September 2021, I scanned the self portraits made by the Kindergarten class. I was looking for my son’s and was sure I would be able to easily spot it. When I finally did, my heart sank. Along the rows of eyes, ears and mouths, none perfect, but his stood out. It was only scribbling. No format, no details, scribbling on paper. At that moment, I began to worry.
Gideon was a late summer baby. We debated whether he was ready for school. He was so young and would be one of the youngest. However, as we observed his social interactions, we saw an intelligent, empathetic, creative little boy. He seemed to engage with his peers well, so, sure, he seemed ready. I learned during that parent meeting at the school that he was behind. Most kids had attended a preschool program and even with Covid setbacks, he was not performing average for his grade. I left in tears.
The decision whether to hold a kid back in school is a difficult one. There is so much to consider. Between worrying about their self-esteem, ability to fit in, confidence, academic ability and whether it may cause resentment of you, it’s a daunting choice. There are a few parameters to explore outside of grading.
HOW DO THEY PERCEIVE SCHOOL?
Gideon enjoyed school. There wasn’t any sign that it wasn’t going well. At least from a verbal perspective. Kid’s don’t always articulate how they feel. As we compare this year to last year, there are a few behavioral things that indicated he had some anxiety. Observing how they act versus what they say, is important.
Do they have many at-school or even at-home accidents? Do they want to show you their work when they get home? Can they share one thing they learned? How is their appetite? Are there changes in their sleeping pattern?
All of these questions can evaluate the effect the school year is having on your child.
HOW DOES THEIR TEACHER PERCEIVE THEM?
Teachers are a great resource. It may be humbling to ask whether they think your child is in a great position for their grade level or if they may need to repeat, they know. They have experience and need to be relied on for their insight.
I started asking the teacher at that first meeting, whether he needed to be held back. She told us we needed to wait and see. We did. She knew I valued her opinion and she knew we were committed to doing what we needed for our child. That is not true of all parents. Eventually, she did not say he needed to or didn’t need to be held back. By the end of the school year, he was a little behind, but not to a degree that being retained was necessary.
The teacher merely told us that he would be “the perfect kindergartener next year.” She did not tell us what to do. She did not review his strengths and weaknesses. An informed decision based on her and others’ observations were that if he were retained, he would thrive.
HOW DO THEIR PEERS INTERACT WITH THEM?
Having the “best friends” of a kid change weekly might be common, however, a sign of maturity is friendship retention. We would hear that so and so wasn’t his friend anymore or someone wouldn’t play with him. That happens. It seemed to be every day. We knew he was capable of relating at a peer level, but couldn’t seem to initiate play. Confidence was an issue.
He was the youngest boy in his class, one of the smallest. When we observed play with peers in a controlled environment, he did well. That did change to a more withdrawn kid, one that would rather growl at others than engage in conversation.
I would ask him who he played with at recess and the answer was often “no one.” My very social son, was playing alone. The teacher confirmed that Gideon would routinely be alone and unable to initiate play with his peers. She recognized that he was “so small” compared to the others. Though they were close in age, he was still viewed as younger by the other students.
HOW DO THEY ENGAGE WITH SCHOOL WORK?
Doing any kind of school work was like pulling teeth. That happens with homework. No one wants to do work outside of school. However, there were so many tears and tantrums, it was rough. To write letters or read site words, gave me indigestion. Not only were there problems with homework, he brought home mostly blank in-class worksheets. The work wasn’t done. Sometimes attempts were made, sometimes they weren’t. When talked through at home, we noticed that he often was capable.
A sign of maturity is the ability to recognize the importance of doing work that you don’t want to do, of being able to match expectations in a healthy manner. When a child can do something, but chooses repeatedly not to, it’s important to ask deeper questions.
I scanned the artwork in the hallway. These days, I can spot Gideon’s a mile away. Usually there’s a monster shooting lasers out of it’s eyes or a skeletons, no matter the prompt. He engages in school work and homework with some resistance, but gets it done. He also has kept the same best friends all school year. They might fight, but remain important and consistent with one another.
Holding our son back, was not an easy decision. However, comparing the two school years, it has been evident that it was the best choice for him. The best choice to give him every advantage in the future. He wasn’t held back because he wasn’t capable or couldn’t fight through. He was held back, because as parents we shouldn’t make him fight if he doesn’t have to.
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