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.