First day of school … but not at our house

Friends, here is my column from this Sunday’s paper.

When I was in kindergarten, we were the otters.

Each class had its own little animal, and that was ours.

I don’t remember much about my first year of school besides that.

And that we had cubbies – and the first time I ever cracked a knuckle was when I banged my hand on the edge of it one day. It really hurt, and I’ve never been much of a knuckle-cracker. And I remember we watched “The Letter People,” an odd puppet show about words. I loved it.

I mostly liked school growing up. Well, let me rephrase that. I loved school right up until about high school, then I hated it with all the teen angst I had, and then I loved it again in college, with all the hippie awesome freedom that comes with campus living.

(There may have been some hatred for the horrible plaid vest and plaid skirt – and green knee-highs – I had to wear in junior high at St. James School in Rhode Island.)

Tomorrow marks the first day of school for many kids in Sioux Falls. That means today moms and dads are busy packing backpacks and setting out clothes for the first day of school.

That’s not the case in our house.

Our son turns 5 on Sept. 1, and we could have enrolled him in kindergarten this year.

It’s a decision I was confident with early this summer. He’s tiny for his age (can you learn to drive in a carseat? We might be exploring that in 10 years). He’s a little socially young, and his best friends at preschool are often the younger kids in the class.

That’s OK with me – I’m in no hurry to wish his childhood away.

But this week, I’ve heard friends with children about the same age talking about going to school. It’s difficult to not get caught up in their excitement – and to begin to wonder if we’re doing the right thing.

I’m not keeping Jack out of school because I want him to be some big hockey player one day, bigger and older and stronger than his peers.

And he can complete almost all of the “kindergarten readiness” skills I frantically looked up this week, as I sat questioning our decision.

Waiting a year to send our son to kindergarten is a decision we’ve made with more feeling than fact, I think.

And sometimes that’s just fine.

I have a friend who is a longtime elementary school teacher. She told me she never had any parents who regretted holding a young boy back from kindergarten – but many parents who wished they had.

And my sister is a reading teacher and told us no question, we should wait.

Mostly I want Jack to love school as much as I did – and I swear I read something once about the youngest boys in a class often being labeled troublemakers – just because they’re a bit more immature. I don’t want him to get a label like that for being a barely-5-year-old wiggle worm.

I recognize I have some luxury to even consider this – many parents, one of my sisters included – send a child to school because daycare costs are outrageous. I won’t lie – I thought about that, too.

And I thought about what it will be like for him to turn 18 he beginning of his senior year. Being the oldest in kindergarten is probably different than it is in high school.

But for now it gives me one more year to weigh all our other choices – neighborhood school, open enroll, Spanish immersion.

Like any parent, I want to set him up to be as successful as I can in his life. I want him to go a step beyond where I’ve gone, to be better than I’ve been.

I don’t know if one more year of preschool will do that.

One more year of days off with his dad and little sister.

Of impromptu Tuesday trips to the park.

Of just being a kid.

But man, it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Jacqueline Palfy Klemond is the local news editor. She brought her “Grease” record to show and tell all the time in kindergarten.

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2 Responses to First day of school … but not at our house

  1. Hands down, holding Jack back one year is the best decision you could make. Don’t ever doubt it. When I taught first grade, without looking at their records, I could pick out every single kid who could have waited a year to enter school based on their behavior and social skills, not academics. One year may not sound like a lot but kiddos can make so many new and wonderful developments in that time that will only benefit them later on.

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