Do We Send Him to K or Wait a Year?

Last night @JonBecker and @BeckyFisher73 were tweeting and mentioned me, so I joined their conversation. Jon is struggling, as so many parents do, with whether to enter his son in Kindergarten when his age says he can go or wait a year. He’s tweeted often about his son, so I know a bit about his behavior in some situations.

I have spent over half of my career teaching early childhood, with 17 years specifically being in Kindergarten and/or First Grade or a K-1 combo (MOSTLY K). I have a Master’s in Early Childhood from the University of Virginia that I got in the early 90’s when they actually had an Early Childhood department. I am now a Gifted Resource Teacher and have taught in 6 different elementary schools in our division, from the smallest and poorest performing (at the time) to ones who are extremely advantaged (i.e., the principal can pretty much ask the parents to fund anything and someone will write a check) to ones who are succeeding in all traditional measures to ones with diversity and ones with little diversity.

So, when Jon tweeted that he was looking for opinions, I certainly have one, as I usually do.  🙂

In a series of tweets broken into 140 characters, poor Jon had to read over time as my slow connection allowed me to post.  Here’s what I shared (with some minor additional explanations sometimes):

Let me just say that young boys often enter at a disadvantage…sometimes due to teacher bias and/or inexperience, or traditional school expectations (the not-so-hidden curriculum of sit down, be quiet and listen) which is not only inappropriate, but getting worse and expected more in the schools I’ve seen. I counseled my daughter in law to NOT enter my grandson, an August birthday, into Kindergarten when he was just barely 5, but she did and he’s still struggling…not necessarily ONLY because of the early entrance, but also because he’s a gifted LD kid. He’s one of those who has only had the LD part worked with and most teachers do not give him a chance to show the brains because they can’t get past his disability–or worse yet, the label. He’s an incredibly frustrated kid who hates school, but loves learning OUT of school.

Jon’s next question: but what if I’m like every other parent and think my child is Uber-gifted “academically?”

Fact is, Jon, your kid has the rest of his life to learn in school-like situations. Do you push him into a system we, as educators, KNOW doesn’t typically meet the needs of the extremes, or do you enjoy him and make sure he gets to be a kid as long as he can before having to face the brutal realities of the world out there at age 5 or 6? Another fact is MANY parents are holding their kids out, so the age of kids in a grade is not only a wider span, but often has more older kids. So, if you enter a young one on time, he may be almost 2 years younger than some in his class. And, what do you do now for his uber-giftedness?  Can you not do that another year and let him grow socially into being comfortable with his emotions and other kids in more able ways?

Another fact is that gifted kids DO grow asynchronously and often their emotions are way behind their intellect–one of the challenges of parents of gifted kids is to remember that their ability to reason and talk and think at a high level is the anomaly-their behavior is often RIGHT ON TARGET for their age. When they temper tantrum or cry or act like a baby out of jealousy of a new sibling, they are simply acting their age. Parents often struggle when the kid talks so much like an adult, or can handle their own in a very sophisticated discussion but then acts in other situations like–OMG–a KID!

(Others joined the conversation here and the rest is a conglomeration of tweets to Jon and others, (with slight modifications to allow for context) and additional thoughts I have had since last night.)

It is CRUCIAL that early childhood teachers be nuturers FIRST and academians second–but GREAT academians who can meet those emotional needs WHILE fostering or extending a love of learning. MOSTLY you want an Early Childhood teacher who dwells on competence rather than deficits. They simply have to recognize the strengths of kids and make that public daily in ways that support the kid, and allow others to see those strengths as well.

