Young Fives, Kindergarten, and the New Way We Do School

THE BACKSTORY

My daughter is five, born in July 2010. When she was 18 months old, she lost her words and regressed. A speech therapist later diagnosed her with apraxia of speech (the same thing a stroke victim suffers from – although I was assured she was not a stroke victim.) I still look back with gratitude for the speech therapy resources that were available to us in Kent County at that time. She graduated from speech therapy just before she turned three – she had made amazing progress. We were warned, however, that she might run into learning difficulties as she got older. It wasn’t too surprising then, when her 4’s preschool teacher told us that our daughter probably wouldn’t be ready for Kindergarten in the fall. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with that prognosis, but I took her words to heart.

With our daughter’s July birthday, this put us in an interesting situation.

Many of the public Young 5’s programs around the area have been phased out. Michigan changed the way it funds young five and half-day kindergarten programs a few years back, and districts have responded by offering all day, every day kindergarten classes for kids that are 5 by the start of September. That meant we didn’t have the option to send our girl to our local school for young fives. It was either send her to all day, every day Kindergarten or find a private school for a year of pre-K.

I pulled my hair out over this decision!

I interviewed teachers and talked to every parent I knew about where I should place my daughter. I commissioned an article on Kindergarten Readiness for grkids. I was obsessed. It felt like such a monumental decision… after all, wouldn’t this decision have a big impact on her later school life? Did I want her to graduate when she was 17 or 18? Would she get bored in school if she was a year older than the other kids in her class?

Parents can always find something to worry about.

After much deliberation, I decided that I had to let go. I couldn’t tell the future and trying to determine how this decision would affect high school was just too much. We could always change things up if we decided they weren’t going well. The one thing I wanted to avoid was having her repeat the same grade at the same school. I also agreed that she probably wasn’t ready for all day, every day K right away. As a result, I started looking for private young 5’s or part-day Kindergarten programs.

I was intrigued by the new Progressive Kindergarten program at Ada Christian, where students would attend 3 days a week for the 1st trimester, 4 days a week in the 2nd trimester and 5 days a week in the last trimester. That option didn’t help me decide if she should be in Kindergarten or Young 5’s, though.

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MONTESSORI TO THE RESCUE

One day at my mom’s group I was talking to a friend about her son’s Montessori preschool. When she mentioned that they also offered kindergarten at this school, my mommy radar went off. I had to learn more.

That day, I rushed over to the school and they graciously gave me an impromptu tour. I explained our situation- that I wasn’t sure if we should do a year of Young 5’s or jump right into kindergarten and their response won me over on the spot. “We can decide that later.”

What??!

“Start her out at three full days a week. We’ll see how she does, and we can add more days to the schedule if she’s ready.”

You mean, I don’t have to declare what grade or class my child is in? You mean, we can decide that after we’re already started?

Yes!

Later that week, I took my daughter to tour the little one-room Montessori Connections school and a couple of other places. She immediately fell in love with the engaging activities at Montessori and was excited to have found her new school. We signed up the very next day.

Montessori Connections let me off the hook and gave my daughter the freedom to grow at her own pace. Now, when we talk about school, my daughter says, “I love Montessori Connections.”

At a recent conference with my daughter’s teacher, I asked where she thought I should place my daughter next year. Their response: “I wouldn’t put her in kindergarten next year.”

There you have it! We went almost half of the year before we found out my daughter was in kindergarten. Next year I will have a first grader! Currently, my daughter has added 2 days a week to her schedule, so that she now she goes to school five full days and loves it.

WHAT I LEARNED

As I reflect on the unfolding of this story, I can see clearly things that I learned.

  • It’s okay to consider new options. Montessori was not something I had considered (or knew about) for my older two. But it was the perfect fit for my youngest.
  • It’s important to think long-term, but that’s not the only think to consider. Don’t get so focused on the future that you forget about today.
  • Talking with other parents is an essential part of parenting.

As I have grown into my role of mother, I’ve gotten more comfortable with coloring outside of the lines when I feel like it’s the right thing to do for my kids. Right now, I have three kids at three different schools because each school is providing each kid with what they need. It does translate into lots of driving and a crazy calendar, trying to keep all of the school holidays and events strait, but I count it a privilege to be able to place my kids in school situations where they will be nurtured and will learn and grow.

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