Should You Redshirt Your Kindergartner?

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S1: This bonus episode of Mom and Dad are fighting is on your slate plus feed, thanks to Target.

S2: Welcome to Mom and dad are fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Tuesday, August 4th, that should you redshirt your kindergartner, Ed.. I’m Elizabeth New Camp. I write the Home School and Family Travel Blog. Duquesnoy excuse. I’m the mom to three. Little Henry eight, Oliver six and Teddy three. And I’m located in Navarre, Florida. I’m Jamilah Lemieux.

S3: I’m a writer contributor to Slate’s Care and Feeding Parenting column and Mom tonight of seven. And we reside in Los Angeles, California.

S2: Kamala and I are very excited to announce that this is the first of six special episodes. There’s so much to discuss when it comes to getting ready for the new school year this year, especially so for the next six Tuesdays will be delving into everything from building relationships with your child’s teacher, even when school is online to creating studio spaces at home. On today’s show, we’ll be discussing starting kindergarten.

S1: While everything is so nontraditional in the name of safety, plenty of parents hold their kindergarten age children back a year for a myriad of reasons. Can covid-19 be one of them? But before we get into that, we have triumphs and fails.

S4: Djamila yes, so far triumphs and fails during our special bonus episode of Mom and Dad are Fighting, we are going to give you some vintage or a classic taste, if you will, from either our own lives as children or our experiences with our kids. So this week we’re talking about kindergarten and I’m going to tell a story of a fail on the part of little Djamila or perhaps little Jamila’s mom, depending on how you look at the situation. So it Chicago nineteen eighty nine or perhaps nineteen ninety. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roll the world. Of course, they suddenly ruled my world and one of them in particular, Rafaelle, also rolled my heart. But that’s a conversation for another day. So they were coming out with a line of Ninja Turtle cookies and there was going to be an appearance at a local grocery store by one of the Ninja Turtles. I forget which one it was. I know it wasn’t Rafaelle because he was my favorite. I think it was Michelangelo anyway. So my mom tells me I’m going to pick you up a little bit early from school so we can go to the grocery store and see the Ninja Turtle and get some cookies. Right. So I hear I’m going to pick you up a little early from school. I’m five. I do not have any concept of time. So I’m thinking early dismissal. Like, I’m barely going to be at school. Like I came here to check in and then it’s time to get on with this Cookie and Ninja Turtle business. And so I just remember that entire day just feeling so worried and so nervous that my mom had either changed her mind or wasn’t telling the truth and that she wasn’t going to come. And I even like because I had separation anxiety. I would spend some special time with the school counselor once a week to talk about, you know, the fads that I felt when I got dropped off at school. And I remember talking to her about and her saying, I’m sure she’s coming. You know, she she usually use her words. You’re right. And laying down on my little mat during nap time and my mat had hearts on it and the hearts made me emotional and weepy, just thinking like my heart broken Ninja Turtle cookies. I thought this was happening. I couldn’t look at the desk because the desk was green and it reminded me of the Ninja Turtles that I was not seeing while I was toiling away at school. And finally, at some point, my mother shows up quite on time. By the way, she was not at all dishonest about her intentions to pick me up maybe thirty minutes away from school and we made it to the grocery store. And yes, I was afraid of the Ninja Turtle and didn’t really interact with him. But those cookies are super delicious. I still remember what they tasted like.

S1: Oh goodness I, I can so relate to that. Like well I have a child that’s obsessed with time and always obsessed with am I going to not be there. And I feel like you’ve placed me in what he expresses to me.

S5: But in adult words it’s so urgent when you’re alone, you know, it’s like on one hand you really don’t get how time works. But what you do know is how you feel about it. And, yeah, are we going to get there or not? Because right now it feels like not. You promise me. And then I was here all day. I was here all day. Where were you?

S1: Any person in costume is like freaky to me, but I’m glad the cookie was good.

S5: Be the cookie was very good. It tasted like a chocolate chip. Teddy Graham. Oh, yum. They were delicious. Yes. Were they too shaped like Ninja Turtles? They were. They were. They were probably made by the same company that I could look this up. But I think they were probably like like Ninja Turtle Ninja Turtles shapes Teddy Grahams.

