Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School, Back to Kindergarten

Tomorrow will be Georgia's first day of kindergarten.  For the second year in a row.  

I guess I haven't discussed it much here, but you may have picked up from other posts that Georgia's repeating kindergarten.  No, wait - that totally makes it sound like she flunked out!  To the contrary, she's doing really well academically as far as I can tell.  She loves to read, and though we never push her to practice much of anything at home, she begs me to write out subtraction problems and things like that.  Our decision to hold her back stems from our desire to let her catch up to her peers socially and emotionally, so that she can feel more comfortable.  

Somewhere along the line last year it became apparent just how much school was taking out of Georgia each day.  It was a long school day (from 8:20-3:15), and it left her so emotionally strapped that by the time I picked her up, our afternoons were often a struggle.  Poor girl had nothing left for us, having spent all of her energy to hold it together in a group setting all day.  My sister first floated the idea last winter that, given that we were moving to a new school district anyway, and she has a birthday just before the cutoff date, maybe it would be a great opportunity to hold Georgia back for her own benefit.  Huh.  Surprisingly, I had never even thought of that, and I'm not sure why.  I guess even though all three of our children have August birthdays, I've always been a believer that schools have to put this arbitrary deadline somewhere, so we might as well just play by the rules, so to speak.  I'm sure Joe and I were also influenced by being part of the Chicago Public School system where there essentially is no such thing as "holding someone back".   

Georgia has matured so much and made amazing strides in the last six months.  She can run off and play and meet new kids in ways that I didn't think possible not too long ago.  And yet, I'm feeling really confident that going into kindergarten rather than first grade this year is the best thing for her.  It helps that we also got input from the social worker at our pediatrician's office.  I wish I could say her former teachers, (as much as we all loved them), had a vote, but they were surprisingly reluctant to weigh in.  I like the fact that Georgia won't be the only new kid there trying to fit into a group of first graders who already know each other.  She is ecstatic about the fact that doing kindergarten this year means that she only has to go for half a day; she'll be home before lunch.  

There's no question that as a family we're making a slow start toward academics.  But I sincerely hope that taking a step backwards will help move us forwards.  I will admit that I'm a little freaked out about the fact that the kids and I are going to have even more hours of "togetherness" to fill this year, since Waylon isn't enrolled in anything at all yet, and I will have both girls back in my custody each day by 11:45.  (June's preschool hours mean that she'll be attending slightly more school each week than Georgia!)  However, I am trying to look at this extra year with Georgia as a gift.  Almost like a do-over for all the tear-filled afternoons we struggled through.  Georgia's growing into a person who is really fun to hang out with - funny, smart, and still young enough to care about spending some snuggle time with her mama.  So if we can keep the peace at home, this extra year of kindergarten truly will be the gift of time to me.

All of that said, there's just two little problems.  One is that I'm about 95% confident about the choice we've made, but that's just it - it was a parental choice.  If her birthday had fallen about three weeks later on the calendar, we wouldn't even be having this discussion, but as it is, I am a human who can't help but experience tiny pangs of self-doubt and wonder if we're doing the right thing.  As I sat in her kindergarten classroom during last week's "move-in" day surveying all of the other kids dropping off their school supplies, I felt strangely self-conscious about her size.  Georgia is tall for her age, so even if she were entering first grade, chances are that she'd be one of the taller kids in the classroom.  Given that she'll now be the oldest rather than the youngest in her grade, though, this physical difference just stands out more.  I know the height difference really makes no difference and that it will probably disappear over the years anyway, but I guess what I'm saying is that it just makes the choice aspect of this feel so...abundantly obvious.  My 5% confidence gap in the decision we've made also comes from [brace yourself for an enormously arrogant parental statement coming your way] the fact that we think Georgia's very bright.  I get it, I know all parents think their little angel kindergarteners are very bright.  We all gave birth to geniuses, right?  Obnoxious thought.  But again, the choice aspect of this has me slightly worried that the school is going to be calling me in October saying that all the material is beneath her, and Georgia must be advanced a grade.  I just have to keep reminding myself of a few things:  (1)  In education, the social is just as important as the intellectual, (2) There are other smart kids in there, (3) If she were born three weeks later you wouldn't even be questioning any of this, Kate, (4) You and Joe always say you value the social as much or more than the intellectual, so stop dithering and put your money where your mouth is, and (5) When this all came up originally, you said you refused to obsess about it, because that would basically be stupid "first world problems" obsessing, so do not obsess.  