Too many times kids, especially active young boys who don’t do the hidden curriculum well, get constantly fussed at for not sitting quietly, for asking questions out of turn, for blurting out answers, for fiddling with stuff, and those constant reprimands from the teacher say to the other kids that this kid isn’t smart. Think about it–isn’t it a sign of intelligence when one WANTS to engage, when one wants to ask questions, when one is so involved in the conversation that conversational turn-taking falls by the wayside, when one is constantly looking and fiddling with the stuff in one’s world to figure out how things work? Well, some K teachers–heck, some teachers in all grades–see their job as one where they are supposed to teach kids to play the game of school and learn how to sit down, shut up and listen. In many schools and most Kindergarten situations, kids are expected mostly to learn how to conform to the teacher’s (and parents’) traditional expectations for school behaviors.

Well, you and I both know smart people often DON’T conform. When that brilliant child needs that question answered and perseveres to ask it, s/he may get put in time out–or a safe spot–or sent away from the group for interrupting or not listening, or not doing what the teacher asked him/her to do. When that happens, tears may come as the kid is outraged at the injustice and/or may be hurt (crushed!) at the exclusion from the group. (Gifted kids also have an exaggerated sense of justice and fairness, too-and situations like this only amplify their outrage.) When other kids see that kid go to time out, or be fussed at constantly, or cry, they recognize these are NOT appropriate school behaviors–and no matter what the circumstances, the child who may be simply TRYING to engage is seen by others as perhaps a “bad boy”, a “crybaby”, “not smart”  or worse.

That’s why I say the teacher has to recognize strengths and display them publicly.  I can chastise my 5th grader in one moment for his misbehavior and in the next talk about WHY I perceive him shutting others out, explaining to the group that he’s involved in his own thinking and input from others may not allow him to work out HIS thinking just yet.I honor HIS style of learning while showing him he may need to adapt his behavior NOT to say “Shut up and leave me alone” to say “I need a few more moments to think, please. Can you be quiet and let me think?”

I spoke all the time to my K kids about how we are not in school by ourselves, but part of a group, so the conversations HAVE to involve turn-taking–and sometimes all of us will blurt out because of our excitement or enthusiasm, but it can’t happen all the time. I point out the REASONS behind the behavior and WHY some conformity is necessary. I speak to why I am asking the kid to leave the group–NOT because I am kicking him/her out, but because I need a few minutes to get the others going on something before we can have a private conversation. (Reread my first two blogs, “Why TZSTCHR? (Teasiest Teacher)” and Rules-Schools Have Too Many!” to see other ways I deal with shaping behaviors while respecting individualism.)

As parents,

As grandparents,

As people who LOVE our kids,

we all want to see our children grow up in happy situations, in places that will be safe emotionally and that will allow them to grow and stretch intellectually. Fact is, school is an institution and the social mores and groups determine (more often than not) which path we take in school.  Give your child the best chance by NOT sending them emotionally insecure to begin with–by enrolling them when they are ready and have the adaptability skills to handle the social/interactive piece of school and the various interactions they will encounter–and that includes traditional situations, various cultures, new situations, schedule changes and evolving routines. You can always push a bit later for the academic needs to be met, but let him/her grow, adapt, learn how to settle in a bit and adjust first. The social needs, for a young immature child, are paramount right now.

PS–the gifted teacher in me HAS to add, “Just don’t let go of the academic needs forever!”

9 thoughts on “Do We Send Him to K or Wait a Year?

  1. As a former K teacher myself, I couldn’t agree more. You want them to be ready, you want them to be comfortable, you want them to be successful. Because this sets them up for their entire educational experience.

    If your child is gifted, hanging back for a year and being the brightest in the class won’t hurt. If your child isn’t ready, pushing them forward could set them back for years to come.

    IMHO, when there’s any doubt at all, hold them back rather than push them forward. The risks outweigh the benefits.

  2. Thanks, Steve, for the support for this view. Chad Ratliff (@chadratliff) referred to his experience, saying, “At least anecdotally, I have yet to see anyone benefit from being a year younger than classmates, whether classroom, field, or cafeteria.” Those are areas (especially athletically) I typically didn’t consider as a K Teacher, but makes good sense. Love your last statement, “The risks outweigh the benefits.”