S1: Yes. My goodness. Well, I have a fail about kindergarten drop off. This is about Henry. But to preface that by saying, like, I was the type of kid that was so excited to, like, go to kindergarten and meet other people that, you know, my parents say I, like, hopped out of the car and was like, see, I’m going to have a great day. I’m going to meet new people.

S6: So although we homeschool now, my kids went to school in the Netherlands and. So we had to drop Henry off for his first day of school in the Netherlands, of course, like Jeff and I do not speak Dutch, Henry does not speak Dutch. We had been there only a few weeks and the school was in our neighbourhood and there was some decision. There’s like a bunch of local schools like which school to go to. They’re all like located in a line. But this particular school, the building was two stories and the classroom he was going to be in was on the second story. And it’s all glass on one wall that like looks over where you park your bikes because you ride your bike to school and you park your bike and then you take your kid up.

S1: So I get up and, you know, the other parents are just like handing their kids over and leaving.

S6: And I’m like, OK, but this is our kids first day and it’s not a year round school. So this wasn’t like the start of school for them. Now I get Henry all settled and he’s really anxious like these people speak that, you know, we haven’t been to school in the US. This is kind of our first school experience.

S1: And a teacher is just like Shuey, like you need to go. So, like, OK, so like go they like pick Henry up from like I had him settle doing a puzzle or something and they walk him over to the glass window and they hold him there as he watches me walk out the door and they’re like holding his little hand up to wave and he is just like crying. They are like walk and I like turn around. I’m waving, he’s crying. And I’m trying to motion, like, should I come back up? And they’re like, no, get off, get on your bike. You know, like motioning to me. So I get on my bike and I like, bike away and they are making him watch me bike away. And this is what they did for like weeks. But you know what? He’s fine. Eventually he’s fine. I think the Dutch are just very like, we’re going to rip this Band-Aid off. Your mom is going to leave you and you are going to be fine. But it was traumatizing for me as a parent. I don’t know how Henry feels about it. He does it. But I’m thinking like I’m leaving my baby, like my oldest child with these people that don’t I mean, they do speak English but are not going to speak English to him. He has no idea what’s happening and now he has to watch me leave. So, yes, it was traumatizing, but he’s OK. I mean, of course, now I home school. So maybe this is like some kind of therapy.

S5: But why are you chose to end this practice of sending your children to school? I think this is unlocking a lot of things right now.

S4: It’s really I think we should acknowledge, like the first day of school can be deeply traumatic for parents and kindergarten in particular. And so, like with everything being, you know, as strange as it is right now, I wouldn’t call that a blessing in disguise. But there is an anxious moment that a lot of parents are not going to have to deal with that. We did like my memory of as first day of kindergarten is having to walk away from her when she was in line with her new class and she still had on her sunglasses, you know, like she shook her teacher’s hand and she still had on her sunglasses. And I was so proud and like, look at my little diva, you know, she’s so fabulous. She’s ready for the world. But also, you know that the walking away, we can’t peek in the class. We can’t linger like, you know, most schools. You can’t walk them to the door in kindergarten. You know, it’s like like you said, here’s where we end. Here’s where we part. And there’s a very dramatic sort of tableau of like either they’re watching you leave or you’re watching them leave.

S1: I know it sucks, but you know what? They’re all OK.

S5: I mean, apparently maybe I’m not OK, but but the kids are OK and I’m OK.

S1: But yes, yes, they’ll survive. So I think no matter what your no matter what your kindergarten experience is, it’s it’s going to be OK. That’s I think that’s the message we’re trying to send. Right.

S4: It’s going to be OK. Kindergarten is just like middle school for tiny people. It’s like it’s really rough, but you get through it or it’s rough on their parents.

S1: Maybe it’s middle school for parents, right? It’s our sixth grade redo all again. Well, since we’re talking all about kindergarten, we’re going to move on to today’s listener question. It’s being read by the incomparable Sasha Lanard.

S7: Dear mom and dad, my five year old will be starting kindergarten this fall, which was already a source of some anxiety for her father. And I’m her preschool closed in March due to covid. So not only will this be her first time at real school, but she’s been in the house with us as we work from home for months now. We are wondering, should we enroll her in kindergarten? We completely understand and agree with the safety precautions our school district is taking for the fall semester. Even if they are partially in person or online, her schooling isn’t going to be the same. Plenty of parents hold their kindergarten age kids back for a year for a myriad of reasons. But is covid a good enough reason? If we do enroll her and their school is partially in person, how can we deal with her first day jitters and ours?