The other little problem that I'm having with this is wondering what it means for June and Waylon.  They also have August birthdays.  Should we hold them back, too?  Everyone dismissively says, "Oh, don't worry about it, just evaluate each child's readiness independently," but I think that's much easier said than done.  Once you've bought into all of the anecdotes and evidence pointing towards holding one child back, it's harder to convince yourself that having your next child be the absolute youngest in her class is a good idea.  Also, my thinking on the matter is colored by the fact that the kids are exactly two years apart.  Not two and a half years, or two years and three months, but (in the case of Georgia and June), two years and nine days.  So, does it suddenly become weird to have them go through life exactly two years apart in age, but only one year apart in school?  I just don't know.  This post was meant to enlighten you on our decision-making process about sending Georgia to kindergarten again, so I'm sure it seems that that is the decision I've been obsessing about.  However, truth be told, it is the decision of whether to send June to kindergarten at age 5 or 6 that occupies more of my mental space.

It's been a little odd reading the blog posts of (or just chatting with) friends who have kids going into first grade this year.  The Harrys and Annas and Lolas and Lilas of the world that I always considered Georgia's class year cohort.  It's also a little odd to go from full day school and packing lunches back to half day school with lunches at home.  You can't help but sometimes feel that the world is marching forward while we're heading back.  It feels right, though.  This is just what she needs.

Pictures and a first day report to come.  Wish us all luck!  


Sarah said...

I guess I hadn't put that together (I'm still stuck at where should Georgia go to kindergarten last year), but I'm all for it. It sounds like she could use the confidence boost. My parents held Josh back a year with no regrets. And I do think you could wait and see with June & Waylon. Plan on them going to schedule, and if it doesn't seem like a good idea then they can wait a year too. I definitely agree that socio-emotional development is just as if not more important (surprise). She'll probably be more than ready for a full day next year.

I hope she loves it!

Introduction to Media & Culture said...

It's so easy to over analyze as a parent. I do it all of the time. My son is also young for his class. We struggled with whether or not we should start him (he isn't the most advanced socially either - although he's been in daycare since 2, so that helps a little). We were pleasantly surprised that he did well. He's also a boy and right on track with other boys in maturity. We'll be faced with the same "evaluate each child differently" when my daughter starts school is two years. She is three years younger than her brother, but her birthday is three days before the cutoff. I don't want her four years younger than him in school. All this is to say, you're not the only one wondering about decisions and it will all work out! Good luck!

Danni said...

Well, I guess the worst thing that will happen is she will be bored by the material and resort to a life of crime as a means of keeping herself amused. Just kidding. As a non-parent outsider it just doesn't seem like a big deal. You are giving her an advantage and should feel good about it. If June is just one year behind in school I think that will be fine. The kids are lucky you put so much care into their well being/education. I think a lot of parents would just be frustrated but not consider taking action.

jessica said...

Non-parent/someone who works with parents of children in childcare here: So refreshing to hear parents understanding the importance of the social emotional piece. Hallelujah. Good luck with the first day!

Maggie and Mike said...

Honestly, I think you made the best decision you could and I wouldn't second guess yourself. If the material really is too easy for Georgia, they'll let you know and you can go from there. The teachers will all work with you. No need to cross that bridge until you come to it. And as for June, the preschools around here I think do a better job of weighing in when they think a kid might be suited for staying back a year. Maybe the answer to that question will reveal itself to you by next year and it won't even be a debate.

Susan said...

Well, you could just move the family to Texas! Cut-off date here is July 31st :) Problem solved!

I feel like I've known numerous kids...a couple growing up, but even more now days, who were held back for various reasons. Having been one of the youngest in my class, I even graduated with at least 2 people more than a year older than me-I always thought that was kind of interesting, but really didn't think much of it at all, otherwise. All that to say, I think it sounds like you guys made a good decision and she'll do great!

Allison said...

Holding back, or "red shirting," is VERY big here (Winston-Salem, NC). The cutoff is Aug 31st, but there are many kids with even April and May birthdays who are held back. It's very unusual for an August child to actually go ahead to school. Weird, huh? With my Aug 9th little guy, I have a feeling we'll be holding back. I am so thankful for the Oct birthday of my other son - he'll start when he's almost 6 since he missed the cutoff. Anyway, trust your gut, mama!

Emily said...

This sounds like the right thing for Georgia. and that's what matters. Trust your gut.

Emily said...

This sounds like the right thing for Georgia. and that's what matters. Trust your gut.