This time of year I seem to have an increased number of folks asking my thoughts and/or experience with repeating grades. This is most often in regard to repeating kindergarten so I share my thoughts and experience. I decided this would be a good blog topic. If you are in older grades, this may or may not be applicable. Hopefully you will be able to glean some insight though. Here goes.
I am an organizer and a planner so when Rachel was still in preschool, I was thinking about this idea of repeating kindergarten so we could be more prepared academically. The big fad was to send our kids on to kindergarten after two years of preschool and just plan on having to repeat kindergarten. I decided I wanted to do a little informal research. I began to read anything I could find and talk to anyone who had walked down this path. I talked to people not just locally but at the conferences I attended around the country. I think meeting people from other parts of the country and world is invaluable. You learn from other people’s experiences. Sometimes you are encouraged, other times envious and often you simply feel blessed. I talked to parents of kids a little older than Rachel and others a lot older than Rachel. This is what I walked away with for our situation.
Most of the ones who repeated kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade said if they had to do it again they would not repeat. The reason had nothing to do with academics. They told me that they held their child back for academic reasons but underestimated the value of the peer support. The peers they had connected to and for some had been with for several years moved on while their child stayed behind. For many, they started over with a new group. Many said they felt like it took a long time to rebound from that. That made sense to me.Rachel was in a great private preschool where she had fabulous teachers.She had good peers but she wouldn’t be going to kindergarten with them. They were from all over the community . She had a wonderful consultant who worked with us and the teachers on kindergarten readiness. Anne often said to me “Don’t worry as much about the A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s as the routines and following directions.” Anne wasn’t saying not to worry about academics. She was saying that would come and that the other things were important to helping her with a strong start. Learning to follow routines and directions and how to play cooperatively were of equal important. I trusted her and I believe she was right. We decided that working to develop a strong peer group and keeping Rachel with with those peers from Kindergarten on was important.
We made the decision to do a preemptive strike and we did three years of preschool. This was a bit risky because I didn’t know what kindergarten would look like but I trusted my instincts and what I had learned from other families made sense. I had already seen this in preschool.In the end the extra year of preschool was beneficial academically as well. For our family and for Rachel, this was a good decision as I saw the benefit of those peers in Rachel’s elementary school experience. That said, when she was nine and entering third grade that we moved two states away and took Rachel away from her strong peer group. But you know what? She built a new one. And I would say that those friends and that strong peer support is essential to her success. I guess the message here is the peer group does matter.
Every situation is different though so you have to evaluate using all the information you can gather and make the best decision. A family in Memphis had sought my advice on this very issue with their daughter. They went into kindergarten knowing that she was not going to repeat. They did everything they could to build a peer group for their daughter but it just didn’t take. Their school was a bit difficult and they had a teacher who was not very accommodating. They spent a lot of time that year dealing with those issues. At the end of the year mom told me that she thought she should repeat kindergarten and not for academic reasons but because she had not developed a support group. I agreed with her assessment of the situation. They repeated with a different teacher, new peers and they developed a great support group. This was the best decision for this family.
I can’t tell you if you should or should not retain your child. Every situation is different but once Rachel started school, we had made the decision that we were going to keep moving. We’ve augmented academics with tutoring and lots of work at home. We work hard at developing social relationships too. I’m not sure appropriate social groups just develop for anyone whether they have an extra chromosome or not. We just know that for Rachel some friends who know her in each class helps the teacher, helps Rachel and helps the friends. I would love to hear some of the issues you guys are facing regarding this topic and how you are managing.