To delay or not to delay that is the question

The Boy is quickly approaching his fourth birthday. We have been busy with party planning, and dealing with constant questions from him on the order of “will it be my birthday after nap?” No, honey your birthday is still more than two weeks away, we answer. Blank stare from him follows, and as you can practically see the wheels turning in his head he comes back with “why is my birthday two weeks away?” I know he is having trouble dealing with delayed gratification here, he’s been privy to perhaps too much of the party planning (we are having a bug party, and he is very excited about this prospect), and knows we have a stash of plastic bugs hidden away. It is very hard to explain the concept of two weeks to my nearly four year old. He has started to grasp the idea of what tomorrow means, but he isn’t quite there yet. He says things like “will it be tomorrow when I wake up from nap?” In his mind nap during the day vs. sleeping at night equates to the same thing, but to be clear for your sake he does mean sleeping at night. We answer that yes it will be tomorrow when you wake up from sleeping tonight, but…then it will be today. You can see why he thinks we are playing mind games with him.

In instances like this I find it impossible to believe that he will start preschool in the fall, and that technically he should start Kindergarten in a year and a few months. I mean certainly he needs to grasp the concept of time a little better before Kindergarten right? He is bright, inquisitive, energetic, and just wonderful to be around. Why is it that I am forced to look at his not so perfect qualities as I decide whether or not he will start kindergarten “on time?” I actually hate that it is even a question. As the parents of a boy with a June birthday, we have been told many times that we should really plan on him starting Kindergarten at six rather than at five. The rationale is based on the fact that they are shoving so much academic learning down into Kindergarten now, that young five year olds are at a huge disadvantage which will carry along with them for the rest of school. The cutoff in our state is September 1st, and it is a hard cutoff, no leeway to let a child with a September 2nd birthday start school early.

I’m not really opposed to starting The Boy later than his age dictates, but the whole idea drives T crazy. He will rail that if we are holding June birthdays back eventually it will be May, then April, etc., where do we draw the line? He will claim that unless there is a real reason to delay people should be forced to enroll their kids when they meet the age requirements, because frankly the schools are only getting around all of this No Child Left Behind garbage by forcing what used to be the first grade curriculum into kindergarten. Of course it is easier for teachers to teach a first grade curriculum to kids who are six at the beginning of the year (you know first graders!), kids who in many cases have had an extra year of preschool to prepare them for kindergarten. T says that we need to push back so schools can’t keep shoving more and more into kindergarten, but then who wants their June birthday boy to be a test case for how the school system failed them? In theory it is a good idea, but come on am I really going to play games with my child’s future?

I just read an article in the New York Times magazine titled: When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten?, where this topic was discussed in great detail. I am most struck by the quote from a mom who did start her child who just made the deadline:
“I kick myself every year now that we sent her ahead.”

Yes, this is what T and I will struggle with when we make the decision for our boy. Not, is he ready now, or is this the morally right thing to do, but will we watch our boy struggle through school and kick ourselves because we let him start Kindergarten on time. For now the decision remains on the back burner. We’ve decided to revisit the topic with his preschool teacher so we can make more of an informed decision. We still have lots of time to mull it over, and there is no point in agonizing about it now. I’m sure by the time he is five The Boy will know all too well what it means to delay his birthday party for an entire week so his grandparents can attend the party. How do I explain that to him now though?


Katie Fries said...

I'm right there with you. Several times a day, M will ask me how many days until his birthday. This is also the first year he's really grasped the concept of presents and has been dictating an ever-growing wishlist of presents he assumes he's going to receive.

The kindergarten situation is tough. Honestly, it never occurred to us until recently that some might advocate holding M back because I have a June birthday and started school on time, while my husband, who has an October birthday, actually started school when he was four. I'm off to go read the article you referenced.

Jennifer Playgroupie said...

I've heard of people explaining time by telling their kids it's x number of sleeps until your birthday. I have no idea if this works, my oldest is 19 mos, so I haven't had the opportunity to try it out.

Kindergarten...in my opinion, there is no one answer for every child. Some kids could probably start at 4, other would probably do better starting at 7. There will probably never be a clear answer here.

Leslie said...

Thanks for sharing the great article. There is a great deal to consider, and I had not thought of many of the points the article covered.

PDX Mama said...

I need to read that article. Hubby doesn't understand the holding back thing, but he's also focused on the money we'll save when they enter school.

I just hate that I have to be thinking about this! I'm so mature, I know. But it just feels like a lot of pressure, a big decision, at such a young age. Must step up and do my motherly duty and quit bitching!

Kathryn said...

I've been thinking about this issue quite a lot lately. I completely agree with you! Well... and T too! It's a really tough situation, and frankly, my main feeling is "how the hell am *I* supposed to know if my kid is ready for kindergarten or not?!?" I know I have a whole year to start worrying in earnest, but it really gets my goat that kids who are completely developmentally normal in every way are being told that they're not ready for school. Something is definitely wrong with this system!!!

Lawyer Mama said...

We'll have this problem too. The cut-off here is 9/30 & Hollis's birthday is 9/16. For now, we're starting him in preschool this fall & planning on an extra year of it, but we'll let him be our guide.

I was an October birthday & started kindergarten when I was 4. I was ready for school & there weren't any problems there, but it was a source of social angst for me later when my friends started developing, etc... Plus, boys really are ready for a structured school environment a bit later than girls. It's not the developmental thing. It's just a socialization thing. And there are studies to back it up.

It kind of chafes at me to think of holding my son back a year, but I think after he has a few years of pre-school under his belt we (and his teachers) will know if he's ready or not.