‘Tis the season for Kindergarten round-ups! Turns out Michael James will not be going to the one in our neighborhood. A few months ago I wrote a post called “Why I’m Sad My Son is Going to Kindergarten”. I know many parents struggle with this decision. Like so many parenting choices, there is no right answer for all children, but usually a right answer for your child and your family that is for you to figure out. Here’s how I figured it out for Michael James and our family…
I recently saw the “Kindergarten Question” posed on Mamapedia, and I offered this answer/ opinion which many moms found helpful. I hope you do.
My son just turned 5 this week, and I feel very good about our decision to send him to a nearby “Bridge” program at a preschool next year instead of starting the “rat race” in Kindergarten at our very good neighborhood public school. His pre-school teacher teacher agreed that he was ready for Kindergarten, but didn’t think that he would like it. She recognized his free spirit and sees that he loves to play and create and learn through his natural curiosity, and thinks MJ would miss this freedom. That was all I needed to hear! I was already sad (as was he) about not getting to spend as much time with him, and I definitely did not want to endanger this natural love of learning that he has through too much structure.
Though our neighborhood school is very good, ALL public schools have to deal with the increased testing and trickled-down curriculum which means that kindergarten today is what first grade was for us. It is developmentally inappropriate for most children that age – their brains are not wired to learn what is expected of them, though some might succeed when pushed. It can and will more easily happen for them (as it does for Scandinavian children) at age 6 or 7. At our neighborhood school, Kindergartners only get 20 minutes of recess all day, going 8-3, and no free “play” or rest time. This is NOT developmentally appropriate either. Young children’s brains are wired to learn through movement and play, and their brains need down-time to process and make connections. After seriously considering home-schooling which is a great option for many families, I realized that this would just not work with my work schedule at this point. But I found a new “bridge” program at a pre-school up the street, an increasingly popular choice for families like ours. He will only attend 4 days a week for shorter days, and the focus is still on learning through PLAY. This will enable us to continue our beloved reading and “rest” time at home each day, our more relaxed mornings for snuggling, our more relaxed evenings for playing outside and as a family.
For all of these reasons, I feel that it is a good move for parents of boys or girls with spring and summer birthdays – a few months can make a big difference in brain development! But parents of boys should be extra-cautious about sending their boys to Kindergarten before they are ready, since boys’ brains genetically tend to be 2 years behind girls’ brains when it comes to language and reading development. This means that they will often be put in a “remedial” reading group, become frustrated, and determine that they are not “good” at school, and research shows that this first impression effects their developing self-worth and entire outlook on their academic future, so it can be a risky move. In other words, their first school experience MUST be a good one. And in the long run, I feel good that my son’s brain will have one more year to mature (for the pre-frontal lobe to develop: that part that is responsible for understanding judgement and consequences) before sending him out on his own, not to mention it’s one more year for us to influence and enjoy him! For us, the decision did not have to do so much with “readiness” as with what is best for our son’s happiness and development and our choice to protect our precious family time at this crucial age.
Last weekend at a birthday party, one dad was telling me about his Pre-K son’s tour of their neighborhood Kindergarten program. Upon entering a classroom, little Davis remarked, “There are no toys!” Perhaps his disappointment is an indication that we’re pushing our kids to grow up too fast. My son, Michael James, made an insightful comment a few days before his 5th birthday in April. Getting quiet and sad, he said he didn’t want to turn 5. I realized that he feels some anxiety about growing up, moving away from being “Mommy’s little boy”, sensing the big changes that many in his pre-school will be experiencing in Kindergarten, like a classroom without toys. I reassured him that all of the things he loves doing as a 4-year-old, we can still do when he’s 5; that he will always be my little baby boy no matter how old he gets; That he will still be the same kid, even though he’s getting bigger. And the conversation reassured me that I made the right decision about Kindergarten. I know some kids are excited and eager to grow up, but MJ sure is enjoying each day of his life as it is now – getting to play, getting to snuggle, getting to be a little kid. I want that to last as long as possible. It seems that the answer to this parenting conundrum is the same as it is on so many others: know your child. Listen to them and pay attention with intention.
Let me know…How did you know? How did you decide?
(MJ will be attending the “Bridge” program at CCDC in Lake Highlands, in case you’re interested. Great pre-school!)
For more on the subject, see my post, “Reflections on Race to Nowhere” , the documentary about education and pressures on our culture’s kids, and read “Why Gender Matters” by Leonard Sax. In response to an article on Kindergarten readiness, I tend to agree with most of these NY Times opinions on the subject.