Thursday, April 29, 2010

Holding Boys Back from Kindergarten

I've been listening to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell this week. We have it on CD. I don't normally "read" books this way, but I have been amazed at how much I've enjoyed listening to it. I'm not sure I would feel that way about every book, but I plan to listen to more books this way in the future. I just started it on Tuesday and I finished it today. All that "reading" took place while I was making blueberry muffins and folding laundry and driving around in my minivan. Pretty efficient.

I highly recommend this book. It will really make you think about the ways in which our background and culture inform who we are. The book looks at success and tries to figure out if there is some kind of pattern that success follows. Guess what, there is! There's not necessarily a recipe for success that you can follow, but there are certain circumstances that breed success.

One section of the book is about hockey players in Canada. It turns out that, almost without exception, the best hockey players in Canada are all born in the first half of the year. That seems pretty weird, until you realize that January 1st is the arbitrary cutoff birthday for signing up for hockey. Gladwell explains that the players who were born closest to the cutoff date of January 1, are the best players because they are the oldest players on the team. Because they are the best players, they get picked for special travel teams, practice and play more, and get the best coaches. By the time they have gone through many years in the hockey system, they have been groomed to be best players, and therefore are the best players.

Gladwell then explains that this is the case in most school systems as well. In kindergarten, the oldest kids generally do the best and are put in the advanced reading and math groups where they get special attention and praise for their work. They continue to be tracked in these advanced groups and over the years, the gap between them and their peers grows larger, rather than smaller. They are being groomed to be the best and they live up to that expectation.

Of course, you have to take all this with a grain of salt because this theory of Gladwell's cannot be applied in every case. I'm sure there are plenty of cases of younger kids in a classroom being in the advanced groups. But, I think it is safe to assume that if your child is the oldest in their class, then you are definitely stacking the odds in their favor. Can't hurt, right?

Another book that informed our decision to hold Charlie (our boy who will be five in June) back from kindergarten next year was It's a Boy by Michael Thompson. We have been really questioning whether or not to hold Charlie back. He's ready for kindergarten in so many ways, but he's admittedly not the most mature child on the block either. He doesn't always follow instructions. He struggles to do things like put his socks on (or acts like it's a struggle so you will come help him). He's emotional in good and bad ways and I could see him getting frustrated to the point of tears if something in school didn't come easily to him.

With Emma in kindergarten already, I have a pretty good idea what goes on academically. I have no doubt that Charlie could rise to the occasion and be just fine academically. He wouldn't be one of the top students most likely, but he would be somewhere in the middle. Charlie is very smart, don't get me wrong. But so far he's not exceptional in the things that count in kindergarten (reading, writing and sitting still). If you need a robot built out of stuff found in the recycling bin, then Charlie's your guy.

So, I turned to the It's a Boy book to find out if Michael Thompson had some helpful info on boys and kindergarten. Turns out he did! He's pretty opinionated about this subject, in fact:
"The age at which a boy starts kindergarten, his developmental readiness and the experiences he has there will affect him for the rest of his school career, and perhaps for the rest of his life. In the first three years of formal schooling--kindergarten through second grade--he forms a view of himself as a successful boy or a failure. Research confirms what most parents and educators see every day: that how well a boy performs in these earliest years of school affects his self-image and later performance."

Wow. So, I wasn't crazy for giving this so much thought. The age at which a boy starts kindergarten will affect him for the rest of his life?? This is serious business. To me, Thompson is effectively saying the same thing as Gladwell. Whether it's hockey or school, those who have the advantage at the very beginning will continue to have an advantage their entire career. And according to Gladwell, the advantage doesn't stay the same, it grows over time.

Thompson also goes on to say that kindergarten, in it's current academics-focused form, plays more to a typical girl's strengths than a boy's. (Notice I'm saying "typical" here.) In his book, Thompson quotes Jane Katch, a teacher and author of books about kindergarten. Katch says that kindergarten
"doesn't work for boys. What happens is that they come into school thinking they are okay and they immediately discover that the things that are valued by the teacher are the things they are worst at: fine motor coordination, word/sound discrimination skills, hearing the beginning, middle, and end of words. They can't come up with them or recognize them. They will in six months, but they can't now. They aren't as good at coming up quickly with answers to questions, so they don't raise their hands. It is much harder for them to sit still, so they're told they're restless...And we've cut out everything they are good at. Boys at this age have terrific skills at making big things happen together, as a group--cooperating, communicating, being a constructive group together to make exciting things work."

Later, Thompson says this about the difference between girls and boys in kindergarten:
"Because reading, sitting still, and taking school seriously are so strongly developmental, the boys on the younger end of the development arc are most at risk for difficulty or failure in an academic kindergarten, although all children are shortchanged by a curriculum that pressures them to move forward too quickly."
So, there you have it. Our case for holding Charlie back. This has been a decision I have agonized over. It's hard to buck the system and do something a little different from what other people are doing. I think it will turn out great for Charlie, though. It certainly can't hurt him.

For the next post, I'm hoping to divulge our plan for next year! I'm very excited about Charlie's "gap year." What a gift to have an extra year with my sweet boy! :)


Peter Orvetti said...

I used to subscribe to a Netflix-esque audiobook rental service. I've consumed most of Gladwell's books that way. He's quite palatable in that medium.

April said...

Rock on. I wholeheartedly support this decision. It can't be selfish, either. I mean, who wouldn't want, purely for her own sanity, to shove her five-year-old off on the school system ASAP?

trey hailey said...

I "read" (listened to) Gladwells book, too. I am a big fan of "reading" while commuting...

I'll cut to the chase....No one is in a hurry. I think there is something to the idea of timing and the right circumstances to foster success. Mom made a similar decision and it made a big difference I think...

You have good insticts...stick to them!

Amy said...

Hey Elizabeth!

I talked with Stacie Sperry recently about holding off on kindergarten. We've decided to let Asher start kindergarten next year. Stacie and you have both decided to keep your boys back. And, as you know Charlie and Silas are as close to Asher's age as one can get.

One of the biggest reasons we decided to put Asher in school next year is because of the Gesell Institute testing that Asher's preschool offered in January. It's a test that attempts to determine a child's developmental age vs. his chronological age.

There's a great book series that is based on the Gesell Institute. The 4 yr. book is "Your 4 year old: Wild and Wonderful" and the 5 yr. book is "Your 5 year old: Sunny and Serene". I enjoyed reading through the books and seeing certain behaviors that Asher does that are so age appropriate. Our library carries the books...I'm sure you could find them at a local library up there, if you're interested.

Robin said...

I look forward to hearing about your adventures with Charlie next year. I'm sure you won't regret having him at home an "extra" year. I'm convinced 5 is a made-up age at which to begin school in the first place. Coming down from my soapbox now...


Julia said...

Elizabeth, have you read "Raising Cain - Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys?" I found it overwhelming since when I read it, my eldest was only 4 years old - haha- but it's important to stay ahead of the curve! It really encouraged me to be our son's best advocate and to not be discouraged if he is not perfectly following expectations to the letter. I'm glad you all made a choice that feels so good for your family, I am sure it will turn out great. No one I've spoken to who has "red shirted" has said they regretted it!