Last night I took a very special little person to school for the first time. He’s been to school daily for almost his entire life as we’ve dropped off and picked up his older brothers, or attended this or that assembly or concert or open house. But he’s never been to school, just for him. He was tickled that it was finally his turn to go while his brothers stayed home for a change. Olivier, my third born boy who loves dinosaurs and lives inside of his own imagination, held my hand and went to his very own Kindergarten Orientation in such a state that he was practically vibrating with energy.
I don’t think I can overstate how badly this boy wants to go to school. He’s been asking when it’s going to be his turn since he was 2.5 and the boys went off to kindergarten and grade 2. I’ve been pulling back on the going to school excitement all this time, telling him that he has to wait until he’s 5 to start school. The cutoff here is March 1. I am aware of how different that is from everywhere else, and how odd it must seem that we send children to kindergarten as young as aged 4.5 years old. To me it is odd that people in other places wait until children are nearing or already 6 to send them to kindergarten. That is simply not done here. A 6 year old in kindergarten, unless they are turning 6 sometime maybe in Jan/Feb but mostly in March or after, would stand out in a group of 4.5 to 5.5 year olds. Growing up, all of my peers who were already whatever the next age was for that grade, often got asked if they “failed” a grade, because otherwise why would they be so much older? Usually, all of the children born right up until the end of December go to school. The January/February kids are a bit of a toss up. Some go, some wait. Depends on the kid. When I polled friends informally on Facebook, all of the ones who’d waited replied publicly telling me not to send Olivier this year, while the ones who sent their kids young sent me private messages telling me that if the kid is ready to just send them and it would be fine. Because Olivier has a February birthday, he is eligible to go this fall and be one of those young 4.5 year olds. We weren’t going to do it. I know and generally agree with, all of the reasons why it’s usually better to wait to send the very youngest of the youngest kids and have them be the oldest instead. So right up until Christmas I was firm on how we were not sending him and would be waiting another year.
Then he started to learn how to read in February, right as he was turning 4. That was when the doubt came. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he should go. Kindergarten here is very much still what kindergarten is supposed to be. Letters, numbers, stories, learning through center time, and adjusting to classroom routine and expectations. It is half day and it is low pressure. There are no academic standards which children are expected to meet before entering school. They learn through play and hands on exploration and activities. Mateo loved kindergarten so much that he wanted to go back almost all the way through grade 1.
Even still, I looked into preschool. Maybe Olivier could just do preschool for a year. Every single preschool or private junior kindergarten that I looked up -and there were quite a few- advertised essentially the same thing. Two or three days each week for 2 or 3 hours, for $150-$400 each month. He would learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors, patterns, seasons of the year, holidays, social skills, and have his first exposure to being part of a classroom. Totally reasonable. If he didn’t already have the academic side of what preschool has to offer, totally down. Why pay for that when he can go to kindergarten 5 days a week for 2.5 hours, for free? He needs more. He needs to go to kindergarten.
I still didn’t want to send him. I talked to the boys’ old kindergarten teacher, who knows my kids very well. She said to send him. I asked the principal of the current school, as well as the Catholic school up the street, and they both said that if he’s beginning reading, to send him. The being youngest part will sort itself out because he won’t be the only kid who turns 5 late. I talked to one of the kindergarten teachers at the current school and he said the same thing. So I got the registration forms. I filled them out. And they sat on the counter for 2 months. Or maybe 4 months. Who’s keeping track?
What is wrong with me? I have done this before. I have sent two children to school already. One of whom started kindergarten having been assessed with the fine motor skills of a 9 month to 2.5 year old, whose teacher had to create an escape space for him to use to calm himself down because the whole going to school thing was an exceptionally overwhelming transition for the poor kid, and who ran his little self out the door and down the hall when another student dared hug him that one time. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder halfway through kindergarten. Yet knowing he was in the middle of assessments for autism, I still sent Andreas to kindergarten having just turned 5 and being in the middle of the pack age wise. I sent my firstborn to school without a second thought. I sent my second born, who had some pretty major things going on at the time, with a lot of anxiety but no doubt whatsoever. Why then haven’t I been able to register Olivier, the child who loves all the people in all of the places at all of the times? The one who wants to go to kindergarten more than any other child I’ve met in my life, apart from possibly me. Why not? As if I even know.
Kindergarten isn’t supposed to be this hard before it starts.
So I waited. I waited and I talked the ears off of my best friend Jaclyn and my husband Glenn. Almost daily. I don’t even know why either of them are still speaking to me on friendly terms at this point. This obsessing has been going on from February until last night, when kindergarten orientation happened. Cue kindergarten teacher introducing herself. I tell her that I have been having a really hard time deciding whether to send him and that I haven’t handed in the registration forms yet. She then shares with me that her own son is a day younger than Olivier and she cried for a month over whether or not to send him, until her husband finally stepped in, made the decision, and registered him. She joked that we can be kindred spirits in the stress of sending our 4.5 year olds to kindergarten.
