The K question

 My son entered this world with his own agenda. It was Oct. 31, 2014, and I was just barely 34 weeks pregnant.

I was at work at St. David’s Center, going about the regular busyness of my day as an education coordinator in our early childhood education program, when I went into labor.

Being a natural life planner, I’d done everything I could possibly do to prepare for this baby: I read the books, set up the nursery and signed my husband and me up for all the relevant prenatal classes.

I followed the app on my phone that told me what size fruit the baby was each week.

In addition, working with children was my profession.

In short, I was ready.

But then, on that day, my water broke, my face paled and I said, “No. Not now. I’m not ready. He’s not ready. We’re not ready!”

Did he listen to me? No, he did not. And three hours later, he came into this world — ready or not. 

Facing the fear

Though I’m early on in my parenting journey, I can imagine this is what kindergarten will feel like. As a former pre-kindergarten teacher, I’ve worked with parents to help their children prepare for kindergarten, supporting them through typical and atypical development.

I’ve hugged parents and assured them amidst tears and fear that their children would grow and thrive in the next steps of their educational journeys.

I’d go through the checklist on my assessment tool, highlighting each child’s strengths in the classroom (one-to-one correspondence or following multi-step directions).

We’d discuss goals (letter identification or problem-solving in social situations).

But even when everything looked great on paper, the fear was always there. I’d see it in the faces of many parents.

No. Not now. I’m not ready. He’s not ready. We’re not ready.

kids working at a table

Trending

So, why not just put it off? Wait another year, and my child will be ready then?

“Red-shirting” — a term used for delaying an athlete’s participation in college competition for a year — is now being used to describe the decision to delay enrollment into kindergarten.

In Minnesota children who are age 5 by Sept. 1 are eligible for kindergarten.

Parents with kids whose fifth birthdays fall shortly before September are often terribly torn. They can’t help but compare their 5-year-olds to some of the others, who are almost a year older — especially those born shortly after Sept. 1 — and wonder what to do.

Other parents consider red-shirting even when their kids birthdays aren’t near the borderline.

They may see delays in certain areas of development or maturity (emotional, academic or behavioral). Some say they want their children to have an edge in athletics.

Researchers have conducted surveys and studies to discover the short-term and long-term effects of holding children back another year.

But the jury’s still out. No one really knows the right answer. As an early childhood professional, I maintain that, when it comes to development, you can’t have a one-size-fits-all answer.

The only definite answer I have is that if it becomes a trend — and more and more children are held back — there will be serious implications to consider for preschool classrooms (already working hard to explore new and more challenging curriculums) as well as kindergarten classrooms (facing ever-widening gaps in skills among students).

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not the issue of just one or two children being held back, it’s the “trend” term that troubles me.

If an increasing number of kids are held back, it will change the academic landscape — a landscape that’s already being scrutinized for accelerating too quickly: “Kindergarten is the new first grade. Preschool is the new kindergarten.”

At St. David’s Center, our preschool teachers use assessment tools with extensive checklists to monitor children’s development. But even with checklists, the choice to enter kindergarten comes down to parents making their own judgment calls.

kids interacting with teacher

Questions to ask

So what do you really need to look for when it comes to your child being ready for kindergarten?

1. My child can perform basic skills independently.

Can your child use the bathroom, including wiping?

Can your child get dressed? Put a jacket on to go outside?

Is your child able to follow a daily routine, with or without picture reminders?

 

2. My child follows directions and safety rules.

Does your child pick up toys and put them away independently or when asked?

Does your child transition from place to place and from one activity to another safely with you or with a group?

 

3. My child communicates with adults when he or she needs help.

Does your child communicate with familiar adults?

 

4. My child successfully functions as part of a group.

Does your child join other children in play?

 

5. My child makes friends and plays cooperatively.

Does your child recognize emotions in others?

Is your child able to work through a social problem independently or with your assistance?

 

6. My child is able to regulate his or her emotions appropriately.

Does your child use words and phrases like “I don’t like that,”or “Can I play?”

If your child is upset about something, does he or she respond without using physical aggression or self-harm?

These skills need to be modeled and taught.

Yes, your child will have more of an opportunity to practice these skills he or she waits another year to enter kindergarten. But there’s the other side of the coin to consider: Many children have already built the foundation for these skills and they’re now ready for new opportunities to practice them.

And kindergarten provides that chance.

At St. David’s Center, we work with children with a variety of abilities. Your child may not be showing the above skills, and that’s OK. Development is a wide, wide range.

But when it comes to making important decisions that will impact your child’s education, I believe, it’s necessary to open all the doors.

In fact, I believe there’s a seventh item missing from the above list above:

 

7. My child has access to resources.

A parent and a child with access to resources is a child who is going to be beyond prepared for kindergarten. 

children sitting on the floor listening to teacher

Another way

Utilizing local resources, I think, could be an alternative to red-shirting for many families.

If you’ve identified a few areas of concern for your child, that’s Step 1. Consulting with your child’s doctor, teacher or school district could be Step 2. Utilizing resources can be Step 3.

In Minnesota, we’re so lucky. There are plenty of resources we can access if we feel a child isn’t where he or she should be developmentally.

Birth-to-3 services (sometimes known as early intervention), whether public or private, are available for those who are open to them. I believe we all benefit from early childhood intervention, no matter what developmental journey a child might be taking.

While I maintain that parents always know their child best, I’m a big fan of the “it takes a village” approach. And Minnesota has built a fine village.

As long as you’re willing to look and willing to accept support, you can find it here. (See a list of local resources at the end of this article.)

Diving in together

My son entered this world with his own agenda and I’m sure he will enter kindergarten with his own schedule as well.

I want what any parent wants; I want him to be ready.

Every parent truly has to check in with everything they know about their children and make decisions that feel right.

No blaming. No shaming.

I do, however, hope there’s some comfort in knowing it might not be as complicated as you thought it would be — and that you have access to more resources than you might have realized.

In the end, we’re all the same. We’re all that scared parent. We look into our 5-year-olds’ sun-kissed faces in disbelief.

How did this day come so fast?

It may not be this year, but it will be some year and — just as I held my son’s hand as we waded in Lake Calhoun the other week — I plan to one day take his 5- or 6-year-old little hand and dive in to that thing called kindergarten.

I just know I’ll hear, “We’ve got you. We’re all in this together.”

3 early learning resources to explore

Minnesota Department of Education – education.state.mn.us

Find a wealth of information about many early learning topics, including:

  • Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE)
  • Early Childhood Screening Requirements
  • Early Learning Scholarships Programs
  • Head Start
  • Infant and Toddler Intervention/Preschool Special Education
  • School Readiness/Kindergarten
  • Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge
  • Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten

Help Me Grow – helpmegrowmn.org

This new educational program — a collaboration of the Minnesota Department of Education, the Department of Health and Department of Human Services and other local service agencies — was developed to provide resources for parents and other caregivers who have questions or concerns about their child’s growth and development.

Minnesota Department of Health – health.state.mn.us

Check out the Early Intervention System page for information about birth-to-3 and 3-to-5 services. See the Children and Youth with Special Health Needs page for a list of CYSHN programs in Minnesota.


Camie Christensen is the program director of the Early Childhood Education Program at St. David’s Center in Minnetonka. St. David’s is a preschool, children’s mental health clinic and pediatric therapy clinic. Learn more at stdavidscenter.org