Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Kindergarten Dilemma

Once upon a time.... we had to decide if we should send Lexie to kindergarten or not. Her birthday is in June, and with a summer birthday she will either one of the youngest kids or the oldest. Hmmm.... what should we do? Hmmmmmm...?

This is going to be a long post, because it was a long process to decide what to do. No matter what, parents cannot see into their child's future. Decisions like this are such a crap shoot. We made the wrong decision and were later able to correct it. That pretty much sums it up, read on if I peaked your interest.

Lexie is our second child. We didn't have to decide this with our first one. She is a February baby. February is easy! She fell right in the middle - no need to ponder what to do. Katie started her education as a preschooler, then advanced to kindergarten after a year of preschool. Katie attended an awesome preschool - she went to public school preschool as a "peer leader". Yes, a 4 yr old peer leader. Thumbs Up! The public school preschool program received a grant to incorporate some "peer leaders" into their special education prescool classes and Katie was selected due to her amazing nonstop vocabulary skills. The kid could talk! She was born talking and hasn't stopped. Her verbal skills were what they were looking for to inspire some of their special ed students to learn and speak more. But, Katie had a great experience too. When she entered Kindergarten, she was bored. In fact, her preschool had covered almost everything that was in the Kindergarten curriculum. She did attend two different schools for these two grades which was probably part of her Kindergarten boredom problem. Preschool was in North Dakota and Kindergarten for Katie was in South Dakota. But the decision about what year to start K was easy-breezy. She started at 5 1/2. Perfect little winter kid! She fit right in academically and socially all the way through 12th grade. She's in college now and studying to be a special education teacher - she has always wanted to be one since she was a preschool "peer leader".

OK, back to the topic at hand.... but you kind of need to know how we came to have a big decision and nothing to base it on even though we had an older child and had been through the Kindergarten thing already. Our first decision about Lexie's education was: no preschool. We weren't in the same community as when Katie was her age so she didn't have the opportunity to be a peer leader. And, it left Katie with a lot of Kindergarten boredom. So, Lexie attended daycare (I was the daycare teacher) library storytime, went to the YMCA for swim lessons, and I sent her to Safety School. Social more than academic exposure. Lexie is shy. She doesn't talk in public, only at home. She was my little barnacle, always attached. Katie always spoke for her. Her vocabulary and speech skills were amazing too but only at home. Anywhere else and she hid behind my leg and let Katie do the talking.

After putting her in preschool aged social situations where she didn't have Katie or I to hide behind, she bloomed a little more. Still shy, but she was able to do what she needed to do. We thought she was ready for Kindergarten at age 5. She'd been able to read since age three and she could do some simple addition already. But kindergarten? not in that town.

The school district strongly encouraged five year olds to stay home. If your birthday was after March, stay home another year. Wait till your child is age six, then begin kindergarten. They had all sorts of data to back up their views. This was not a school policy, but it may have well been. You know how moms talk.... I soon learned that six year olds were the preferred Kindergarten students and five year olds were moved to the margins and then retained. Especially boys! Well, here we were with a shy summer kid. Not much choice but to wait till she was age 6 and start her with the other kids her age. So, we did another year of social activities.

We put her in K at age 6. She was bored. The class spent three weeks learning how to line up, raise your hand, sit, be quiet. She complained. She was bored. "Why do I have to go there?" I figured it was just the curriculum, first grade would be better. Just like with Katie. Around the middle of the year of Kindergarten, I got a note from the teacher. Lexie was recommended for the gifted ed program which was an after school program called Odyssey of the Mind. She joined and had a great time. She was still annoyed with Kindergarten though. At one point she said there was a kid in her class named DJ and he couldn't spell his name. She just didn't like being there and listening to the teacher explain to poor little DJ how to draw the letters of his name every day.

She stayed in the OM program through the 5th grade. Her team won the state championships and competed at the world level three times. She won a $1000 college scholarship when she was in the 4th grade. We were really proud! But all the kids on her team were a grade and two grades above her. They were her favorite friends, but all ahead of her in school. They were winter babies! So Lexie was the same age minus a few months and a whole grade behind her friends. This isn't what we expected.

School remained the same for her. Boring. In second grade she was used as a buffer so the teacher could better control classroom behavior. She hated second grade. We petitioned to have her bumped up to the third grade. She could do the work, she was old enough, and she was miserable in the grade we placed her in. The school flat out refused our request. Didn't matter, she had a summer birthday. So she plugged along through her elementary years.

After 5th grade, which was the end of elementary, we moved to Southern California. She would switch from an elementary school with 450 students to a middle school with 1500 students. And Katie was finished with the 8th grade and ready for high school. She would go from a middle school of 300 students to a high school with 3800 students. Big changes for both girls!

