Five minutes into a conversation with another parent of my generation and we will talk about this topic. Chances are this other mom’s child will have repeated Kindergarten and she will claim it as her best parenting decision to date.
If her kid only did Kindergarten once, she will have a reason (“Her birthday is September 2 so she’s already so old for her class” or “He was already/so social/such a good reader/etc that we were afraid he would be bored.”).
In the past decade, the pendulum has swung to the Repeat side. At least in our suburb, repeating kindergarten is the norm. In Catie’s Kindergarten class, nine of the twelve kids repeated. In the twins’ class at a different school, six of the kids repeated.
But is this just a trend? Is it even a good trend?
My birthday is September 10, ten days after Texas’ September 1 cut-off for enrollment. My parents decided that because I was tall and learning my letters just fine, I didn’t need to repeat Kindergarten.
My parents’ decision for me to go ahead was on-trend in 1980, so I’m in good company with other 40-year-olds who were also young for their class. We all survived being immature and awkward, leaving for college at 17, and not legally buying a beer until we had almost graduated from college.
Looking back, 17 was pretty young for me to move 800 miles away. But throughout school, I had always felt very young—definitely younger than my classmates. Being the youngest in the class was a struggle, but as I got older, I felt like it had taught me good coping strategies. Working harder and constantly tackling situations I wasn’t ready for gave me confidence.
Catie’s birthday is two days before the September 1 cut-off. She was the youngest kid in her Kindergarten class (the one where 66% of the kids repeated), but we thought it was best for her to tackle First Grade. Every year she is, by far, the youngest kid in her grade. School is hard for her, but she is learning a great work ethic.
Even though there are some advantages to being younger, our second and third children did repeat Kindergarten. Honestly, I think we had them repeat because we were sick of doing it the hard way. With Catie we had seen how challenging homework is in First Grade. We had seen how it’s a struggle for the youngest kid in the class to relate to kids a whole year older.
When we were trying to decide if Sam and Elisabeth should repeat, other parents bombarded us with advice. Most said this, “I’ve never met a parent who regretted having their child repeat.” Some parents even went on to say they had a grown child who SHOULD have repeated and failed because they were just too young for the challenges.
I think this is true. I spend lots of time hoping we made the right decision with Catie, but I never worry whether or not we did with Sam and Elisabeth. Probably because it’s easier: they can do their homework by themselves, they are outgoing with their peers, they have more maturity that will help them in First Grade.
We have one more kid, who is quickly approaching Kindergarten. Has our experience with the other three been convincing enough to have him repeat?
I think the answer to that is the definitive answer to every other parent dilemma: depends on the kid.
Catie had a big personality and seemed to need big challenges. As twins, Sam and Elisabeth already had the extra challenge of finding their own voices. They needed another year to work on that. As the fourth child, Nate learns everything at double-speed. Most of the time, he seems like a seven-year-old trapped in the body of a three-year-old.
When we make our decision for Nate, we will decide whether he needs the challenge or the familiarity, the coping strategies or the year-to-grow.
And like everything in parenting: in the end, it will depend on the kid.