The Kindergarten Decisions: Overview

Books like these reinforce the notion that kindergarten is a big deal for our kids and for us.

[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.

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6 Responses to The Kindergarten Decisions: Overview

  1. sophia Yen says:

    so, are you going to “interview” the kindergarten he is going to? or drop in and watch the teachers there?

    I am pretty sure they will be great given your school district…

    as for “red shirt,” I think people fail to see the benefit of “geek protective factor.” By not being the popular guy, he will concentrate on his studies. and all the popular guys in school have not fared as well as the non popular guys… as I am learning from my 20th high school reunion.

    don’t freak parents out too much.. as long as the kindergarten teacher is not horrible, I think your kid will be ok. I have no memories of my kindergarten at all. I remember my 1st grade teachers being nice women. I think it is a question of whether your child learns that there are rewards to learning – stickers and other things motivated me…

  2. Edgymama says:

    What’s red-shirting?

    We’ve found that most of the kindergarten and primary school teachers in our region are kind and conscientious people.

    Our concerns with the mainstream public and private schools is not with the teachers but with the other students. Apologies if this sounds arrogant, but what we are concerned about is students who are exposed to lots of media and without any censorship or analysis. Children who are processing the mainstream media propagation of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, consumerism are not the children we want ours to be exposed to on a daily basis. The technology and the consumerist messages are just too powerful and manipulative for young minds to counter.

    We are seeking out neighbourhood facilities where families are conscious, aware, and resistant to the onslaught of mainstream values; something we are fortunate in having along our street.

    Home-learning and Waldorf are two other avenues we are interested in for the same reasons.

  3. Mike Lanza says:

    “Redshirting” is the genteel term for holding a kid back before entering kindergarten. The term comes from college sports, where freshman athletes are often “redshirted” so that they don’t play in their freshman years and preserve four years of eligibility.

  4. Virginia Balogh-Rosenthal says:

    The good news about tough decisions is that each choice has good points as well as bad points, so you can’t go too far astray.

    My boy/girl twins began at a private elementary school in San Francisco which they stayed at for four years. Their close knit community was lovely, but sorely lacked in diversity. For fourth grade, we switched them both to public school (although, as we are in San Francisco, they don’t attend a neighborhood school) and are very happy to have done so. I am glad they have experienced both private and public schools.

    It is very hard to determine what kind of learner a child will be at such a young age, so don’t feel your choice is irrevocable.

  5. Mindy says:

    Being older than your fellow classmates has its advantages.
    I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where, so I could cite it) that one thing all the best soccer players have in common is that they were the oldest in their class. Probably mostly due to their age and perhaps their size, they were labeled “good players” early on and got more attention from the coaches and more was expected of them. I would guess that the same holds true in academia. Older children usually have an easier time sitting in a classroom and generally have longer attention spans.

    But, don’t listen to me. We’re homeschooling. I believe all those issues and so many more really do matter and create a life-long impression, affecting the child’s attitude towards learning, what subjects they think they are “good” or “bad” at, whether they consider themselves smart or not, whether being smart is cool (and something they want to strive for) and more. We’re not going to leave it up to chance.

  6. once-upon-a-thyme says:

    There is a chapter about this very phenomenon in “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell.