Well, it’s that time of year. The snow melts, the daffodil bulbs start poking up little green fingernails, and moms everywhere shove the pile of salt-stained snow boots back into the hall closet, hope sparkling in their eyes like the reflection of the benevolent sun off their newly washed minivans. Then it freezes again, and snows, and the boots are once again thrust into a mangled heap right in front of the door that should ideally be the family’s escape route in the event of a fire.
Or maybe that was just me two years ago. My daughter, Clara, has an August birthday, like I do. I went to Kindergarten “on time” in September of 1985. But as anyone–including your dog and deceased grandmother–will tell you, Kindergarten in the 2010s is not like it was in the 70s or 80s or 90s. It’s “the new first grade,” with some fairly rigorous literacy standards to be met by year’s end, and very little in the way of free play. And as I’ve heard from several recent transplants to the area, Central Ohio parents seem especially keen on “redshirting” their summer, and even spring, birthday kids, to a level not seen in other parts of the country. This means that in a local Kindergarten class today, a child turning 5 in August or September won’t be the youngest by nine-months-to-a-year like when we were kids; he could potentially be in class with some students who are nearly 18 months his senior.
All of these factors came into play in my decision to give Clara an extra year of preschool (technically Pre-K) the year she turned 5. Memories of my own school experience, mingled with adult hindsight, also played a part. I loved school and excelled at it. I graduated third in my class at a highly competitive private school and was very successful in college. But, my school environment was unique and so different from the one Clara will experience, especially socially. My school was TINY. I started there in the third grade and graduated with virtually all of the same people. There were 20 of us. Yep, 20 kids in the Class of 1998. And we were like brothers and sisters, in the good ways and the bad, but mostly the good. There were no wild parties, there was science fair (and man, did we kick butt at science fair!). There were no cheerleaders or jocks or nerds. We were all nerds, even the ones who were good at sports. And we didn’t really date each other, instead preferring to find matches at other local schools.
But still, with all that incredible sheltering, my young age relative to my peers did have an effect on me. I didn’t get boobs or my period until I was a freshman in high school (the same year I was invited to prom by a 17-year-old junior and freaked out when he tried to kiss me). When I was a 15-year-old sophomore I started dating a senior who turned 18 a few months after we met. I’m sure that made my parents nervous (luckily he was a very nice guy, and I have always been risk-averse). Even if I hadn’t had to deal with teenage May-December romances, the one thing I always, always wanted was to be older. I don’t want that for Clara. I don’t want her to strive to keep up socially with her peers before she is ready.
But back to Kindergarten. From what I’ve seen this year, waiting to send Clara was absolutely the right decision. At barely 5 she was not ready for the kind of work she is doing this year. She wasn’t ready for the reading and the writing and the math and the structure. She was still deeply, deeply invested in dramatic play, thought Elsa was the coolest person in the whole world and wore a tiara whenever she left the house (she’s since moved on to Mavis from “Hotel Transylvania 2”). And as much as I LOVE her elementary school and her teacher, today’s public Kindergarten just doesn’t have the time, space or, frankly, the mandate, to nurture that kind of little kid dreaminess. So Clara got one more magical year of dress-up and dancing mixed in with some good foundational skills…and then she was ready. She loves Kindergarten, is right on track academically, follows directions well, and makes friends easily. More importantly, she really enjoys learning.
So, parent of a summer birthday kid–has this helped you any? Probably not, because after all, this is just one semi-neurotic mother’s highly anecdotal commentary. Malcolm Gladwell I am not (though I could be if anyone wants to give me a book deal). But hopefully it has shed some light on the kind of thought and worry and yes, love, that goes into a decision that can seem petty or even controversial to some. I mean, if a kid’s old enough for school, he’s old enough for school, right? Well, in the words of a singer whose childhood was cut short, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.”