    Now what to do about the research on acceleration as an option for gifted kids? That’s my next blog, I think.

  3. Given the boxes we call school and the fact that a large percentage of our kids will continue to spend 6 hours a day in them for a number of years, what can teachers do to “maintain control” while not serving as “controllers”? If we believe everything we do we do to meet a perceived need (ala William Glasser), we need to understand needs and help individual kids find socially acceptable and academically viable ways of meeting them.

    I just learned from my favorite 6 year old that her 1st grade teacher instituted “joke time” after lunch every day. The kids (no doubt with a ringleader I know and love) were apparently telling jokes all day long as they traded “joke sticks” (some brilliant ice cream company is printing kid-funny jokes on their popsicle sticks) and the teacher decided to structure 10 minutes after lunch for this otherwise disruptive behavior. Brilliant. She’s a first or second year teacher and I hope she makes a career of it.

  4. Thanks all! my kid went to 2nd Pres childcare in the 90’s and Susie Corbett, the then director, preached this constantly. She had a great transitional program for the 4-5 yr. olds at the daycare but urged parents whose children turned 5 later than May to wait till they were 6. Actually she advised parents based on her observations and daily evaluations of their child usually over 3 years of attendance. I don’t think she ever found a child so gifted that putting them in school almost 1/5 of a life span younger than their cohorts was a good idea.

  5. I agree with much of what you say Paula. The only part I question is what part does the quality of the K or pre-k classroom play in the decision? I have taught pre-k for a long time. When my daughter was in pre-k she had a much more exciting and rigorous experience than in her K class where she was asked by the teacher to help “mind the boys” and watch movies like “Artistocats” every afternoon during snack instead of carrying on conversations with her peers. My son had a terrible pre-k experience where he primarily learned that he needed to know how to protect himself emotionally and physically. Now that he is in K with a wonderful teacher who takes care of all the protecting his language and literacy are growing through the roof… He was ready for that last year but didn’t get it because of the quality of the classroom. Should the quality of the classroom your child will enter play a part in the decision whether to hold them back or push them forward?

  6. Well, in this particular case, I am speaking to a specific child who is in a good preschool situation and whose parents are concerned about his maturity. When maturity is involved, I, like Steve, believe the benefits of letting the kid grow up outweigh the benefits of pushing. It’s not about academics in this case… it’s about the kid being socially adept enough to handle social situations. Most parents, especially new parents to a school, don’t know the quality of the classroom their child will enter, and that could easily change as well before the kid really gets there. So, for me, when considering my child entering school, the quality would be a consideration, but it doesn’t play a HUGE part. I simply can’t guarantee the quality of the teacher every year, but I can do my best to prepare my kid for what they may face. That’s all I’m advocating.

    The social skills of the kid is what I’m saying is paramount here (not whether they know the alphabet or numbers, how to write their name, etc.). I am not speaking to kids who don’t know academics or kids who may be perceived as “developmentally delayed.” I am NOT arguing for holding kids out who have been life-experience deprived. I am simply speaking to social-emotional maturity. When you’re talking a kid who looks and acts “school ready” EMOTIONALLY, then there probably is no question. When you’re talking any question as to social skills, I say wait. It won’t hurt and it very well may help.

    Mine is one opinion, just to give parents something to think about. Glad you shared your stories–they should also think about those as well.

  7. I, too, see huge differences in my students in 6th grade based on age. I could hand pick the ones that were younger. I think putting kids in early is not a good idea. My younger son has an October birthday with a September 30th cut off and was offered to go early. We actually considered it. He was bright (or at least talkative) and has good social skills. But then we thought, “WHY??” How will going early help him? It won’t. And if he is ready for Kindergarten early, does that mean he is ready for 6th grade early? I think not.

    That being said, what are we doing if we send our kids late? Are we saying that Kindergarten shouldn’t start until they are 6? Or is it that most Kindergarten classes don’t serve their students the way they should?

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