This is a story about how my journey and evolution as a parent and how I went from sneaking my child into kindergarten a year early to skipping grade 1 entirely in favor of an extra year of kindergarten. Seems crazy right? Well it was probably the best parenting move I ever made.
My son is a January baby. The 5th to be exact. 5 days off the enrollment cut off for public school in my province – 5 days. He is a tall child, certainly physically and mentally mature for his age and was my youngest. In his earliest years I had to frequently remind myself (and the rest of the world) of how little he was because he appeared a full year (or even two) older than he actually was.
He was also a bright child. One of those kids you know will do well in school because worksheets come easily to him. The one caregivers and teachers don’t have to worry about because he is “doing fine”. Coming from the place I was at I wanted him in kindergarten with the batch of kids who would be 5 in 2010. Developmentally that is where he was at. Heck he was even ahead of some of the kids in that group, after all his birthday was only 5 days after the cut off and he was ready. Everyone said so.
So I lied.
I said he was a full year older than he was in order to get him into the group that I, his mother, felt he should be in. We are all our child’s best advocates, the ones who know them best and are most willing to do right by them. So he started kindergarten and everything was great.
For a while. Eventually the lie caught up with me and as it turns out the school cannot get funding for a child who is not “of age” upon entry and so he was “kicked out of kindergarten” after the first report card. Which was fantastic I might add. It’s kinda a funny joke in our house about how I got my son kicked out of kindergarten. Fast forward a year when he could actually go to kindergarten.
He suffered. He was miles beyond all the other kids. By the end of first term I was worried he was going to go through school being bored and unchallenged (I still think that actually) he was miserable having no friends because at 4 & 5 most were not even close to meeting where he was at emotionally, physically or mentally. He tried to make friends with the kids in Grade 1 but as k’s they are kept separate from the student body to shelter them because lets face it they’re not ready to be in school!
So our first year of school was a mess. The teacher was happy and his report cards were great but emotionally he was completely unsupported and alone. Along with my daughter I pulled the kids out of public school and they attended a Waldorf school for a year. My son was put back in to kindergarten.
At first I resisted.
This wasn’t right. In fact it was the complete opposite of what I believed. He should be in Grade 2 not kindergarten he is ready. Hungry for knowledge and to learn. He is bored in kindergarten. He doesn’t need to play he needs to work. All these thoughts and more ran through my head. His dad thought I was nuts but bless his heart he supported me. The grandparents (one was an elementary school principal) disapproved openly. I was under a lot of pressure and had my own doubts but somewhere in my heart I knew that this was right for him and so we stayed.
He struggled. He was the only boy in his class and at first the girls (one in particular) teased him relentlessly. The divide between the girls and only boy was apparent and huge. My concern for my choice grew…his teacher never faltered.
Waldorf pedagogy believes that young children (those under the age of 7) should be wrapped in a world of fantasy and imagination. That their play, when not influenced by outside media, will center around their everyday lives and is acted out as their way of reconciling the issues and emotions they are dealing with. A Waldorf teacher will watch the children play and gently handle disagreements but for the most part will not direct or guide the children instead acting as an observer. Their play gives her insight into their inner struggles and stresses.
Over the course of the first few months at school she worked indirectly through story and song to weave the group into one cohesive unit, encouraging the children to act out roles together from their stories that included my son. Often she a boy character the “starring” role making him the most important character in an effort to bolster not only his own emotions but how the group saw him as well. And slowly over the course of the school year my son changed dramatically.
It wasn’t his head or his physical self that needed the extra support of being in kindergarten again it was his heart. My precious sensitive little boy was nearly caught up in my logical push for academic success thinking I was doing the best for him. After all that is what I grew up with. The kids who did well in school were the ones who would succeed in life because they were smarter than the ones who struggled.
His grandmother, being a school principal, was distraught by this choice to say the least. When he couldn’t yet read the summer before he was to enter grade 2 she took it upon herself to teach him (without consulting me). He was keen to learn and within two weeks he had achieved a level of success that she deemed to be appropriate for his grade level. Two weeks. Something that potentially would have been forced upon him for ten months he picked up in two weeks with ease and eagerness.
Two months after school began, shortly after our first parent teacher interview, the secretary of the school called in a bit of a panic. His transcript had finally arrived from his other school and she saw that he had not achieved the “Prescribed Learning Outcomes” from grade 1. She was concerned he had been placed in the wrong class, most certainly he would need extra support if he had skipped a full grade level. I asked her if his teacher had approached her or the principal with concerns, no. I told her I had not been approached with any concerns and to the contrary his teacher had just informed us that he was fitting in beautifully, leading the group even in some aspects.
My own personal experience has backed up my new belief that children do not need to be “taught” to read in kindergarten or even grade 1. That our approach to early literacy actually harms those children who are completely normal by teaching them they are developmentally delayed at a crucial age. Success in elementary school has more to do with emotional security than head based logic. This is a drastic turn around from what I originally believed and has challenged my beliefs and values to the core.
Parenting is a path of growth.
I am glad to say that I have grown as a result of my experiences with my children because I was not so attached to my convictions that I didn’t allow them to be challenged when the evidence was right in front of me. I think my kids are better off for it and I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned.