The Kindergarten Question

I mentioned last month that Colin is done with his ABA school and is in regular preschool now five days a week. This has been a big transition, but we’re preparing for an even bigger transition next year: kindergarten.

Only we’re not sure if we should send him to kindergarten… The cut off date for kindergarten is September 1st. Colin turns five on July 9th. The trend these days seems to be to hold kids back who have summer birthdays, especially boys. 60 Minutes even did a special on it earlier this year:

It’s called “redshirting”: holding your 5-year-old back from kindergarten ’til he’s 6 so he’ll be among the oldest and smartest kids in class. Parents of a 5-year-old with a late birthday despair that little Johnny will forever be a failure if he has to compete with kids six or eight months older so they put the fix in; hold him back a year so he has the edge in class and ultimately an edge in life…

It used to be that everyone started kindergarten at age 5. Today nearly a quarter of some kindergarten classrooms are populated by 6-year-olds. Kindergarten redshirting has more than tripled since the 1970s. Boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls, whites more than minorities and rich more than poor.

In Colin’s case though, we are getting some mixed advice. Because Colin has an IEP, our township strongly suggests we send him on time. They say that it would be better for him to model older peers instead of younger ones.They warn that if he ever had to repeat a grade, he would end up being much older than other kids in his class. There is also some research that shows kids who have been redshirted are more likely to drop out (though others point out this may only be true because 18-year-olds can drop out without their parents’ consent).

We asked Noah and Zoe’s kindergarten teacher what she thinks. While she would not come out and tell us to hold him back, she suggested we think about what things would look like for Colin in high school. If we send him on time, he would be the last one to get his license. He might not start dating as early. He might be smaller and therefore not as competitive in sports (and we DO really hope that sports will be an outlet for him).

His preschool teachers say there are no “red flags” to make them think Colin would not be ready for kindergarten next year. He recognizes letter sounds, numbers, shapes, etc, and understands classroom rules. However, saying that he could go is not the same thing as saying he should go. They are only saying he could go.

Most parents who are redshirting are doing so with typical kids. Since Colin may have some challenges, would we be doing him a disservice by sending him on time, making it even MORE difficult on him?

We have come up with three options: 1. Send him to the preschool Explorers class, 2. Send him to kindergarten the “normal” way, or 3. Send him to kindergarten with the intention of sending him twice.

Sending him to the Explorers class:

Colin is in the Fours class this year, and he can go on to Explorers. Although most kids in Explorers are those who did not make the kindergarten cut off, several are kids whose parents are holding them back, so he would have some same-age peers. In fact, this class usually has many more boys than girls since boys are more likely to be held back. When Zoe was in the class last year, there were five girls and ten boys.

With this plan, he gets to be a little kid for another year. He’s been in pretty intense ABA therapy since he was two, so maybe it would be good for him to have a “play” year? On the other hand, what if he regresses during that “play” year and loses some of what he gained from ABA?

I’m pretty certain he will need ADHD medication once he starts kindergarten. We tried medication earlier this year, and it worked well, but there were side effects. It was a patch and it irritated his skin. It also suppressed his appetite and he lost a few pounds. If he stayed in preschool, we could definitely keep him off medication for another year. (Obviously we will only do medication when it is necessary, so it is possible he could go to kindergarten without it. It’s just that I know for sure he could do preschool without it.)

The schedule is not ideal. Preschool is from 9am-2pm. Noah and Zoe are in school from 8:30am-3:30pm. It would be really nice to have them all on the same schedule, especially since they have been in three different schools for the past couple years. Also, right now he has speech and other services separately. I take him to a 90 minute speech and language group every Wednesday. If he were in kindergarten, he would get services during school and we would not have the extra weekly appointment.  All of this would really help with my work schedule. Of course, we won’t do something that’s not right for Colin just because it’s convenient, but it all makes the preschool option less appealing.

Sending him to kindergarten the “normal” way:

If he starts kindergarten, the schedule will be better, he will get services at school , and he will be able to model older peers. We will have a bit of a buffer if he has to repeat a grade later. He will be challenged, and we won’t have to worry as much about him regressing (although he will be in a class of 25 kids instead of working one-on-one with a therapist like he did in ABA).

On the other hand, he is not as mature as some kids his age and I don’t want that to make things hard for him – now or in high school.

Sending him to kindergarten with the intention of doing it twice:

This has all of the advantages of sending him to kindergarten, but also means that things might look better for him in high school (driving, dating, sports, etc). And, this leaves our options a bit more open. If he excels and at the end of the year and everyone agrees he should go on, we can send him to first grade. If he still needs to catch up to his peers, he can do kindergarten again.

I have asked the principal if we would have the option of holding him back. (It was important to this plan that we have that choice.) While she didn’t promise anything, she said they have much more flexibility in a case where the parent wants to hold a child back and the school thinks the child is ready than they do when the school wants to hold the child back but the parent thinks the child is ready.

One concern here is that we’ve heard it can be socially difficult for a child to do kindergarten twice in the same school. However, in our part of the township, there are two schools. We’ll call them School A and School B. While our school is School A, all kindergarteners from the School A and School B areas go to School B. At the end of the year, half of the kids go to School A and half to School B. The whole class does not move on to first grade together, which might make this easier. There are eight kindergarten classes, so he would definitely be able to be in a new class. Besides, I really don’t think Colin would care. He just doesn’t have that kind of personality. I think he would be OK with making new friends. He also has a cousin who is doing this, so there is a precedent. We can just say he’s doing kindergarten twice like his cousin because they both have summer birthdays.

There is a charter school near us that we’re investigating. (We were also looking at Catholic school, but we have ruled that out. They don’t recommend sending kids born after May.) There is no guarantee that Colin would get in since they work on a lottery system, but if he did get in, he could do one year of kindergarten there and then go to kindergarten at School B (or he could go to School A for first grade if we decided he was ready). We would have to provide transportation (and Colin would be disappointed that he wouldn’t be riding the bus), but it’s workable.

Noah was born in January and Zoe was born in November. That was so much easier! We didn’t have to worry about this!

Thoughts? Suggestions?

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22 thoughts on “The Kindergarten Question

  1. I was the youngest in my class (I had a birthday less than a week before cut-off). I was the smallest (due to genetics, not age), and still was very involved in the sports I loved (mainly cheerleading for me). I was always among the top academically, had plenty of friends, and didn’t date abnormally late. I did get my license later (and in college was able to legally drink later) and it really wasn’t a big deal for me. Now, many schools are requiring tuition for driver’s ed, so a lot of kids are waiting longer to take the classes anyhow.

    I was always mature for my age, so it helped. But I would recommend moving forward if he has an IEP too–the supports are better once your child is school aged than they are for preschool, and they will last 3 years instead of the preschool 1 year IEP.

  2. Ally – I was young, too, but I was always mature for my age. I did very well academically, had friends, etc. Do you think it’s different for boys? It seems that most of the kids being redshirted are boys.

  3. All 3 of mine were somewhat close to the cutoff date. I didn’t hold any of them back, but I regretted that for two of them. One was special circumstances that wouldn’t apply to Colin, except for the small size which, as you know, was a problem in higher grades. I sent the one with a July birthday and ADD with every intention of having her repeat kindergarten and was assured that was my choice. After she completed K, however, I got a totally different story; since she excelled academically I was very strongly pressured to send her on even though she obviously lagged socially and emotionally. I caved and still regret it. This was quite a few years ago and a different elementary but the same district you’re in. Maybe since Colin already has an IEP in place it would be different, but in my experience you can’t count on that district to willingly pay for kindergarten twice.

    • Thank you for the warning, Susan. If we decide to go that route, I think I will want to get it in writing, at least via email that it will be our choice. I also need to look into what we are legally able to do. I wonder who I would check with?

  4. I went to school a year early, I was born 13 days after the cut off and when they tested me for pre-school I could read so they encouraged my parents to send me so they did with the intention they would hold me backing they had to. I excelled at school so that never happened. I was pretty popular until everyone else was into boys and other things and I was still a year behind socially and emotionally, that was when things went down hill. No one noticed it until later and things were messed up already. I survived and made it out almost unscathed (a medical issue no one let me live down in high school is the almost part).

    For those reasons as soon as I saw that my twins were behind socially and emotionally for 5 million reasons, I had no issues red shirting both of them (a boy and a girl). I know they were ready academically however they would have sent my daughter back to pre-school quickly. I am still worried about school next year but I will have no choice.

    I wish you luck this is not an easy decision, even in our case. Good luck!

  5. Our daughter had an April birthday and an IEP. We waited an extra year. She is actually 1.5 years older than the youngest kids in her class, but it was undoubtably the right choice for her. She is rocking kindergarten this year. One deciding factor for us was her personality. She is a kid who really remembers failure and struggle. If her first elementary school experience was bad, it would have been hard for her to overcome it. Also, the school district was required to provide IEP services, even if she wasn’t in kindergarten. I don’t regret our choice at all.

    • Colin is usually pretty easy going, but I don’t want him to get labeled as “the bad kid.” I am afraid that he will get into more trouble or that the teacher will have to say his name more than most if he goes next year.

  6. OMG – I lived this over the last two years with an FASD boy. I would be happy to go through all the ins and outs with you in a private exchange but my short answer is – Do NOT believe the school when they tell you they can be flexible about holding the child back if you think they are not ready. My son was happy and LOVED school in preschool. We sent him to Kindergarten dispite the same sort of worries you are experienceing with the assurance he could repeat if we felt it was necessary. He suffered miserably for that decision all year long. He HATED school and I had to drag him there crying and pry him off me every.single.day. It was so bad he started regressing into self injurous behaviors. Then at the end of the year I had to fight tooth and nail to get them to retain him. I mean all the way to the school board level. He is doing well and happy in his second year of kindergarten but it was a rough start – he remembered all the fear and misery of the year before and it took several weeks after school started for him to get over that and begin to enjoy school again. All sorts of studies exist on redshirting and grade retention and they all pretty much agree – if academic progress alone is the concern holding students back is not really much help and may be detrimental over time. If social and emotional maturity is the concern retention can be helpful and the lower grade it is done in the better. So when you are looking at Colin – look with that lense to judge “readiness”.

    I had some vidncation this year when one of the people fighting me over retention last year came to me and said “you were right” he is doing so much better this year and is so much more open to learning”.

    • I have a few concerns academically, mostly because of the ADHD and impulsivity, but my main concerns are social and emotional maturity.

      You’re right, I don’t want him to have an awful experience. I worry about him getting in trouble too much and getting frustrated.

  7. Wow – thanks everyone. We were leaning towards the kindergarten twice option, but now I’m not sure. I appreciate all of the input. Keep it coming!

  8. Tracy- My Little Man has some minor stimming, difficulty working without one one one direction, and slow auditory processing. The class he was in was 26 students to one teacher and one aide. He could not cope with the expectations for independent work and was in trouble constantly for nothing more than needing the teacher or the aids attention. It didn’t take very long for him to be the “problem” kid because he would cry when upset or frustrated and couldn’t stay on task doing worksheets or “independent reading” etc. The amount of academic work pushed into K these days is insane. When you have a child struggling socially and or emotionally there is just no way they are going to keep pace and all that stress and anxiety keeps them from being able to make friends. The favorite discipline tactic in K is to restrict recess time which then takes away the physical outlet they need to stay regulated. Its a perfect storm for FASD kids. We had an IEP going into K – from the school’s own preK program and it still did not make a difference. I felt pressured to put him into K because the school said he would get more special ed support than in preK and the fact is that he got less. You are on the right track when you say you will get things from the school in writing. I’ve found that if it is not in writing IN THE IEP it doesn’t exist. The IEP however is a legally binding document on the school.

    When I say my son was stressed about going back to school this year I mean he was pulling his hair out, picking bloody sores into his skin, biting himself, waking up yelling 2 or 3 times a night – all in anxiety – starting with back to school night when we just visited his room and new teacher. It was probably four weeks into school before all of that subsided.

  9. One more little piece of wisdom gained from experience; an immature, unfocused child will not only become a target for bullying children, but also for bitter, tired, close-to-retirement, more-than-a-little unbalanced teachers. My daughter’s worst emotional scarring was at the hand of her first grade teacher. The teacher was subsequently asked to retire, but her mistreatment of children with any kind of special needs had been going on for years. As far as I have seen, there are very, very few rotten apples in the teacher barrel, but the ones there are are putrid.

