It is happening. I’m losing my mind. This has been slowly and insidiously working on me since the moment my precious son was born. In August.
Apparently, being born in August as a boy, especially one of smaller stature, is an unimaginable tragedy when it comes to school.
Ever since he was a tiny pup I always got strange flip comments about how “you can keep him home an extra year” when the topic of school would come up. I always found this an annoyance and pretty ridiculous. By my math with the school entrance cut off as August 31st that put him well within the cutoff and, barring any developmental issues, it made no sense to plan on such a move before the child even had the chance to grow and learn anything.
Well, he’s grown and learned. And he is pretty great. He is sharp, a critical thinker and incredibly imaginative. His speech is clear and he has a diverse vocabulary. He has shown with his dinosaur phase that he can have focus but doesn’t get too intense. He makes friends, he is rude sometimes to some of them. He reveres his teachers and sometimes doesn’t give them the time of day. In other words…he seems right on target to me. He certainly has things to work on before September but that’s kind of the point of preschool, not to mention, the kid has parents who care. Oh and he continues to be quite small for age.
In September he started stand-alone preschool. Inexplicably, the school is divided into a 3-5 year old class and a “pre-k” with end of January as the cut-off for the division between 3-5 and pre-k. Andrew is in the 3-5 and we have noticed that his class skews more to the three year olds. This seemed to be setting expectations closer to the 3’s and the bigger issue to me was that his future elementary classmates were all in the other class. We called a meeting to discuss moving him into pre-k.
You can all imagine my face when the teacher (PT) starts the conversation by saying that they really think he should do an extra year of pre-k. When I asked her to elaborate her main points were that he is young and small and everyone else is doing it. After I recovered from my annoyance stroke I think I did a good job of not only debunking her but also of giving myself the reassurance that, despite the hesitation to initiate yet another childcare change, it needs to happen.
But as with everything parenting there is a ton of doubt so I will lay out for you/myself why red-shirting is a major issue and why I shouldn’t fall into it with my kid.
1. It further widens the age and ability range for kindergarten which requires teachers to further expand their already strained focus. People are sending their kids to kindergarten at nearly 6.5 (this was a point that PT used to argue for red-shirting.) other people are sending their freshly turned 5 year olds to school as indicated by the cutoff. And if we all keep doing that doesn’t it just push the date up further and further? Until a kid born in July, then June and so on, are bullied into red-shirting? Someone has to be the youngest in school, it just is. If I got to pick the cut off would be June 1st, that way it gives people a few months to wrestle with the idea of their 5 year olds starting school and parental emotion can be taken out of the equation a bit.
2. It is an option disproportionately unavailable to poor and working parents. Red shirting requires an extra year of child care and in a climate where that is unaffordable I think it is wrong to incentivize it. If anything we should get all kids into school sooner and let curriculum reflect that.
3. It is gaming the system. The talk used to be more about size….let your kid get bigger and better at things like sports. Now the conversation avoids that and pretends to focus on “maturity” because size makes it sound more explicitly like what it is, a way to game the system. But for public schools to thrive we need less of this than more. For my kid he will likely always be the smallest, treating that like it is a disability is not ok. If he was having motor skills issues and an OT thought a year would be helpful that’s one thing. A year for him to grow taller? Maybe we can just help our kids not be assholes to short kids? And I have a sinking suspicion that it starts with us parents (this mom at preschool drop-off, who I’d never spoken a single work to said, “He’s starting K next year? HE’S SO TINY” in front of the whole class.)
4. That spread in ages? It perpetuates through school until you have high schoolers ranging from 13-19 years old.
5. He is a normal, developing and thriving kid. Why would we make this kind of decision without there being a true developmental reason? He absolutely has things to work on to be ready and I guess this is where I get a bug in my shorts. That’s what I want from preschool. I want them to have the expectation of him that in the next 6-9 months he is making progress in the areas he needs to for school. I feel like these kids considered “young” are being written off. This idea that they have this luxury of an additional year so there’s no need to help them progress now. It is wrong and it is unfair. I want my kid to be asked to rise to the occasion and then evaluate where he struggles to do that.
The points that are bringing me down:
1. Everyone is doing it. When PT said this to me my response was, “you have to be what you want to see.” But if we have a de facto cutoff date based on everyone red-shirting (except the poor and blissfully clueless) then isn’t that just the new cutoff date?
2. I am finding as the start of real school is on the horizon that I am desperately wishing to pump the brakes. That parental emotion I spoke of above…turns out I’m swimming in it. I am so excited for him to continue to learn and grow but what about the parks we haven’t gotten to yet? Or the library trips or vacations or anything that being in real school conflicts with. It is a lot for me. BUT THAT IS ME NOT HIM. My mom is good at gently reminding me of this and I have to continue reminding myself.
3. What if he really does need more time to get ready for school? Well, no brainer, if he genuinely needs that then we would make that decision. But to me he deserves the chance to get there before deciding he won’t get there in time.
One thing in all of this is that my confidence in Andrew in particular has never wavered. I don’t think I have blinders on to his flaws and weaknesses. But now to go find a preschool environment who shares our commitment to helping him grow.