Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stratigic Start

 Once #2's teacher discovered that we had chosen an older start for our children without being prompted by a teacher she asked me if I would mind writing a letter for her to give to parents.  She expressed that so often parents get offended when she suggests that they give their little darling an extra year.  Here are the thoughts I put together for her...

The seven years I taught middle school before I had my first child have greatly affected my parenting.  If hind sight is 20/20, then I was given the gift of listening to what parents of teenagers would have done differently when their children were young if they could.  The most controversial parenting decision that has been based upon what I gleaned during my time with parents of middle school students is giving my children an "older start" in school.

In my seven years of teaching I sat in over 500 parent teacher conferences.  I cannot tell you how many times I heard a parent lament over how they wish they would have let their student mature another year before putting them in school but NOT ONE SINGLE TIME did I hear a parent express regret.  That is a huge statistic!  100% satisfaction in any parenting decision pretty much unheard of.  This caught my attention.  The other thing that was notable about these conferences is that the students who had been given the older start were usually functioning above average in middle school academics and social skills.   Some times the older start had been suggested by a teacher and other times the parents had made the decision without teacher recommendation. Regardless of why the parent chose to give their child another year to mature in those early years the fact was that they were thrilled with that decision 10 years later. 

My husband was on board with an older start because he is an August birthday and had experienced first hand some of the disadvantages to being the youngest in the class.  It is easy and socially acceptable to give an older start to a student who would have to graduate at 17, but if the student will turn 18 even the first month of college the line becomes more difficult to draw and socially questionable.  We decided in our house that your start date of Kindergarten would be determined by the rule that you must be 19 before Christmas of your freshman year of college regardless of how much genius potential you show at the age of five.

The first person we discussed this with was our pediatrician.  His response was, "Well I agree because I did it with my son and his birthday is in February.  It's not about intelligence it's about maturity and believe me this was not a popular idea in 1975."  Okay.  That was a clear vote for the older start team but my favorite response came from our son's preschool teacher.  She said, "I support you 100%.  How can another year of childhood hurt anyone?"  Yes.  How could it?  What's the rush?  

It is nice that the older start concept has become more popular and we actually know several parents that are older start proponents.  Yet, this is more true for our sons than our daughter.  People often look surprised when we tell them that we plan on giving her an older start too.  They first ask when her birthday is (It's in April) and then they say that they are surprised because girls are more mature than boys.  This may be true of 5 year old girls and boys but in my and my husbands experience 18 year old girls are not any more mature than 18 year old boys.  This answer usually makes them pause and then nod their head in agreement. 

The key to owning the older start philosophy is to not base it on your preschool child's abilities and behavior.  The likelihood of them being so smart that school becomes boring is very slim.  In my seven years of teaching I maybe had 2 students out of 1000 that honestly fell into that category, but it is still chatter that you hear frequently amongst preschool parents.  If you are wanting someone to affirm your decision talk to a pediatrician, child psychologist, or 1st grade teacher and be prepared that all grandparents are going to think you are crazy for "holding them back". 

You will not be holding them back.  You will be gaining a year to fortify their academic and social foundation.  You will be making a parenting choice now based on the benefits you will see in middle and high school.  This is not failure.  This is strategic parenting. 


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