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On Big Transitions and “Red-Shirting” Kindergarten: Exciting Fall for Kids 1 & 3

August 13, 2015 - Jamie O'Hare
Six years ago, I sent my oldest child on a bus across South Bend, Indiana, to a magnet school every morning and had to scoop him out of the bus seat every afternoon when he arrived at the stop by our Notre Dame apartment sound asleep. He was exhausted, but he thrived academically in that challenging environment.

This same child, who has attended three elementary schools and who was homeschooled for third grade, begins middle school on Monday. In that time, he has crashed and burned with interpersonal relationships while excelling academically. He has gotten an Asperger’s diagnosis and has made wonderful friends at school. The multi-colored puzzle piece that symbolizes Autism Spectrum Disorders suits my parenting process so perfectly. We have struggled to find his right situation, found it in time for him to finish elementary school, and now he’s ready to move on to a world of new kids, new teachers, new growth and hormones, and new experiences like moving to a new class every 45 minutes.

My anxiety for him is (mostly) under control. I have three other kids, a full-time job, a busy husband who’s up for tenure, and a house on the market, so I can only fret about any one of those things so much! I went to the middle school open house last night and gave each teacher a brightly-colored sheet with our contact info, address, his general learning profile, and basic behavioral script that can be used to defuse any difficult situation with my son. And my heart leapt when I learned that his favorite behavioral professional will be in the building this year. My son knows that in choosing to attend the public middle school, he has to commit to being there all year. Mom and Dad won’t pull him out and homeschool him. He has to learn to deal with peers and teachers on his own with appropriate IEP supports. It will be okay, right?

At the nearby parochial school, my older daughter will be repeating Kindergarten. This has been a difficult decision for us. She was young for her class last year, and she joined them in October after the public school we had enrolled her in became overcrowded. It was my first year back to work, and it was a rocky year all around, culminating in a home purchase the last week of school. My sweet girl has always been academically ready for school, but she is developmentally delayed, and she is TINY. She can’t focus long enough to complete a task on her own, much like me at her age. She can read just fine, but her motor skills are not great. She has lots of allergies and sensory issues, and inflammation from eczema can make sitting still and paying attention even more difficult.

We read up on the pros and cons of social promotion. We thought she might catch up suddenly, which our boys have done. We feared how she would feel if she was left behind by her classmates who moved on to first grade without her, and we feared how she would feel if she couldn’t keep pace in her rigorous first grade classroom environment. I felt so torn by my belief in a play-based kindergarten experience and the reality that kindergarten in this community is highly academic. This past year didn’t have to be a waste. We could consider it a “Red Shirt” year, one that was for building skills, but not one that had to “count”.

Ultimately, we told her that she needs a “grow year”. She cried for about 5 minutes. Then we’ve had play dates with her friends from school, and she has realized that they will still be her friends. Ultimately, I know this will be better for her. She will have more confidence going into Kindergarten next week, and I hope that this solid start will give her a love for learning.

I’ll report on our progress in a few weeks, and I'll reflect on parochial school for kid #2 and Montessori for kid #4 next time!


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