  10. I do not have a child with FASD – but I have some experience with the Kindergarten issue. In my family – I was held back a year from starting K while my sister was sent on time. We both had Fall birthdays so she was one of the youngest in her grade while I was one of the oldest. I had been significantly premature so my mother felt that I was still catching up and needed the extra year. In any event – I can tell you that I was much more successful academically throughout my entire education than my sister. My mother has always said she should’ve held my sister back as well and that she was just always more socially immature than the others in her grade. I’m sure that the outcomes my sister and I experienced were also due to us just being different people – and not all of it had to do with when we started Kindergarten.

    My daughter is currently waiting an extra year to start Kindergarten. She turned 5 in late July and I was VERY on the fence about sending her. She was adopted at nearly 2 years old and has had a lot of catching up to do. She has always had a relatively insecure attachment (very clingy) although that has gotten so much better in recent months. I just decided that giving her the extra year was better than rushing her. I don’t yet know how I will feel about my decision when she actually starts Kindergarten though. I hope I’m doing the right thing.

  11. I just found your blog and don’t know a lot about Colin’s background (IE what his IEP is for). I just wanted to share with you that I have a son who is now in 3rd grade and we sent him to kindergarten on time with the plan to send him twice. He is mildly on the autism spectrum. He qualified for full day kindergarten for “at risk” children. Mostly low-income and a few who were coming out of the special ed preschool program (like my son Alex.) The great part about it was the at-risk kindergarten was not at our home school. So he went to that and then repeated kindergarten in a mainstream classroom (with an IEP) at our home school. No one knew he was repeating other than the teachers. His birthday is in August and there was just no way I was going to have him be the youngest in the class along with his speech and language difficulties.

    Fast forward 4 years,,,,he is where is is supposed to be. He is doing well both socially and academically. He is just a bit below grade level in reading and I thank God we held him back. We were “advised” not to. I went with my gut. You know your kid and what he is ready for. We did not hold him back so he would be bigger or smarter or better at sports. We held him back because at 5 he had been through years of speech and occupational therapy, special ed preschool and had worked SO HARD!!!!!! I didn’t want to set him back by placing him in a situation for which he was not prepared. Good luck with your decision!!!

    • Colin has FAS, ADHD, and impulsivity. He has a PDD-NOS diagnosis, but I don’t know that he really fits all of the criteria (he is very social). He has been in an ABA school (Applied Behavior Analysis) school for two years. He started preschool this year with a therapist going with him, but now he is on his own. Now we just go to a 90 minute speech and language group. I completely hear what you are saying about not wanting to set him back after being through so many therapies by plaving him in a situation for which he is not prepared, but I’m also concerned about going the other direction. He has had really intense (8:30am-4:30pm, M-F) therapy up to now. I’m also concerned now that he’s getting 90 minutes a week that he won’t be challenged and will start acting out again. I spoke to his other preschool teacher this morning and she says he is very smart and she’s afraid he might be bored if he stays in preschool.

      I’m kind of hoping he gets into the charter school, but we won’t know until next summer and it’s a lottery. I think he has a good shot, but there’s no guarantee. I think the kids in that school may be less ready for kindergarten in general, so maybe that would be a good thing? Then he could repeat kindergarten at the school where I know for sure he will be challenged.

      I just don’t know!

  12. In 2011 my son turned 5 on July 11 and school started Aug. 8. We made the decision to keep him home last year and it was the best decision for him. He was small for his age and the “baby” of the family and I just don’t think he would have stood up for himself. The extra year gave him a chance to grow taller and gain confidence. For us it was not ever a question of attention span or behavior but just an extra year to be a kid and grow. (Plus I didn’t want him to graduate at 17).

    Good luck with your decision!

  13. One thing I forgot to mention in the post is that the reason we’re discussing this now is that it is open enrollment time. We have to figure out how much money to put in our dependent care account, and that amount will obviously be different if we send him to preschool again.

    I know we *really* have until next fall to decide, but we will need to register him for preschool in January if we want to go that route, or at least hold a spot for him in the Explorers class (it will fill up). We would lose several hundred dollars on the deposit if we don’t send him.

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