Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kindergarten or Bust

It has come to my attention that the Grape has an August birthday.

Kidding! Of course I've known my only child's birthday all along. More importantly, the Grape knows that this August he will turn five, and in September, he will go to kindergarten, as will all his friends.

I know age cutoffs vary from state to state, but in Massachusetts, the cutoff to enter kindergarten is age five by September 1. This is a clear, unambiguous rule that gave us no trouble while registering for the Boston Public Schools lottery.

Because the lottery is indeed a true lottery, we hedged our bets a bit and applied to a couple of private schools. Since we think all kindergarteners should still get to play most of the time, and we find the popular push to turn kindergarten into de facto first grade totally and completely wrong-headed, we applied only to "play based" programs.

During that process, R. and I were more than a bit flummoxed by the number of people who think the boys of summer, should be kept back—red shirted, in private school parlance.

We've been equally confused by the number of people who wonder why on earth we wouldn't want to grab the chance to make the Grape the oldest in his class, instead of the youngest.

It would be easy to accomplish: his fabulous preschool would gladly take him back for another year.

I admit a strong personal bias against the entire practice of red shirting. I was among the older end of the students in my class, and I was bored—dead bored—for at least fifty per cent of elementary school and middle school, in what was considered a good school system. But of course, this isn't about me; it's about the Grape.

On a broader level, I think we as a society should stop and consider two questions. First, if we parents as a group red shirt lots of boys, but not many girls, how thrilled are the parents of fourteen-year-old girls going to be, when their daughters attend high school alongside (and let's not sugar coat it) lots of actual adult males?

Second, the impassioned argument I hear from parents and school administrators in favor of red shirting, is they want the kids to feel "successful."

"Successful" is a very big thing with elementary school admissions types.

Everyone likes success, but, and perhaps this is a cultural thing for me, if I have to choose, I'd rather have my child feel academically challenged than have him feel successful all the time.

If that veers me into tiger mom territory, so be it. I knew I had that in me anyway, when I expressed dismay when the Grape's teacher in the two-year-old room posted his first-ever painting. I told her, a) it wasn't very good, and b) the bold mark on the paper resembled nothing so much as a commonly known sex toy.

Despite my harsh critique of his first art effort, my kid is confident enough; he exhibits near Napoleonic tendencies from time to time.

There is no way on God's green earth that his father and I are going to set him up to be the class over-achiever, by mere virtue of advanced age. If the Grape is going to achieve academically, it's not going to be because his parents threw him a meatball.

The Grape has three years of preschool under his belt, which is at least one year more than the average kid gets. He goes four days a week for six hours a day. And the school is fantastic. They play, they build elaborate long term group projects, and they troop all over the city of Boston. Today, when I dropped him off, the kids got busy peering at cadaver photos of the digestive system. Why? Because they've been asking questions about what's inside the human body.

R. and I are completely confident that there's not a pre-k program in the country that offers anything above and beyond what he's already had for years. When we toured a couple of pre-k's, R. and I both came away saying, they're perfect for him today. Not a year from today.

Aside: Obviously, if I'd had the Grape home with me all this time, I'd be all about sending him to a pre-k/preschool year before kindergarten.

The Grape, being a seasoned preschooler, makes friends easily, has figured out how to extricate himself from bad situations, and is about as street wise as a four-year-old can be.

He's a pensive kid by nature—something that maybe makes people find him babyish at first glance—but as one of the school administrators we've met during this process observed, "Only the fools rush right in."

Like the preschool director at his current school told me, when I was nervous about dropping off my newly minted two-year-old for the first time, some one has to be the youngest.

Even the private school admissions people we've spoken with readily agree, that academically, the Grape is ready for kindergarten. He adds and subtracts numbers up to about 12 on the fly and while he can't read yet, he recognizes words in two languages.

It seems they're hung up on the fact that he's physically little. We're hung up on keeping him academically on his toes, and socially among the kids whom he identifies as his peers.

Which means, even with the carefully selected private, play-based kindergartens to which we applied, I'm afraid we may be at a stalemate. They don't want the boys of summer, and they make that clear during the get-to-know-you part of the process.

We will find out soon enough: both private school decisions and public school lottery results become available this week (or maybe next).

Suburbia, here we come?


  1. My son's have March and December birthdays, respectively, but, like you, I don't understand (well, maybe I do understand but don't agree with) red-shirting JUST so that the child will have a 'leg up' and be the de-facto leader of their class. It's one thing to hold a child who isn't ready back (and kindergarten really is the place to do that), but a whole other animal to purposefully start them late so that they will be 'ahead'.

    Good luck and report back.

    1. Agreed. The bottom line question: What do the parents want for the kid? Because if the answer to that is a private school education, at least in these parts, the schools just won't take a summer boy for K. So parents end up holding kids back because they want the school(s), not because they believe the kid isn't ready for K.

      It's one of those you don't like the system, but can't change it situations.