S1: That’s a great question. And here to help us answer the question is Slate’s Ruth Graham. Welcome, Ruth. Thank you. It’s great to be here. Hey, Ruth. Ruth, you have a kindergarten age daughter. Have you been having this debate?

S8: Yes, we’ve been having this debate all summer long. My daughter is supposed to start kindergarten this fall. She’s turning five this Saturday at. You know, I can’t answer the specific question of whether to enroll, because I feel like there are so many factors like what are the rates in your area? What are your jobs? Do you have any kind of supplemental child care help like your child’s personality? These are all the things that we’ve been debating. I will say my family is strongly leaning toward not enrolling my daughter in kindergarten and actually just skipping kindergarten rather than redshirting. So just starting first grade. I mean, knock on wood. Oh, my God. But, you know, assuming things look different next fall, just starting first grade next fall. It is such a personal decision. I think the biggest thing for us and there is just that we have a system right now that is roughly working. You know, if I had looked at it six months ago, I don’t know that I would have described it that way. But, you know, relatively with the way the world is right now, we’re getting through the days. That’s a huge one. I would say if you’re not in that situation, then I do think, you know, it makes sense to more strongly consider sending her back. My view of kindergarten is that it’s socialization. It’s not an academic scene. Like I’m not sending her there to, like, get ahead in any way. And again, that varies a lot, you know, family by family. And I don’t mean to dismiss that. You know, people think about this in very different ways. But for us, like, I feel like my daughter is on track academically. And what I want for her is to be around other kids and have that kind of loose. You know, you’re in a classroom, you’re heading toward the classroom life, but you’re also just hanging out with other kids, which she’s an only child. She’s not getting that at all right now. And then, of course, like you said, you know, this year, though, is not going to be that kind of loose play hang out kind of kindergarten. It’s not going to match our memories of kindergarten, which I know is what a lot of that anxiety comes from. I don’t think that means that’s going to be scarring. I don’t think you should be afraid of it if you decide that it’s the best thing for your family you will have in mind. And, you know, we have to do that. Even if you send them back, of course, in two weeks, like who knows what’s happening? And they could be sent back home for remote. It’s just going to be a year where it’s hard to know what the next week is going to look like. My daughter’s pre-K, where she, of course, has not been in March, but they used to say it’s a zigzag or day, like any time, any time they sort of broke routine because kids are so routine oriented. They would just be like, it’s a zigzaggy day, we’re doing this. And I think that this is going to be a zigzag or a year for all of these kids. You know, I have thought of the question of like, how do I we actually have not told my daughter yet. She has, like, stopped. She doesn’t, like, talk about kindergarten every day. I’m not, like, lying to her, but we haven’t kind of presented to her, like, actually this is how we’re going to do kindergarten. And I thought a lot about that. And I think for me, when you’re talking to a kid, if you present it as like we have thought this through, this just is what it is. There are only five like that. It will become normal to her because you present it as normal. And if you kind of bake in the uncertainty into it, like, you know, we don’t know exactly what this year will look like, but it is our job and the school’s job to keep you safe. Know, some weeks might look different than other week. Some days might look different than other weeks. But, you know, we’re all working on this and you’re going to have a great year. Don’t let her see your anxiety. Whatever you do choose. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that since March with, you know, mixed success. But at this age, I think it’s easier to do that than, you know, I think a lot of ways these choices I’m kind of striking that tone gets harder the more kids open up to the world at this age, I think you can really, really set that tone in your own home. She’s never been to kindergarten. You know, she has the classroom experience. You mentioned that. I think that’s great. I think it will serve her well and she will remember that. And it means it won’t be such a huge transition to start in that classroom. I don’t think anyone can make this decision for another family, but I would think about just heading on to first grade next year rather than holding back. And again, that’s like such a kid by kid decision. But I do feel good about just keeping her going and not having her be the oldest kid in the class next year. That it just it depends on your kid. But that would be the one thing that I would think about as you decide how to approach this year.

S9: Really like pre-K preschool, you know, depending on what it’s called in your area and kindergarten are some of the most diverse spaces in terms of like once you get to first grade, like you’ve got kids that are coming from such vastly different, like even if the kids are similar or socioeconomically, racially like that, you’re just encountering kids that have had very different academic experiences to date. You know, you’ve had people who have essentially been in the care of babysitters and family members. You have people that have been in traditional classroom settings, like my daughter went to a daycare center for three years where she wore uniforms and there was, you know, curricula and, you know, it was treated like school for very small people and. So when she entered a kindergarten setting, she adjusted in ways that were different than, you know, children that had been inside of a school before and some ways for better and others could argue for worse. You know, I think it really is a decision that has to be made based on who your child is. And for me at the top of that list, before we even get into the individual personality of the child, I think it’s really a matter of safety. Under no circumstances should parents who feel that they have options that are safe and reasonable for keeping their children safe should they instead send their children into a physical school building, because it seems like the right thing to do or even if it’s a matter of distance learning and not feeling that that’s going to be an adequate experience? I think that’s fair. But I think it also can be argued that there’s the possibility that even if the doors to schools open for the spring semester or if they reopen for the fall of twenty, twenty one, I think we will now always live with the possibility that this happens again. And so being introduced to traditional school via distance learning may not be ideal, but it also may be an introduction that is necessary. Right. Or one that’s very helpful when your kid is in second grade and covid 22 comes around. Right. And so now they have some context for I’ve had to sit at a computer. I’ve had to sit at a tablet for three hours a day while my parents worked. But ultimately, as I said, this is really a decision that I don’t think there’s a hard, fast rule for families to look at. I think this is a matter of knowing your child, knowing your circumstances and letting safety be your primary goal.

S8: Yeah, I feel a little bit differently about the idea of like getting her used to being on a tablet for school, although I get that. I would rather defer that as long as I can because I find it so depressing. And I like kids, pick up technology so fast. Right. So she has to like, learn how to use a tablet in second grade instead of kindergarten. I feel confident that she can do that. And I would just rather not like plunging into that, even though, you know, you’re right. Like, that might be what second grade looks like. It might be what fourth grade looks like. I just have been erring on the side of like, let’s defer that. Like she when we’re on family Zoom’s and she just, like, zoned out for that stuff. I cannot picture her tuning into a kindergarten lesson that way. The idea of like training her to sit still to stare at a screen is so sad to me.

S6: So I had like three kind of things to keep in mind, I thought when she was making these decisions, because, again, like we’ve all said, I think this is like such a personal decision based on like your child and what your family looks like and what the routine looks like and all of these questions. But I think three things to keep in mind are like, one, you can always change your mind. So if you send her to school and then you decide this is not what you want to do and you want to homeschool or you want to transfer to virtual learning or you want to do all of that, that is always available. And so I don’t think any parent should make a decision now thinking like, well, I’m I’m in this for the whole year. Like, yes, the inconsistency is bad for kids and for routines. But like you said, like twenty twenty is just this, like Zig-Zag year and inconsistency is going to have to be something that we get used to. So knowing that you can change your mind and it’s OK to make one decision now and change your mind in six months and three months in whenever, that’s totally fine. I think also remember that your child has no idea what before time kindergarten looks like. Like I read a lot of this letter to say like I had this kindergarten experience that look like X and my child needs to have X. And I just think, like, what we had is never what our kids had and never what they experience. And school has changed so much since we’ve been there. So they are only going to know what they experience now. So it’s OK to make that decision that like this doesn’t seem like something my child would like. Like you’re saying, Ruth, like the whole idea of being in front of tablets is just not something we want to cross the bridge with.

S1: I think that’s a perfectly fine decision to make as a family. It’s also OK to say, like even if they come home, like, what else would I do with them and say we’re just going to do the tablets? Like, that’s totally fine. I also think that No. Two and Djamila, you kind of hinted at this, that we don’t know what things are going to look like going forward.

S6: So covid-19 could completely change our landscape in so many ways, including schools, including how we go forward in schools.

S1: We are, I think, still very much in the middle of this, even as numbers rise and fall, like we don’t know what the fall is going to look like. We don’t know what vaccines are going to look like. So I wouldn’t make the decision in mind thinking like, well, we’re not going to do it this year because it will be normal next year, because I think that normal next year is not a guarantee. And I think we all hope we’re there. And if you really feel that way, you wear your mask, wash your hands socially distance. Right. All of those things will help us get to normal. But even if we do that, it’s not a guarantee. We don’t know what else we have in mind. So while I think. covid is a reason to consider I think you shouldn’t do it to give them this experience next year, but I think you have all these other options. And like Ruth says, you could skip kindergarten altogether. You could decide to start kindergarten and then stop kindergarten. You could decide to go to virtual learning or home school. So I think there are so many tools in your toolbox and whatever at the end of the day that you feel comfortable with and feel like your family can do and feel like it’s best for safety and mental health, I think is kind of the most important thing. And I think we’re all in agreement that like kindergarten education there, there are certainly people that that is very important for and there are people that that is less important for. And I think it’s OK to evaluate yourself and say, where do I fall on the scale and how much of an influence is that?

S9: Kindergarten is one of the most low stakes academic year in a kid’s life. Right. And my daughter was in kindergarten at a new school, you know, at an elementary school for the first time. And she was enrolled there with us knowing that we’d be moving across the country the following summer. So we took know work seriously. We attended events and participated, and we were a part of the school community. But I also gave myself the grace at times to allow Naima to miss a day of school, to do something with me, to extend the family vacation a little bit longer, because maybe we’re not going to get to Chicago as often when we have to go from California to Chicago as we used to or, you know, there’s a concert. But she wants to go to and it’s on a Sunday and she’s in kindergarten. We can do this. And I think that in this moment, because our lives have been disrupted in such profound ways, you know, in ways that have created a lot of sadness, that have certainly upended our routines and have taken away a lot of our favorite experiences and things that would define a summer or a new school year, that it’s OK to say, like, I’d rather focus on cuddling my kid and keeping them safe and maybe having them underfoot during the workday feels better and more comforting for both of us right now than having them trying to either physically attend a school or attend a school remotely while I half heartedly supervise their film learning calls. I think that’s fine.

S1: The reality, too, is that, like, everyone’s going to be making a different decision this year. And so when we return to normal or whatever the new normal is, the school is going to deal with that one way or another. So I also don’t think that fretting too much about that is important. Like you can fret about that, I guess, when it comes, because we don’t know what that’s going to look like. I don’t know what’s going to look like when all these kids go back from all these different ways of learning and all these different things they’re doing right. And figuring out how the schools move forward. That’s going to be a discussion wherever you’re sending your kids. So I. I just wouldn’t put too much interest in that either. And focus, like Jamila said, more on. Yeah. How how do you feel safe and how does that make you feel good. And it sounds like you found something that you guys feel like is going to work.

S8: Yeah, I feel confident in the decision, you know, with all of the same kinds of anxieties and you know, all of that looking forward to this year, just not knowing what it’s going to hold, because I like knowing what’s coming. But I, I think this is what is best for us is to just kind of like opt out of the stress of trying to set up these different programs and, you know, sit still and look at a screen or to be, you know, with a masked teacher who she doesn’t know. You know, it’s one thing if the kid has been in the school already for a few years, you know, that’s another thing with kindergarten is by definition, you’re starting a whole new thing, even if I guess there are some, you know, some kids up in pre-K in the same building, but it’s just a whole new thing no matter what. So we’re just going to kind of skip it, skip like, you know, a lot of the stress, hopefully. I mean, you do make a great point that we don’t know that next year it’s not going to be this magic button where it’s back to normal, but it will be something else. And we can assess then. And in the meantime, we’re just going to sort of keep muddling through as a family. I think that’s kind of where we all are. We’re all muddling through. You’re all my hero.

S1: Well, OK, letter writer, thank you so much for the question and good luck to you and your little one room. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing how you’re processing all this and how, you know, you guys are going to handle the kindergarten year. Thank you.

S8: Thank you. It was good to be here. And further processing. It helps me too. So thanks.

S3: And that’s our show. If you have a question, email us at Mom and dad at plate dot com or post it to the Slate Facebook group. Just search for Slate parenting. We’ll see you back here in the podcast feed on Thursday. And don’t forget to join us next Tuesday for another special bonus episode of Mom and Dad are Fighting. Mom and Dad Are Fighting is produced by Rosemarie Bellson. A special thanks to Ruth Graham for Djamila with you. I’m Elizabeth.