The Gift of Childhood
|May 3, 2012||Posted by Laura under E, Special Education|
My husband and I are keeping E out of kindergarten next year. She will turn five next month so when she begins kindergarten at six she will be one of the oldest kids in her class. Truth be told, I made this decision when E first started Early Intervention at twenty months old. I have known we were going to do this for a very long time.
I am an elementary school teacher and I can tell you that kindergarten is not what it used to be. We expect so much more academically from young kids. While your child may be advanced academically, did she learn these skills one-on-one with you or did she learn them in a pre-school classroom setting? Kindergarten is not a one-on-one setting. It’s a noisy, loud, colorful classroom with twenty or more excited, squirmy little kids. To be successful in kindergarten, your child needs to be able to sit relatively still and focused for at least fifteen minutes at a time – even when there are other children around to distract her. She needs to be able to follow directions even if she would rather be doing something else. She needs to be at the same level socially as her same-age peers so she is not miserable on the playground. At most importantly, she needs to be able to pay attention to something for an extended length of time even if she would rather be doing something else!
These skills develop somewhere in the age range of 4-7. If your child cannot do these things at five, wait a year. There is not necessarily anything wrong with your child. He just needs more time to mature.
Starting a child too early will stay with him for his entire school career. I have a co-worker who has taught fifth grade for nearly twenty years. She touts that she can line up the students in her class in “age-abetical” order without looking at their birth dates ahead of time. Imagine that! Five years after finishing kindergarten, experienced teachers can still tell which children are struggling because they are too young. At the very least, struggling in school, whether socially or academically, leads to low self-esteem. There should be no rush to start a child who is not yet ready.
This has always been my professional opinion about kindergarten readiness. Then I had E and I was able to add my personal opinion as well. I knew there was no way that I would start my child with her disability at five. We were going to wait until she was six. I want E to attend kindergarten in a regular classroom setting with support. She does not have any cognitive delays and I don’t believe there is any reason for her to be in a self-contained classroom. Currently, E needs four 30-minute sessions of speech therapy each week. If she were in kindergarten and pulled out four times a week for that long, she would miss a lot of instruction time. She may continue to need this much speech in another year, but hopefully not. I want to give her the chance of not being pulled out of class so often. E is catching up socially, but she still struggles because of her speech disorder. I want her to have an extra year to continue catching up. I also want her to be able to make friends and be happy. Holding her out for another year will better her chances at this. E struggles significantly with her fine motor skills. We are working on them but she needs another year before she is required to be writing daily.
I’m not a bitter person nor do I hold onto regret. However, the one thing about E’s toddlerhood and preschool years that haunts me was and is my inability to just enjoy her. From eighteen months on I have had to watch and pick apart every single thing she has done. Was it a symptom of autism, apraxia, sensory processing disorder, something else? Things that seem cute to others – like spinning around poles – weren’t cute to me because I knew why she was doing it. Her replacing the “s” in sock with a “c” wasn’t cute either because I knew there was a very real possibility that she might still be doing when she was ten. I have been able to enjoy my other two children’s toddler and preschool years because I knew they were developing normally and all the cute things they did were just cute and they would grow out it. With E, I am never too sure. And when she does pass a milestone, I heave a sigh of relief but then we immediately have to move on to the next goal. There is very little time to just enjoy.
I don’t like feeling this way. No parent with a special needs child does. I’ve heard people say that when keeping a child out of kindergarten for a year you are really giving them the gift of an extra year of childhood. I hope that I am doing this with E but I also hope that I am giving myself the gift of an extra year of her childhood, an extra chance to just enjoy her for who she is, and let her thrive at her own pace.