The phrase “Kindergarten is the new first grade” is a common one among parents with children getting ready to enter public kindergartens. Parents are well aware of the common core updates that require kindergarteners to learn to read and “analyze data.” There is no doubt that some children will have the maturity and the temperament to be able to sit still at a desk and focus on deciphering words on a page. However, most five year olds (mostly boys) will not be able to receive more than a few minutes of academic instruction at a time. With the cuts in recess, lunch, and gym, how can schools expect five year olds to shoulder through work sheets and gap exercises at their desks while there are games of tag to play outside? Aside from holding your child back a year, i.e., “redshirting,” what can be done? In this article, I will explain what I did with my oldest, and how it has been working out.
My oldest, who is male, loved being outside. He could just hang out outside for hours. This was only concerning to me when I thought about what we were going to do about Kindergarten. How could I expect him to sit inside for hours at a desk or on the floor and focus on learning to decode words on paper. We tried teaching him to read on his own, but to not much avail. He knew his letters of course, but not much beyond that. I was not worried, even though many other children his age were already reading. So, he was not ready to read, and he was not ready to sit. He has an early Spring birthday, so I did not want to redshirt him and have him start when he was six. He’s also a little on the tall side.
What were our options? We could have sent him to public Kindergarten and take our chances. We could have homeschooled, perhaps without too much emphasis on formal reading instruction, if any at all. Or we could send him to private school, knowing that we’d only have to pay the tuition for a year until we could get him to first grade. We opted for option three. It was the best fit for all of us. There was little formal instruction, and there was definitely no reading or math. But there were plenty of stories, poems, songs, counting rhymes, etc. The socialization aspect was also great as children had to learn to play and work together outside, and that is exactly where my son was most comfortable. We knew the teacher who had 35 years experience, and was especially adept at handling boys, even quiet, thoughtful, and introverted ones like our oldest.
So, he wasn’t academically ready, and we didn’t want to hold him back. It seemed like the right decision at the time. I wasn’t so sure about our decision, however, when it came time to enter first grade at public school.
I tried again to teach him to read over the summer between Kindergarten and first grade. It was not happening. I read every article I could find on how to teach a six year old to read. We had workbooks and other supplemental materials. It didn’t work out so well. He learned some three letter words and that’s about it over the entire summer. His math skills were at or beyond first grade level, so we didn’t spend much time working on that. I was a little worried for him. What would happen to him once he began first grade at public school?
It didn’t take long for his teacher to flag him as someone who was struggling with reading. He was far from reading at first grade level. Now, everyday during class reading time, he and a couple of other students went down the hall to a reading specialist to work on reading. It was hard to accept this, and I was concerned that other kids would figure out what was going on and perhaps tease him about it, but his first grade teacher assured us that the other students would not know what was happening. Once he started going to the specialist we also dedicated 20 minutes for him to read to us every day from the beginning. We prayed for him every night.
Well, his progress was incredible. He shot up like a rocket and moved right through the reading specialist’s curriculum faster than I was expecting or believed was possible. After a month he was reading at grade level. Books that were hard for him at the beginning of the school year, were now no trouble at all. He began reading everything he could get his hands on. By Thanksgiving he was back in the regular classroom, and he would have transitioned sooner, but this was only so he could complete her curriculum. I was glad he could have the extra time with the specialist. By Christmas, he was reading well beyond first grade level. Now he is on the highest level in his class on the Language Arts iPad program they use at school. This program works on synonyms, reading speed, antonyms, idioms, reading comprehension, grammar, prefixes, suffixes, etc. What happened? How did it happen?
I’ve learned in my short amount of time as a parent that so much of what we do for our children is based on good timing. Had we forced him to begin reading in Kindergarten, I don’t think it would have worked. Or, he might have learned to read, but would not have enjoyed it. He enjoys is now because the timing was right. He made huge progress in a short amount of time because the timing was right. Since he was not forced to read when he was not ready, he ate it up when he was ready. He loves reading. He loves picking out idioms, and prefixes and suffixes. He’s looking forward to a summer filled with books and reading.