Done. The doubt left. I love my sweet little Olivier and I love having him home with me every day. I love watching him play and learn and seeing his imagination at work. I don’t want to share him. I am not ready. But he is. He’s bored at home, and needs to be challenged. And in that moment of talking to the kindergarten teacher, my reasons for sending him made sense and the doubt left. If the teacher is sending her own son, then I can feel confident sending mine. He’s going to kindergarten. I handed in the registration forms and walked out of there knowing that this is a done deal.
Do I still wonder how it’s going to go? Yes. But the thing that has kept me from putting the decision off altogether, saying to hell with it and waiting a year, is the knowledge that if we were to wait a year, he’d be bored learning the alphabet at going on 6 years old when he’s got it now. He’d be bored and he’d be nothing but mischief. If we’d waited, I can hear the teacher asking me why we didn’t send him sooner. I may be a proud mama but I’m also an honest one and this boy seeks attention when he’s got nothing else to do. Better to keep this one engaged and enthusiastic now than hold him back and frustrate him (and his teacher) later. All of the what if’s that have been causing me doubt are starting to fade. Doubts like:
What if he struggles later on? What if I get hit by a bus tomorrow? Should I not leave the house? If he struggles later on we’ll help him. Besides, what if he succeeds? I don’t want to hold him back now on the fear that some challenge may arise in the future. Fear is a bad reason to make a decision.
He’ll drive last. What does this have to do with his education? He gets his license halfway through grade 11 instead of between grade 10 and 11. This is not a big deal. I don’t plan to give my kids an all access pass to my vehicle anyway. City transit exists for a reason. If he has a job and his own car, he can drive when he can drive.
He won’t be 18 when he graduates. Only about half of the grads are 18 here. Half are 17. Glenn turned 18 the November after he graduated. I turned 18 in August after I graduated. Technically I graduated in January of grade 12 because I’d met the credit requirements and the government mailed my diploma to me early so I wasn’t even close to 18. I only walked the stage in May because that’s when that event took place. The last half of grade 12 was spent taking a math class for a scholarship and working part time at Investor’s Group. I had my foot out the door of high school well before it ended. Mateo and Andreas will turn 18 in July and September after they graduate. Nobody in this household will be 18 when they graduate, unless we send Rosalie late. Oh well. And you know what else? The drinking age in this province is 18 years old. I would much rather my kids NOT be legally allowed to drink while they are in high school anyway. Be 17. Be a teenager. Finish school while I can still kill your joy by not letting you act like an 18 year old. THEN go be an adult and hit those other adult milestones when I don’t have to ask if you have a test on Monday morning. Take a year off and work to save money for school. If they’re only 17 going on 18 there certainly won’t be a rush for college. Go on a mission trip. Take up a hobby. Make money. Serve people. Work. Hate your job. Get a new job. Figure out what to go to college for. Be sure. Make more money before you quit your job to go to college and be poor for 4 years. No, really. This is what I plan to tell my kids. And it’s all coming out of my dilemma out of whether to send my kid to kindergarten. I need a life. (If they want to go to college right out of high school, that’s cool too. I did. They’ll be 20 or 21 with a degree and lots of time for the living. Whatever. Either way they’ll be fine.)
He might fall behind socially. I kind of doubt this. Because of the next point.
He might get pushed ahead socially. Too late. With 2 older brothers close in age to him, he’s already being pushed ahead socially. Mateo being firstborn was sheltered and kind of naive, and he still is compared to some of his peers who have older siblings. Those kids seem to have more of an idea of what’s coming next, while Mateo just doesn’t. Olivier has always been on the heels of his older brothers. Being around older kids all the time is his normal. It’s really okay. To be honest, I’m glad that Olivier will be only 2 years behind Andreas in school, because they are just under 2.5 years apart in age. The kids at school won’t corrupt him any more than his brothers already have, and he’ll have his brothers not too far ahead of him.
What about bullies? He could be bullied for being the oldest just as easily as for being the youngest. Or for any other number of stupid reasons. This goes back to the fear thing. I refuse to hold my kid back from something that will be such a good experience for him now, out of fear of a hypothetical situation that may or may not take place later.
This decision to send a kid to kindergarten, when their birthday flirts with the cut off date, is so much harder than I thought it would be. I almost wish that we didn’t have the option. That the age range for kindergarten was set and that there wasn’t any overlap to make parents stress over. I know lots of other parents who have had the same choice to make, and decided differently for the best of their particular child and situation. When we have to make this same decision for Rosalie in a couple of years, we’ll be asking ourselves the same questions and we may decide differently for her. It’s hard to say. A big part of my sending Olivier is his eagerness to read and learn now, and my desire to take advantage of that during such foundational growing years. Pour as much into him as he wants to soak up and it’ll always be there. I would not have sent Andreas early if he’d had a later birthday because he had so much going on when he was 4, even though he was (and is) a very bright little boy. Every kid is so different, even in the same family.
I’m just glad that for this one, the decision is made and we can stop fretting over it. Olivier is heading to Kindergarten, baby! (And he is really, really excited!)
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved