Sometime in January last year, I threw a fit in front of M2’s school’s representatives when they outright denied my request to retain him for another year in Kindergarten. (Yes, that’s right. He spent 4 years in Kindergarten!) I was so angry because they didn’t even want to discuss the possibilities of retaining him, despite the fact that I had strong reasons to. And what boiled my blood were the reasons they gave me, which was 1) the school didn’t have a retaining policy, especially in Kindergarten, and 2) “What will other parents think of our academic regulations?” Dear Lord, I didn’t care then and I sure as heck didn’t care now.
When my husband and I started talking about the possibility of retaining our son for another year at K2, we got a few raised eyebrows and puzzled looks. They thought that we were either too pessimistic or crazy. Some even asked if we were having money problems. (What?!)
Since he was about three, M2 has been doing Sensory Integration therapy. There’s nothing especially wrong with him, other than that he needed additional stimulation, possibly more than other kids. We’ve been reaping the results of it since he began. His confidence has swelled and he’s speaking better. He’s braver and more willing to try new things. He’s even developed better fine motor skills too. His strokes when drawing and writing are much, much better. However, at that time, we didn’t think that he was ready to be a student of Elementary school.
If I were clueless about what Elementary had in store for the kids, I would have just enrolled him and pay off the development fee, probably without asking any further questions about the curriculum, because I can be that ‘laid back’ sometimes. But I have been through elementary with my first born and I know that in Math, they would have been expected to solve word problems. How was he ever going to find out “how many pieces of out of the 300 pieces of candy John had left after he gave away 100 pieces to his friends” if he still had a hard time reading “This is a tow truck”? However, his reading ability was the least of my concern. What about his independence? Won’t he be expected to be mature enough to do things on his own, to carry out instructions, and to be able to sit through longer subject periods?
My initial thought was, of course, to push him harder; to encourage him beyond his current abilities, to test his endurance, to stimulate his fighting spirit. But how I was going to meet the school’s expectation without generating a thought that “school is no fun” for him, I didn’t know. So, we took him to see a psychologist, arranged a session for an IQ test and let him sit in a “school readiness” test. (I didn’t know that they had this either. But it’s pretty insightful!) After the results came out, the Mister and I made a decision, as his parents, that we wanted to retain him for another year, until he’s ready.
The school wasn’t supportive of it at first. I got so emotional, particularly when they started talking about school policies and reputation and credibility. Forget it, I’m not going to relive that again. I told them that if my request were based on a hunch, and it wasn’t, they had every right to deny me. But I came to them with facts and results of a test and recommendations from the experts, and to deny me this request would be thinking as business managers and not educators. (Note to school representatives: When it comes to a child’s development, please think as educators and not business people.)
Anyway, in the end, they did let my son stay for another year. Whatever moved their hearts is still a mystery to me until today, but I am just so grateful that they did. And last week, I watched with my heart in my throat as he walked across the stage during his graduation ceremony to claim his certificate. I was so proud of him. He did good. He was ready. And at that moment, I knew that I did good too.
I’m not going to lie to you. That year was pretty rough on us. People judged me. People judged him. They questioned my decision. They felt sorry for my son. They even went as far as calling me crazy for deciding to retain my child when the school allowed him to advance. They said things that pissed me off and made me doubt myself. But I couldn’t control other people. I only prepared myself to constantly remind myself why I did the things I did and kept my eyes on the prize as we worked with therapists, phonics tutors, his homeroom teachers, and psychologists.
I believe that all mothers have their children’s best interest at heart. And I think that it’s important to make sure that every decision she makes is educated and that she is strong enough to see it through. But what’s even more important is that she believes with her whole heart and mind, that her child is a good child, who might just need a little more help to become even better.
If there’s anything I learned from his extra year in Kindergarten, it’s these three things:
- Nobody – yes, nobody – understands a child better than his mother. While she might not be 100% right all the time, she only wants the best for him. There is nothing wrong in letting your child be a little different than other children if it will benefit him in the long run. Every child is unique anyway and we know our babies best. Don’t let anyone else tell you different. And what’s even more important, don’t fall into the trap of comparing our children to others. Especially in a mass system, such as a school.
- No matter how good or child-focussed they may (claim to) be, a school is still a business, where the parents are the consumer. To provide a child with education is still primarily the parent’s responsibility, and so as parents, we need to learn to be good and responsible consumers to the school. We need to monitor the school closely and to give it constant feedback.
- To push a child to go beyond the stage of development he is in will do more harm to him than good. If you want to push, do it because you think he can do it. If you think he can’t, don’t push. Whatever you do, do it because you know that it’s in line with his development. Do it because you’re thinking of him. Never do it because you’re thinking about yourself.
So yeah. I kept my son for another year in Kindergarten. I believe that it was one of the best decisions I ever made in his 7 years of life. I am amazed at the difference a year made for him and I am proud of the person he’s become during that extra year in Kindergarten. In fact, I’m so proud of him that I am so proud of me. Every emotional meltdown, every trip we made to therapy, every extra lesson we took to make sure he’s got a good base for elementary, every day he worked hard… it was all truly worth it.
Take courage, my son, for you were made to make a difference!