[NOTE: This is the first in a five-part series on the decisions parents face as their child approaches kindergarten age.]
My son Marco is will be kindergarten age this August. It’s a crucial parenting moment. My wife and I have some very important decisions to make.
Do we send him or do we “redshirt” him -i.e. send him to a “Pre-K” or “Young 5s” program for a year? Presuming we send him to kindergarten this August, do we send him to the neighborhood public school or to another school? How important should we weigh the choice of teacher (yes, all parents have some ability, however limited, to affect the choice of teacher), and what sort of teacher is best? And once we make those decisions, what, if anything, do we do to prepare him for the first day of kindergarten?
I’ll address each of these questions in an upcoming article. In this article, I’d like to take a step back and discuss the frame of mind parents of kindergarten-age kids like Marco need to be in to address these questions.First, note that there’s no such thing as a “mulligan” (i.e. a free do-over) in these decisions. If we get a decision right, great, but if we don’t, it’s difficult to undo, some more than others. We haven’t faced many decisions like this yet in our kids’ lives.
Take the choice of school decision. Once the enrollment period is over for kindergarten, it’s pretty difficult to make a change for that whole school year. And, because it’s best for a kid to not switch elementary schools after kindergarten, the school choice decision locks you in somewhat for many years.
Also, take the redshirt decision. I would submit that either decision – to redshirt or not – will make a large impact on Marco’s self-concept. If we send him to kindergarten rather than redshirt, it would be pretty difficult to reconsider, so if he’s really not ready, we may be blowing it. However, what can we say about the flip side? Is there any cost to holding Marco back if he’s ready? Absolutely. Throughout his school career, other kids and parents, as well as teachers, will know he’s older and will adjust their expectations of him accordingly. It’s harder to impress someone when you have a built-in advantage.
Secondly, I’d like to suggest that these interrelated decisions are about far more than Marco’s academic achievement in kindergarten. For example, the decision of whether to send him to our neighborhood public school or not will have a huge impact on his life in our neighborhood. Children who go to such schools tend to have much richer neighborhood lives.
In addition, the teacher Marco ends up with will have influence on him that is unprecedented for someone outside our family and outside our direct employ (i.e. a nanny or babysitter). This person will make a huge impact on his attitude about school, his attitude about learning, and how he treats other children for many years to come.
Lastly, the way we prepare or don’t prepare him for kindergarten from here on sends him a strong signal about the value we want him to place on school education versus all the other things he’s been doing as a child. Do we want him to think that his childhood as he knows it will end the day he starts kindergarten? Or, do we want him to think that kindergarten will be as carefree as his current play-based preschool?
In short, I would say the choices confronting us parents of kindergarten-aged children are momentous, but for reasons far beyond what they might or might not learn next year. Our kids are entering a new phase of their lives, and their attitudes, emotional makeup, and social skills will change as fast as their cognitive abilities. Let’s just hope they all move in the direction, and at the pace, that makes us happy.