To Kindergarten or Not to Kindergarten

In September 1983, I was 5-years-old. So I went to kindergarten. (Shout out to Mrs. DeRiso from St. Margaret’s Catholic School in Little Ferry, NJ.)

My parents didn’t question whether I was ready. It never dawned on them that maybe I could use a gap year to find myself or explore my options. They didn’t think, “Hey, maybe Nicole could be president one day if she starts kindergarten in 1984 as an older, wiser 6-year-old.”

The point is, kindergarten was not a decision my parents had to make. In the 80s, kindergarten was protocol.

Fast forward thirty years and the protocol for our children has changed. There’s quite a bit to think about now. Kindergarten isn’t a great big sing-a-long where you learn about primary colors, do finger painting and sit in a circle playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Today’s kindergarten comes with six hours of sitting at a desk and focusing. It’s about reading at a first-grade level and doing forty-five minutes to one hour of homework every night. Our kindergarteners are literally getting schooled.

So, it’s no wonder parents have started holding their children back. It’s not surprising that some people find value in that extra year of playtime and (pardon the phrase) fucking around. I mean, we’re talking about five-year-olds. We’re talking about people who belly laugh over fart jokes and find pleasure in slime. Excuse them if they’re not determined to nail the three-finger pencil grip.

The bigger issue, though, is how much stress this kindergarten thing is putting on parents. Granted, not every parent has succumb to the pressure of holding their kids back. In fact, a great majority of parents either don’t consider it or choose to ignore it because it’s just a bunch of “elitist bullshit.” And that’s fair, too.

For Grady, it was a no-brainer. We held him back. He was (and still is) quite brilliant. He could read. He could write. He could understand concepts and actually had very creative interpretations of most subjects. At five-years-old, he was able to handle the academics of kindergarten without question. It was the serious part I worried about. Could he stay seated at a desk all day? Definitely not. Could he resist the urge to run around the classroom and ask everyone what their favorite color was? No way. Would he dissolve into tears if the teacher told him it wasn’t a good time for hugs? Absolutely. 100%.

Grady needed the extra year. And he got it.

Now it’s Annie Bea’s turn. What do you do with an almost five-year-old girl who walks around like she owns the world but can’t spell her last name yet? A kid that understands complicated concepts and conversations but refuses to sound out letters. If I start her in kindergarten will she be overwhelmed? If I hold her back, will she be bored? Will she miss out on friendships one way or the other? Sure, Annie Bea wants to go to kindergarten but I held Grady back. Shouldn’t it be the same?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. Jill always has a strong grasp on the bigger picture. Plus, she’s a preschool teacher and the mother of a 12-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. She gets it. And she really got me to get it, too.

Jill: Stop it. You have to stop trying to figure out your kids. They are about to change a million times. So forget planning and plotting for their futures. Annie Bea might not know how to spell her last name now but in a year she could be doing algebra and composing a symphony. You just don’t know. And Grady might be lost in his own world most of the day but who cares? He’s happy in that world. He’s lucky to live there. Do what makes sense right now then let them be. And see where they take you.

It’s obvious stuff, I guess. But it stuck and I’ve decided to stop moving ahead (on this one topic only, of course). Because there’s nothing happening up there in the future. Grady and Annie Bea aren’t even there yet. They’re here in 2018. Just like I was there… in 1983… when my parents looked at me in my pink leg warmers and banana clip and said, “Nicole, grab your Trapper Keeper. It’s time for school.”

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