May the Last Be the First (#485)

Having spent the earlier part of this week worrying that watching That Purple Dinosaur could cause a child to become autistic (instead of the result that occurred in our household: I seem to have become conditioned to clap, stomp, and shout “hooray” at the merest mention of “if you’re happy and you…..”), I came upon a new worry tonight:
Bikeb4_2_1
Apparently parents (well, parents in the New York City metropolitan area, where we live) are agonizing over sending their kids to kindergarten until they are “nearly, or already, 6 years old,” according to the October 19th New York Times.

Children who turn 5 even in June or earlier are sometimes considered not ready for kindergarten these days, as parents harbor an almost Darwinian desire to ensure that their own child is not the runt of the class…..

A mother who is having her daughter (who turned five in August) spend another year in preschool is quoted as saying “‘“I felt like her whole experience is about being the smallest and the youngest, and I wanted to change that experience for her. The more people do it, the more people do it — partially because you don’t want yours to be the last.'”

So, how do we parents feel whose child is, if not “the last,” not exactly among those pre-K six-year-olds-going-on-seven front-runners?

Charlie, as I have noted often before, is not “in a grade.” His IEP says he is “fourth grade”; the reality is that Charlie is in a self-contained autism classroom in which he is taught one on one. Charlie did not just miss the cut-off age for kindergarden: He never went. The NYT article Those Preschoolers Are Looking Older opens by describing a six-year-old who is starting kindergarten “with an enviable skill set under his tiny belt”: He can read “simple rhyming books, count to 100 and write his name.” Charlie, who is nearly nine years old, nearly 80 pounds and a few inches shorter than me, is starting to look decidedly long in the tooth alongside these “held back” kindergarteners. Charlie can write his name but he is only reading some sight words (and it took a year-plus to get those down) and is not yet counting in the triple digits.

I recognize that the NYT article is about a rather particular population of preschoolers, namely those who are part of the “New York City private school world” and, as I gather from the article, are starting on the path to over-achievement early; I am the mother of a special needs, special ed, autistic boy who does not take standardized tests because of his disability. If Charlie had had more of certain sorts of skills—academic, communicative, speech, for instance—-he might well have been deemed ready for kindergarten at an older age, such as six or seven. I am rather puzzled by the logic of the parents and some of the educators in the NYT article, and specifically by this statement from Betsy Newell, director of the Park Avenue Christian Church Day School: “’Nobody ever was successful because they were the youngest in the class.'”

Now I really have to get personal.

As I have noted in passing on and off in this blog, I am short. I am five feet tall, barely taller than Charlie these days. For all my years of elementary and secondary school, I was the shortest or the almost-shortest in all of my classes, and I was also either the youngest or nearly the youngest because I skipped half of kindergarten and went, reading something more than “simple rhyming books” and writing more than my name, straight into first grade. As you can figure out by visiting some of the links on my About page, I attended a not exactly unknown university here in New Jersey and graduated something more than cum laude. I then proceeded to go to another rather prominent university for graduate school in New England and, since the mid-nineties, have been teaching and writing about Latin and ancient Greek literature—–and raising a fine young boy named Charlie.

A young boy who, had he been born where my ancestors came from, in rural southern China, or had he been born just twenty or even fifteen years earlier, would have been consigned to the ranks of “the last.” Not so much because he was autistic; my sense is that, due to his language disability, Charlie would have been considered simply stupid. Dumb. An imbecile. MR. Low, or no, I.Q. Not worth it.

The last.

A too-obvious candidate for institutionalization, and not the boy who bounded (Jim’s wording) off the school bus (after some parental worry about his seeming to limp this morning); looked nervously at two strange cars in his driveway; went bike-riding with his dad up into the hills, with no fear after his Sunday bike accident; talked and played and worked his way through an ABA session with a much-loved therapist; went with his dad to get Grandma some diet Coke at the store; sight-read two more pages of Ode to Joy at his piano lesson.

“‘The gift of a year is the best gift you can give a child,'” Betsy Newell is quoted as saying in the NYT article, but I beg to differ. The best gift I have given my child is that he knows that he is always the first, the best, the bestest and the brightest, and that

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

And how sweet like honey were the sounds of Charlie playing the piano, of Charlie saying “Mahm! Mahm!” and “Dad come home late” tonight, from the first all the way to the last.

Comments
7 Responses to “May the Last Be the First (#485)”
  1. KC'sMommy says:

    You tell em’ Kristina! Beautiful post!
    This Betsy Newell is so very wrong! I can’t believe the things she has said!
    Charie is such a trooper! Getting right back on that bike! Go Charlie!

  2. Many parents want their kid to be the biggest kid in the class because sports are so popular now.

    My daughter (now a high school freshman) has a summer birthday and has always been one of the smaller kids in the class. When she plays soccer, she often gets mauled by the big girls. But she has a lot of mental toughness, and when they knock her down, she jumps right back up. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

    We always go to her games and cheer her on. You’re completely right that the best gift you can give a child is unconditional love and support. By that standard I’m sure Charlie will have a great life!

  3. Lisa/Jedi says:

    I am so tired of ignorant trend-setters getting media exposure with their dopey pronouncements of the day… life is not fashion, folks! Do these people even know their kids or understand who they are, let alone their “needs”? This is another good reason not to get the paper… my blood pressure would never be the same!

  4. Soapbox mom says:

    Hi Kristina-
    A confession. I have a 9 year old daughter who made the cut-off for kindergarten by two whole days. She is also very petite, like her mom. Some parents had urged me to “keep her out one more year” so she would be “better able to keep up.” I was thrilled she made the cut-off for the purely economical reason of one less year of daycare expense.
    She has done quite well, thank you very much. She is an awesome athlete, talented singer/dancer and has a truckload of friends. Her academics are a little above average, but nothing spectacular. Honestly, she might have fared slightly better if I had kept her out another year, but I have no regrets whatsoever. And she is still tiny, but she probably always will be…

  5. Since I teach college students—who are often “independent” from their families for the first time—I have gotten a sense of the end result of emphasizing things like sports and “success” in certain areas, over letting children develop as they may. To be a college athlete is like having a full-time job on top of studying and it is so much for a young person to have to contend with—-

    I guess I am soapboxing a bit…… it seems quite a luxury to me to hear about families who can afford an extra year of preschool. Really great to hear about your daughters!

    Lisa, I pretty much read the NYT online for 0$ these days…

  6. Ian_Parker says:

    To me the logic is reversed. I can’t wait to get the Bear into Jr Kindergarten, so that she can be with other kids her own age. We could theoretically hold her back until Grade 1, but I figure that if she showed up for the first time then, she’d be a stranger in a classroom of children who had already known each other for two years. By getting her in at the start I figure that she has more chance to be accepted.

    Besides, she is 105 cm tall at 3yrs and 3mos, so I figure that when the time comes she’ll tower over most of her class…

  7. Julia says:

    My younger two will miss the cut-off by less than a month. I think we’re looking at close to 3 years of PPCD (half-day program)….

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