Katie fit right in. Lexie stood a head taller than her classmates. One very nice girl invited her to her birthday party, she was turning 11. Eleven!!! Lexie had been 12 for months, and the kids in her class were eleven and just turning eleven! No wonder she was so much taller than they were. Sure, she's always been a tall kid, but put her in with kids who are a year to a year and a half younger and she was sticking up like a flagpole. She spent a week feeling like she was a square peg in a round hole. Her new peers were younger. Seemed like a lot younger.

Maybe now was our chance to change that decision we've always regretted about starting Kindergarten late. By now we had realized that our decision for K was based on what people were telling us to do, not what was in the best interest of our child. We felt bad for not thinking of her interests first and taking recommendations second. Live and learn.

So, we met with the school counselor. She looked over Lexie's file and agreed that we could consider moving her up to 7th grade, but she made no promises. Awesome! She didn't look at us like we were nuts! She looked past Lexie's June birthdate! She didn't say "June - Nope!" It felt good just knowing that her new school was going to make a decision and not base it solely on the month of her birthday. Lexie was interviewed to determine social needs. She was tested to determine academic standing. She passed her tests and passed the 6th grade after just two weeks of being in California. The counselor explained to us that ultimately it was our decision. We asked about the ages of the kids in the 6th and 7th grades and we found out that in Cali, kids begin kindergarten at age 5 or close to age 5. The cutoff date is December 1st as opposed to South Dakota where the cutoff date was officially September 1st but anything after March wasn't going to fly very far. We decided to bump her up to the 7th grade.

She did not want to participate in Odyssey of the Mind anymore. She'd already been to world three times, and she just wanted to blend in. She blended in just fine. She soon had a bunch of friends, all her own age, and some almost as tall as her! She was happy and academically she did just fine.

Like any teenage girl, she isn't as interested in her grades as she is in her hair. She doesn't always bring home grades we can brag about, but her hair looks great. Her standardized testing almost always comes back as proficient, she is just as smart as the other kids in her grade. Skipping sixth grade did not hurt her education any. She's got one more year left of high school and then she's off to college where we expect she'll do just fine and fit right in.

Like I said, we can't see into our child's future. These decisions we make for them when they are young are based on our best guesses. We rely on the professionals to guide our decisions, usually they are right. But we happened to be the parents of the one kid who didn't fit the mold. Lexie.


Michelle said...

Thanks, Mary. What you're talking about with the boredom is exactly what I'm afraid of with my son. He turns 5 in October, but he's already reading and doing math and has been in preschool for two full years. When he's bored, he acts out... and considering what I've seen in the kindergarten room (two weeks ago), he'll be bored. There are 19 sight words that he needs to know by the end of kindergarten. He knows 13 of those today without focusing on them in particular. He'd definitely be among the youngest or *the* youngest (I was, too, as I started in a district that was Dec 1 cutoff with a Nov 24 birthday and moved to Sept 1 cutoff places).

Another friend of mine has her child in kindergarten this year, and he HATES school because he's so bored (same Oct birthday situation as my son but she didn't know there was a potential option). She's trying to get him into a school where she'd have to drive him 45 minutes each way every day to keep him stimulated. She really regrets not trying to get him into kindergarten early....

I keep hearing the "no, don't do it, keep him back a year" especially because he doesn't hit the cutoff, but I'm starting to hear some stories from the other side that can be just as "bad." This is definitely a measure of comfort for me that it IS ok.

Oh, and I did OM when I was in junior high, too! Of course, we didn't have a coach and didn't know the rules so we didn't do all that well, but it was a really cool activity!

Thanks again!

Mary said...

Whatever you decide to do, send your child at age 5 or 6, it's totally a personal decision. And a shot in the dark!

I really need a crystal ball.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Yes, it is a hard decision. My daughter is 3 weeks before the cut-off. She started kindergarten at 4; it's always been the right decision for her. I'm glad it finally worked out for your daughter.

Steve and Alicia said...

i was the kid that was bumped up a grade in cali so i was the youngest! It sucked, so i guess that i am on the flip side of the coin. all my friends were in a grade lower than mine. I didn't meet the cut off of sept. 1st (my birthday is the 14th) so i would have been one of the oldest, but i got held back and then bumped from K to 2nd. It sucked!!!

Glad that everything turned out great!! Congrats again on the baby!!

Shelley said...

I have the opposite problem, Mary. Our cutoff date is Sept 1st, and Kylie's birthday is Sept 3rd. She missed going to kindergarten this year by two days. I suppose I could have made a stink about it, but I had to I want her to be the oldest in the class, or the youngest? I've opted for the oldest, but I do worry about her being bored in kindergarten next year. Right now she's in preK at a charter school, and she is reading beginning books and also doing addition. I know there will be kids in her kindergarten class who don't know their letters yet. I was actually on the right side of the policy, doing what I was supposed to do. I just hope it was the right thing for her. I guess I'll find out soon. We start school here at the end of July, and she'll turn 6 at the beginning of September.