My older son has an October birthday. When he was just shy of four we were lucky enough to get into the very small pre-K program at our excellent local public elementary school. Ever since Kindergarten, when he was not yet five (and instantly besotted with a girl who was a whole head taller and about to turn 6), I have questioned every teacher about his relative readiness–academic and, more important to me, social and emotional. At every parent-teacher conference, I have been reassured that he is well-liked and performing at or above grade level. Despite consistent assurances, I can still recall one Kindergarten testimonial verbatim, which, among lots of other things, referred to “some social emotional bumps and bruises along the way.” In the depths of my intermittent insomnia, when I chastise myself into the wee hours for not having renewed my passport or not having filled out the mandatory school lunch form, I recite these lines like a self-flagellating mantra. Sleeplessness has a way of coaxing a mother down that irreversible anxiety luge.
Which is why I was somewhat relieved to read the article in yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Review entitled “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril.” Granted, I have spoken to enough parents I trust–and have spent enough time with their kids–to believe that redshirting is absolutely the way to go in so many cases. I believe every child is different, and factors like gender, physical size, social skills, verbal skills, etc., should be considered in the decision. But I was relieved to have some of my perhaps not-fully formulated intuitions and suspicions confirmed by this piece, namely, the questions surrounding the all-important act of learning. “In short, the analogy to athletics does not hold. The question we should ask instead is: What approach gives children the greatest opportunity to learn?” While parents, myself included, spend a lot of energy thinking about the ways in which they can give their child “every advantage,” we give a lot less consideration to the “advantage” of letting them make just the right number of mistakes in order to experience the satisfaction of the reach. And again, how big or small that reach can or should be depends entirely on the kid.
Although the idea seems obvious, this was the first article I’ve read that made sense and gave me some peace about all of this, especially the following bit: “Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close ot the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high and error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning.”
We would love to hear from you about how your decision to “push” or to “hold” has worked out for you. I think all of us could use a little reassurance, no matter what camp we have found ourselves in. In the end, the only thing that really matters is the testimony of other parents.