Thursday, November 29, 2012

Parenting Anxiety Attack #95234: On Kindergarten Redshirting

Oh no, I'm having a(nother) Parenting Anxiety Attack.

I just finished perusing my younger son's kindergarten class Share Journal, where you can see all the kids' writings and drawings about an item they chose from home to bring to their classroom. Reading the journal supports my belief that we should have waited a year for him to start kindergarten. 

The Jumbo Pencil
Photo credit:
Nolan started this year at age four and has found himself in a classroom with some kids who are seven years old. I was unsure about him starting this year since he has a late September birthday, is small for his age, is quite shy and has significant asthma and allergy issues. (Will he be too shy to speak up for himself around foods he cannot eat?) 

On top of that, academic redshirting seems to be the norm in the area we live in, I've now learned, especially for boys. We live in Silicon Valley, in an area where the majority of parents are Asian immigrants who prize academic achievement. Many parents work at Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc. 

My husband has a late September birthday too, though, and assured me that being small and young isn't a big deal. Besides being the last kid in his class to graduate from the fat pencil to the skinny pencil and requiring extra scissors practice at home, my husband did fine academically and caught up with his classmates in size in a few years.

This year, I made sure to volunteer in Nolan's classroom. I'm there one to two times a week and I have seen how he fits in with his classmates. Once we got past the rocky first week of school, he adjusted well. He's the smallest in his class but he seems to blend in with the others. I think he's the only one who needs his teacher's help putting on and zipping his jacket, but when it comes to the schoolwork, he is OK. Identifying and creating patterns seems to be his specialty.

Still, I started to feel alarmed again when we received a kindergarten-wide email to parents early in the year. It was in regard to Reading Racers, a program that develops children's ability to recognize and read simple words. Here's an excerpt from that email:
This program was not designed to be a contest but to differentiate to our students' individual needs as our students are budding learners at all different levels. Also, please remember that children are listening and watching your reactions to their work. Comparing lists after school with other parents could potentially be hurtful to individual students which could affect their self-esteem and confidence when they see that some students are at a different level than them.

Apparently, some of the kindergarten parents were getting competitive about Reading Racers. (Note to educators: Perhaps consider not calling it Reading RACERS if you don't want to encourage competition.)  

And now we have the Share Journal. I was quite surprised to see that some of Nolan's classmates are practically writing novellas and illustrating their essays with beautiful, complex drawings. Nolan has very faint, wispy penmanship and writes short four-word sentences, e.g., "The dog went home." He draws very basic stick figures, often accompanied with hearts and balloons, no matter what the context.

Look, I really don't want to be a Tiger Mom, but what am I supposed to do when I'm surrounded by them? I was raised by Asian immigrant parents myself, so I know the Tiger parenting style very well. I don't want that for our family. But now I find myself second-guessing myself again. I'm tempted to inquire about Nolan repeating kindergarten next year. 

Am I out of my mind? What would you do?


linda @spiceboxtravels said...

Lisa, Take a deep breath! Since I don't have boys, I am not as aware of red shirting but it sounds rampant! If it will reassure you both my husband and I are October babies and we turned out more or less OK:) I'll leave you with this piece of advice I was given by a preschool teacher, when I was wondering how to have my 3- or 4 year old (I know, I know) progress beyond reading cat, hat, sat, etc: "Reading is not a race." (Ahem again to the creator of Reading Racers-- which our district does not use. Maybe you should join us up here?)

Will Merrick said...

Hi Lisa,

To address one of the last questions (what to do when surrounded by Tiger Moms) .... Don't give in to the mentality. Raising four and five year olds is not a competition. While it might be hyperbole to say this is an epidemic, there is way, way too much focus on what kids are doing at certain ages (my kid could read at 2, was diaper trained at 18 months, could do this, could do that .....)
Take a step back and ask yourself the simple questions .... Does Nolan look happy and healthy? Ask him if he is having fun at school. He is 5, enjoying school and the learning process and adjusting socially is what is important now, not what he can do compared to other kids. Kids develop at such different rates, physically, mentally, emotionally, to try to baseline against others is a very slipperly slope. Yes, some of these kids that are pushed early appear to being young geniuses, but just as many of them develop into young sociopaths or at least social and morally deviant individuals, because they weren't shown love, compassion and support. They go balistic with their first brush of failure, because they were never told it is ok to try and fail and learn and build from that. Kids will never remember fondly how hard their parents pushed them, they will remember fondly forever the parents who supported them, who were there for them and allowed them to be the person they are, not what their parents wanted them to do.

While my son was not young for his grade, he has always been smaller. And while we could read and talk early, his writing was basic at best, his penmanship is still not that great (he is 12!) and when he was in 2ng grade, all of his writing assignments were only finished to the bare letter of the law, very similar to the four-word sentence you describe. But that was because he was really rooted in black and white, the teacher said write two sentences on X subject and that was exactly what he did, no more, no less. It is not like Nolan is writing incomplete sentences, he is writing gramatically correct sentences, which honestly, is not too bad for a 5-yr old. You have to understand you probably live in a 99th percentile school (everyone is pushing their kid to be in that 99th percentile), don't compare your son to that crowd, it is a losing game. I see it up here in Redmond, WA all the time (Microsoft), in 1st grade parents were already asking if their kid could be assigned extra homework. I have so many examples of kids who were "amazing" in piano or soccer or school at young ages, who only flamed out down the road, becuase they were pushed too hard and burned out or the pack just caught up to them.
All that being said, I am certainly no childhood deveopment, and if you can't shake the concerns, at least talk to some more of an expert in these area (child therapist, etc.). But what I do know is that life is actually not short, it is long! There is so much time for kids to develop and mature and grow into the wonderful person that they will become with the proper support. I have worked with upper level managers at Fortune 500 companies who started higher education in community colleges and what were considered to be mid-to-low level state universities.
I am sorry this post is so long, but I will close with this. I was much more proud of my daughter and son at five years old when I received compliments about how nice, or polite or funny they were or how much someone enjoyed having them over as opposed to how early they might have read or if someone thought they were advanced for their grade.
I am sure the Lisa I know would be very proud and suppoertive of those same things!


Lisa Chiu said...

Linda and Will, thanks for your insightful advice!

Linda, it does indeed make me feel better to know you are an October baby. :)

Will, I deeply, deeply appreciate your long and thoughtful response. I know you have relatives who teach in my school district, and that you know what I'm talking about. You're right - Nolan is a happy and healthy little boy and that is most important. I'm glad we live in an area where education is highly regarded, but the overemphasis on academic *achievement* is out of control.

Thanks for sharing your personal experiences. It always helps to hear from from friends who can relate! :)

w w said...

Don't do this. You don't know what the future holds. My nephew was very bright, eager to learn. Sister missed deadlines to put him in private/public schools. Already year late.
Middle of 8th grade, moved across country, didn't meet standards and held back. 10th grade, moved back, held back again. Had to fake age and residency to get a school to accept him as an over-age senior. Summer schools weren't enough, he was denied graduation and now has to pay for GED at 20.
Please prioritize education enough to keep kids on their normal age and grade track.

Lisa Chiu said...

Thanks for your comment. Now that the school year is wrapping up, I can say that my son has come a long way since the first week of school. He can read and write well now. I'm still worried about his social development but he has developed so much this year.