Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Bonus Year: Opting to "Red-Shirt" Our 5 Year Old

That's our oldest, Carter. He's every bit a first born as he embodies most, if not all, of the characteristics associated with his place in the birth order. Having wondered whether or not what I heard about birth order was true, the proof is right here in the pudding. 

He is our "experiment child," the one we practiced and honed our parenting skills on. He is our cautious one, our sensitive one, our overachiever in every sense of the word. He is kind, emotional to a near fault and seeks control over most all situations he partakes in. We think he's pretty damn amazing and couldn't be more proud of him but he is hands down a first born child. 

In a way, my heart goes out to him. As a first born myself, I know the pressures and expectations that come with being a first born and it's a daily battle for me to keep that all in check as I remind myself that he's only four years old. 

That picture was taken last week on the morning of his graduation from Pre-School 4, his second and traditionally, his final year of Pre-School had we followed the typical progression of school things. He's only four years old" quickly became "he'll barely turn five years old before Kindergarten starts," as we begun the (very) long and (very) tedious decision of whether or not to send him on to Kindergarten in the Fall.

It would have been incredibly easy to base our decision off of two things and two things alone: his gender and his later summer birthday but I knew I owed him more than that. Plus, I had to sell my husband on the decision that I had already made in both my head and my heart months ago. 

I'm writing about our decision to "red-shirt" our son to help any mothers (and fathers) out there who may be experiencing the same difficult decisions. After all, it was the guidance of those who had gone before me that ultimately reassured me and gave me the additional boost of confidence in myself that I needed as I made our final decision. 

Before I go any further, it needs to be said that you know your child best. You know what type of environment he or she thrives in and you know what social situations may also send them reeling. You are the only person of authority (along with your child's significant other and perhaps a trustworthy teacher) that can make this decision for them so please, take what I say with a grain of salt. I only speak from our own experience.

If you peek at Carter's end of the year evaluation, you'd notice that having hit all of his marks, the teacher's recommendation to enroll him in Kindergarten in the Fall was a strong one but when I sat down with her for the second time that year to discuss my feelings on "red-shirting" him, she shared with me something that I will never forget, 

"You will never regret giving him an extra year to grow, both emotionally and physically but should you not take advantage of this opportunity now, you may regret it down the road." 

That was all I needed to hear in that moment. That it was OK to want to give my people-pleasing, emotionally sensitive, thoughtful and kind boy one more year to grow. Both in maturity and self-confidence. That I wouldn't be causing more harm than good. That he wouldn't be bored with another year of singing silly songs, re-learning his letters and numbers and, well, being little. 

I worried that because of his sensitive nature that he would be taken advantage of by his peers. I worried that as a little boy, prone to fidgiting, that he wouldn't be able to sit still through a full day of rigorous Kindergarten curriculum in just a few short months. I worried that he would become easily frustrated and overwhelmed in the classroom setting full of children nearly a whole year older than him already, excelling at certain things because I've seen his face twist and his heart sigh with those same feelings in similar situations. 

I sat with the teacher and listened to her thoughts on the matter. I spoke with mothers and grandmothers who had gone before me, having themselves sat in my same place, wracked with the same decision, overwhelmed themselves with the serious and potentially life-changing impact of it all. My girlfriends with older children shared their stories and in the end, the repeating theme was the same. 

"You will never regret giving him an extra year."

My husband was always the youngest in his classes as a child (and well into college) and since he maintained having "turned out just fine," he wasn't sure he understood why it was so important to me to hold Carter back. Even my mother-in-law reassured me that the only reason she would have held one of her sons back was so that "he could be the biggest an greatest, the top dog in his class" and therefore, she never did it because that was not her end goal. 

That is not my end goal either. I do not wish for Carter to be the smartest in his class, the fastest on the field, the cream of the crop. 

I want him to love school. To foster a love of learning. To be excited about the privilege of attending school each day. To feel comfortable in the classroom, to feel as if he has a fair chance of succeeding alongside his peers. Of course there will be days when he will struggle, when he will want to stay home and grumble from beneath the sheets, "I don't want to go to school!" But I don't ever want the root cause of that unhappiness to be because his school isn't a place of comfort for him. 

One of my girlfriends brought up a good point. The decision I was prepared to make regarding Kindergarten was going to have a life-long impact on his schooling. For instance, how did I feel about sending him off to college as a young, impulsive seventeen year boy? The answer? NOT WELL. The thought of that certainly did not give me the warm and fuzzies and knowing (hoping) what a difference of just a single year might make in his maturity and impulsive thinking by that time only validated our decision to "red-shirt" him even more.

Now that the decision as been made, the Kindergarten waiver filled out and returned, enrollment in his new school completed and the first year's tuition paid, I've received the question, " how is he handling not going on to Kindergarten with all of his friends?" 

And here's where I totally think we lucked out with one of the best kid's on the planet. Carter knows that he will not be attending Kindergarten in the Fall. We have always been upfront with him about that decision and as his current pre-school teacher has rightfully spent the last few months preparing her class for Kindergarten, primarily rallying them for graduation and igniting their excitement, Carter is equally excited and prepared for what he calls his "Five School," or the school which he will attend when he turns 5 years old.

As his parents, we treated his pre-school graduation as the momentous occasion that it was and have talked with him at length at the new and exciting things that lie ahead for him at "Five School" While we could have kept him at his current pre-school to repeat a second year of PK-4, we felt like a change in atmosphere, a new teacher and new classmates would be of ultimate benefit to him in lieu of actual Kindergarten. 

Enrolling him in a local private school that I have grown to love will also help to bridge the gap between his current three days per week schedule, two and a half hours per day and full day Kindergarten. Come Fall, Carter will start a program that runs five days per week, for five hours a day. Rather than throw him directly into a full day program, I know this transitional period will be of much help in getting him even more ready for Kindergarten.

Most importantly, he is excited about his "Five School." Having toured the campus with us earlier in the year and with plans to attend a handful of "Welcome Events" in the coming summer months, he looks forward to getting to know his future classroom.  

I am so proud of our Carter. Proud of how smart, kind, sensitive and first-born he is and I know his resilience in the coming months as we begin this transitional year will amaze me. After all, he always does. 

And if I'm being 100% honest and transparent with you, selfishly there is a small part of me that is beyond happy to have him home with me just one more year before relinquishing my own sense of control and sending him out into the world. 

I told you I was a first-born.     
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  1. My first born son is 4 turning 5 in September... and I am so glad I didn't even have to make this choice because he missed the deadline for Kindergarten by a few weeks, but I am SO glad to have him home with me and have him almost 6 when he starts school! You're so right, you know your babies best... thanks for being honest and transparent! I know you'll enjoy having him home another year! :)

  2. I can't remember when his birthday is but I have a few friends and family members with summer boys this year. Two are special needs and going to kinder where they will get services. One is doing great and his mom is thinking about red shirting him. He is her 2nd. Here in California a lot of the school districts have tk transitional kindergarten. The kinder enrollment age was pushed back to December so they started tk for kids born before the December cut off. They recently went from half day to full day too.

    Chase starts preschool this summer. We've been having lots of talks about you can't fart or talk about farting. I'm so curious to see how he does.

    Kinder is a big adjustment for all kids and we can't expect them all to be ready. He'll be great!

  3. Love this post. As a former teacher, I firmly believe that if anyone is on the fence, keep them back. More education is always better than less. Plus, as you said, YOU know your child best, and the environment he'll thrive on most. Also, yay for private school;-)

  4. We have this decision coming up with our August 19 boy (Sept 1 cut off). I'm almost positive we will give him a bonus year as well. For all the reasons you listed (and I think red-shirting has become SO the norm that it would make him even younger if we started him at 5), and also because it means I get 365 more days of him under my roof. Selfish? I don't really care ❤️

  5. I think you're spot on here. You did your homework and you research and you made the best decision for your child and your family. Good for you. my sons birthday is in October so he to be one of the oldest in his grade and I'm perfectly fine with that.

  6. I had to type this twice so if you get two, it's my internet. Sorry!

    When I was in kindergarten the neighbor boy across the street was as well. He had to repeat the year because he wasn't mature enough to move onto first grade. I think repeating that grade did way more harm to his self confidence and his path in life/view of school than just starting when he was ready would have. And that was when kindergarten was always half days.

  7. I loved this!! We were faced with this very same hard decision. The preschool my son attends thankfully has a transitional kindergarten program and he will be doing it this fall instead of going to kindergarten. As a first grade teacher, I can tell exactly which kids went to school "early" vs those who didn't without even looking at their birthdays. You will be glad you waited.

  8. We did the same thing with out two late summer birthday boys. Ones now in 9th grade the other in 7th grade. Never looked back,a few of the best decisions we've made!

  9. yes and yes. my friend's son is born end of December (yes I said end of December) and she is trying to jump loops (private schooling and then public) to make sure that he doesn't "miss a year". I have told her that she is not doing right by him but she is adamant. Kids need to be kids!

  10. my youngest has a 6/23 birthday, he'll be 5 next month. I struggled with this decision, too. But I knew the extra year would be best for him (and me, hehe!). Someone told me not to say "held back". It has such a negative tone, which I don't see this as that at all - it's such the opposite. Instead, I tell people we are waiting - simple as that. And you're right, no one has ever regretted waiting. :)

  11. As an October baby, and someone who was one of the oldest in my class, I can tell you that I think you are ABSOLUTELY making the right decision. As so many said, you will never regret giving him that extra year.

    This happened for me since we moved right around when I would have started kindergarten. We moved from NY to VA, and in the first county we lived in, the cutoff was December 1. Then we moved and it was September 1 - thank goodness we did that. The extra year is really a benefit, and it worked out so well that when my mom was induced with my youngest sister, she intentionally picked early October rather than late September.

    He'll do great, and I will tell you a perk of being the oldest in the grade... when I got to college I was legal before everyone else! Haha :)

  12. My baby (boy #3) will turn 4 in June. We are NOT sending him to school NEXT next year, but holding him back. He will be too young of a 5 yo. My middle turned 5 in May (2 years ago) and we did Kinder in the "traditional" time frame and it was not the right choice.

  13. Oh man, for some reason I'm crying. Maybe it's because I'm in total disbelief that our boys are growing so quickly. weren't you just celebrating this kids one year birthday with a circus theme party? And maybe I'm all teary because I know in my heart I'll be faced with this same decision next year. So thankful for mamas like you who go before and are open to sharing their stories. Carter is going to have a blast at his Five School! Jackson started a k-3 program last year that did curriculum from 8:30-11 and play in the afternoon and I saw him grow leaps and bounds with the curriculum. Can't wait to see how Carter grows this year!



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