It has been a journey getting him to read. It was risky not holding him back. It was risky not putting him in public Kindergarten. It was risky putting him in a school that did not teach reading. It was risky sending him to first grade when he couldn’t read a sentence, and could only read three letter words. The risk paid off. He enjoys reading, and he’s good at it.
You can do it too.
Now that you know the risks and the results of this experiment, you may be considering following a similar path for your child. Maybe your child is not ready to read going into Kindergarten. Perhaps redshirting your child is not an option. What can you do? How can you do it? What might the benefits be for your child? What other countries do it?
- Know Your Child. Not every child should be held back if he or she is not ready for Kindergarten. Some children should definitely be held back (better getting held back now than later). Whatever the case may be, it all starts with knowing your child. You know your child best and you know where he or she would thrive best. Know all of your options and choose the best one for your child. It may mean reading some books, or talking with some other parents who may have gone through something similar to what you’re going through. Explore your options in person as well. If you don’t want to send your child to public Kindergarten, visit some private schools in person that don’t have formal reading instruction. See what it would be like to homeschool your child. Are there any homeschooling co-ops near you? What are the homeschooling laws in your state?
- Know Yourself. Going any alternative route is not for everybody. If your child is not going to go to public Kindergarten to learn to read, you will need to know what you’re doing. You have to be steadfast about your convictions. You’ll have to be ready to endure a few raised eyebrows. You’ll get interrogated by other parents, family, and friends. Will you be able withstand people questioning your parental skills? Will you be confident in your choice for your child? This confidence is necessary so that your child also feels secure. If your child is not reading at Kindergarten age, will you be ok with almost every other child around him or her reading? If you just know that you won’t be up for it, and if the opinion of others sways you and throws your conviction off, you and your child might be better off going to public Kindergarten.
- Benefits. What might be the benefits of keeping your child out of public Kindergarten and thus not exposing him or her to formal reading instruction? Some of the benefits include, but are not limited to: 1. Better focus. 2. Reduced ADHD. 3. Increased academic achievement. 4. Better social skills (less “acting out”). 5. Increased academic engagement and interest. 6. More time for children to do what they’re supposed to do: play. 7. A higher level of self regulation/self control. The benefits are fully explained this study. Most countries in Europe don’t begin formal reading instruction until after a child is 6 or 7 years old. Finland is the poster child for delayed instruction. Of course, for them the instruction is not delayed. That’s just when they start it. They also have great pre-K access, so they’re already learning key social skills, which will make them more receptive to a teacher’s direct instruction when it happens. Building self-regulation and self-control are crucial for a teacher being able to teach. If a child has no self control, how can he or she learn in a classroom? A child with no self control may walk around poking people, or may wander outside of the classroom, or may scream for no reason. Someone may say, “hey man, don’t inhibit the children. Don’t tell them what to do. Let them be free thinkers!” That’s not a wise move at this stage in their development. They need boundaries and governance. They can begin to be freer thinkers when they reach middle school and, even freer thinkers when they’re in high school. They’ll be free to be free in their thoughts because someone took the time to give them boundaries when they were young so that they could actually listen and learn effectively. Again, it’s all about timing. The right timing for formal instruction. The right timing to teach self control. The right timing to let them be free thinkers.
It was the right timing at the beginning of first grade for him to learn another language as well. He’s learning one language as part of the school wide curriculum. We also take him to a Saturday school nearby where he learns a language that has a completely different writing system and sentence structure. We know it wouldn’t have worked his Kindergarten year. It works great now. He’s reading the non Western alphabet, and learning the “backwards” grammar. He actually does a little homework throughout the week without complaining (a little homework being necessary while learning a new language and only attending class once a week). He went from zero to one hundred all of a sudden when first grade began. We were all ready for it.
Doing Our Best
In the end, we’re all doing our best. We cannot see the future, and we may not know until years later what the outcome will be for the choices we make for our children today. All I can say now is “so far so good” for what we’ve done for our son. We want to do our best as parents, and more than want, we actually try our best: putting in our strongest effort to teach our children and raise them to be people that can contribute to the good of the world and the good of society. We want them to be good friends and neighbors, good members of our households, and positive contributors to their respective classrooms. If we are faithful in our parental efforts, we will reap a harvest of good children.