Child Caring

California mom wonders about repeating kindergarten

[Ed's note: This letter has been condensed. ]

I was hoping to get your advice as I am tormented by what to do for our our 5 year old kindergarten daughter and so worried we will hurt her chances for success if we do the wrong thing here.

In essence, her birthday is the end September, and here in California, they are moving back the "must turn 6 by" date here to be Sept 1st. That however, is not in effect for 2 more years. Our daughter, was in Montessori preschool for the past 3 years part-time. She is very outgoing and a natural leader. That said, we thought she seemed ready for kindergarten, though I kept feeling we were rushing her...but we sent her because academically she seemed on par. ...Though outgoing and a good leader, she did have bouts of being unfocused, and difficulty controlling her impulses etc. In Preschool, she was often put in timeout due to being disruptive, and bothering other children when she had to sit still for a long time. In retrospect we are not sure the Montessori preschool was the best fit for her, as we saw her self esteem slip seemingly from these time outs.

Our daughter has continued to get this same feedback in kindergarten. Her other kindergarten /Montessori graduates are all 6- 10 months older than and reading 2 book levels ahead of her, doing advanced sentence writing and math. She is the second youngest child in her kindergarten class and in this class, she is middle of the pack. So far she is meeting the standard for kindergarten except in social/emotional areas, says her rather strict teacher. She is just now really reading 3 letter books, has advanced fine motor skills, and seems to be more able to focus doing art, music dance vs reading.

To cut to the chase - I wish we had not started her, and given her more of a chance to mature AND meet the standards. I'm concerned that if we do get the school to allow us to have her repeat kindergarten or perhaps go into the K/1st split class, that the children will make fun of her and her self esteem will be hurt. I fear that is happening now as well, however, because she sees the other children not getting in as much trouble as she is. I am worried about her self esteem long term from making this decision incorrectly.

The only other information I can give you is that over these last few months of Kindergarten, we did put her in an after-school program at the Montessori preschool...He allowed her to be "off focus" and learn at her own rhythm. It made a huge difference in her demeanor, her self- esteem seems improved at least while there and she seems challenged appropriately and supported. I know much of the "kindergarten work" is very easy for her and yet as I have outlined here, she still has room to grow. I just am not sure what to advocate for her at this point.

Do we have her repeat kindergarten, do we try to get her into the K/1 class, or do we let her go on to 1st grade with continued tutoring through Montessori?

I appreciate your help.
From: Elsa, Northern California

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Dear Elsa,

The best advice I can give you is twofold. (1). Has your daughter been tested? I presume not, since you don't mention it. But bouts of being "unfocused" and not being able to get a handle on impulse control are good enough reasons to what to know if something organic is going on. Testing seems to me to be a no-brainer. (2) Seek out the opinions of the teachers who know her, including her "strict" kindergarten teacher and the person who runs the after-school program, as well as some teaches who don't know her: Talk to first grade teachers at your school. Talk to the school psychologist and the principal. Tell them your concerns. They have seen it all, they know how children change and grow, and they are far more experienced than you at assessing a child's trajectory.

I have received questions about holding back a kindergartner many, many times, and, as I look back on some of the answers, it's a good reminder that each situation is different, from this one, to this one, here and yet another.

Yes, kids your daughter's age are capable of comparing themselves to peers and coming to conclusions that can become self-fulfilling prophesies: "Mary can read chapter books. I can't. Mary's smart. I'm dumb." Yes, teachers can unwittingly pick on a child and make her feel inadequate. And here's something else: sometimes as parents, we over-worry. Your letter reminds me of a book, "A Nation of Wimps," by Hara Estroff Marano, which I reviewed for the Globe.
My point, Elsa, is that you can only make the best possible decision, not The Perfect decision. By all means, do the research I'm suggesting. But in the end? Go with your gut and don't beat up on yourself.