nd graders, he was, well, young.

He moved to a different school within the same district before 5th grade. That year we finally held him back. He repeated 4th grade, fit in, succeeded. Jeremy’s story is only one of many I experienced as a teacher. All strong supports of my decision to “hold my son back.”

Every child is different, but I challenge you to show me a parent who regrets holding back. I knew we made the right decision when 3 days into the school year I received a “we need to talk” call from his pre-k teacher. The third day of school. He could read, he could write, his logic was strong. But maturationally, the extra year before Kindergarten had already proven to be the right choice.

He’ll be starting Kindergarten 2 weeks. Age 6. Yes, he’s ready.

This post is in response to the Y! Motherboard’s topic of the month: Selecting a School. For great tips and opinions on a number of back-to-school issues visit Shine and get the low down on a variety of topics.  And be sure to read other Y! Motherboard member’s posts about Back to School Season: