I usually look forward to the whole back-to-school routine, but this year it has a different ring to it. My son is repeating first grade, and I think it’s my fault.
In the big picture, it’s probably not as big as it feels right now.
But there is no worse feeling than knowing that your child needs to take a step back because of your decisions. Even though you thought you were doing the right thing at the time.
In hindsight, it’s clear. He was just a few days within the cutoff to start kindergarten. He was still 4 when he went, turning 5 about a month after school started. (The cutoff has since changed.)
His pre-K teacher said he was ready (though we knew the responsibility of the decision was ours). He was soaring academically, and I got caught up in the pride of that. Wow, we must be great parents! I thought…
I just assumed his maturity would catch up to the academics. And to be honest, I was also really looking forward to not paying another full year of daycare.
So he went to Kindergarten.
I remember in the break room one day, I had a conversation with a coworker whose child was the same age. She seemed uneasy that we were starting kindergarten, and she seemed to wonder about her decision to wait another year. But she just didn’t think her son was ready yet.
I even said “please don’t worry, you’re doing what’s right for your son, and that’s never a bad thing.”
And now my own words come screaming back to me….
“You’re doing what’s right for your son, and that’s never a bad thing.” Painful as it is.
He did okay in Kindergarten. He was the little guy, literally. The youngest of all 3 classes. I had a few meetings with his teacher during the year to help come up with ways to get him to focus a little more. He was also pretty active in class, physically.
Typical of his age, I thought. He’s new to school and it’ll be fine.
There weren’t any real problems until he started first grade.
It was a lot of the same. Rolling around on the carpet at reading time, blurting out Super Mario stories during class time. Getting in and out of his seat. Twirling in the hallway. Talking during class. Incomplete work sent home.
He was seen as “the baby” of the class by then, and his older classmates took to helping him out with packing up his backpack and helping him get his supplies out.
I’m so relieved that he wasn’t bullied and that they took care of him instead. But in the end, he came to rely on that help. He still just wanted to play all day at school.
He made great strides in the last 3 months of school last year. But it’s decision time.
If we continue him on, he’ll be playing catch up for most of the year. Physically, socially, and the other kids will soon be less tolerant of helping him. I also think he gets discouraged academically in a class with older kids. And he doesn’t have any ultra-close friendships that would suffer much.
So we have elected to hold him in first grade. We thought about it over and over again, and it was agonizing and hard and we dismissed the option immediately when we first knew of the possibility…. But we know in the end it’s the best thing for him.
We went out and did the back-to-school shopping, and he was excited to pick out a new backpack and lunchbox. And we’ve had a nice fun summer. He didn’t seem too worried about it.
At the breakfast table recently, I asked him if he was excited about the first day, and his eyes welled up with tears and he began to cry. He said he was scared to go back to first grade again. And I wanted to sink down into the floor. Again I say, there is no worse feeling than knowing your child has to take a step back because of a decision you made.
So we’ve had a long talk about being brave when you are scared. And how even though his job at school is very important, some of the best things in life aren’t measured there. Things like kindness, a pure heart, giving and being a good friend. And how Jesus is with us the whole time, no matter what.
Friends, take it from me.
Kids don’t have to do more and more the younger they are. You could have a total brainiac on your hands, but maturity is a really important part of that. Maturity impeded academics in our case. Do what’s right for them, not your parenting ego. You might be sitting across from your child at the breakfast table one day wishing you could get that extra year of childcare back.
(And pssst if you are also in our shoes…. Ellen DeGeneres repeated Kindergarten. She hasn’t done so bad. Bill Gates hated school in the beginning. And every comedian known to man probably had ADD. Kids need to know what’s expected of them, but I think we’ll be alright.)
My son is still as sweet as the day is long, and I am unbelievably proud of him. He is a very helpful and loving big brother, and he makes me laugh a thousand times a day.
And on the first day of school, we’ll post our back to school pictures and hold our heads up high.
Here’s to another big year of learning. For BOTH of us!
**For an update on how our first day of school went (and helpful comments from others that went through it), see Repeating First Grade-Part 2
**For an update on the last day of school, see Repeating First Grade-Success!
For an update 3 years later: Repeating First Grade, an update