A few years ago, I was given a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell by the hosts of a sales training I was attending. This book examines some patterns of success that are not what I would consider obvious to the casual observer. One of the sections of the book analyzes the birth dates of Canadian professional hockey players and presents this information adjacent to their levels of success. While there was much more to this book than just birth dates and life circumstances, the one point that stuck out to me was the one that hit closest to home, which is the success of my son.
From Wikipedia: "The book begins with Gladwell's research on why a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. The answer, he points out, is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on January 1 play in the same league as those born on December 31 in the same year. Because children born earlier in the year are bigger and more mature than their younger competitors, and they are often identified as better athletes, this leads to to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues."
This made perfect sense to me in relation to Will's struggles with school. He is barely old enough to be in his grade - his birthday is ten days before the September 1 deadline. In contrast, my daughter has an October birthday, and is generally one of the older ones in her class - little to no issues with her at all. Connection? Maybe. Anyway, last year, we retained Will for second grade because of the backlog of struggling, heartache and worry we had all been dealing with since he began kindergarten four years ago. In August 2011, I wrote this post: School Year 2011-12 and I'm Terrified. and to date it has been the singularly most read post I've ever written. It has been viewed 13, 358 times on Blogher and a couple of hundred times here directly on my blog, which leads me to believe that I am in no way alone.
Last year, we had Will evaluated by so many different education and child specialists it wasn't even funny. Behavioral, vision, occupational, psychological, pediatric, etc. - pretty much anyone who we thought could shed some light on why he was having such a hard time. It was the culmination of all this, plus our flat refusal to continue down the road we were on that lead us to decide upon retention. We stayed with the same teacher (who is a SAINT and without whom this story easily could have had an entirely different ending) and got the school year going. His problem, in our opinion, was largely in issue of maturity and development, and no amount of therapy, medication or behavioral interventions would help him grow up. Our stance became that time really was the only solution.
It is not to say that we have been entirely without incident or obstacles, but they are minimal, manageable and what I would consider pretty average actually. Will has made the honor roll repeatedly, has developed academically beyond my wildest hopes, has blossomed socially and most importantly, is happy and proud of himself. He smiles at school now. He doesn't hate it anymore. He's a leader instead of a trouble maker. He has learned tactics to manage his ADHD and emotions. He was a Terrific Kid. He has been accepted into the SAIL program. And yesterday, he actually opted to participate in field day and did it well and with complete joy.
I cannot stress enough the difference between now and last year this time. I also cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the efforts of Will's teacher and the other professionals at the school who have supported us through this. Will is now ready for third grade instead of just qualifying for it by his birthday. He is excited about being a third grader and happy to be one of the older kids instead of the "baby". We have actually been able to go through school like regular people, rather than being in constant crisis management.
While "red-shirting" kindergartners can be done for all kinds of unsavory reasons, I think there are times when it makes sense. I knew in my gut we should not have let Will begin school but we did anyway. The point that I am making is to reiterate that you and only you know what is best for your children. Obviously the experience and opinions of professionals should be taken into account but the final decision needs to be one the resonates with you on a gut level. Only you can be their best advocate. I am so glad we held Will back - I honestly can say I think it changed the direction of his life, and that is no small detail. Maybe he'll be an Outlier one day too.