Today, My Firstborn Started First Grade

It was by no means his first ever first day of school. My oldest, N, has been in some form of daycare or preschool since he was a baby. But, somehow, his first day of first grade feels incredibly significant.

He was in public school for kindergarten last year, but they still treated kindergartners with a great deal more tenderness than the rest of the elementary schoolers. Kindergarten was only half a day, for one thing (although he and I would have both preferred a full-day program, had that been an option). The kinders had their own entrance, their own building, and their own playground. They had their own schedule. They didn't mix with the older kids at all, they weren't expected to know much of anything when they started, and there was a lot of love and hand-holding.

Today, I took N to school for his first day of first grade, and I realized, he's not a baby anymore. Not in the least. He's expected to be in school all day, in uniform (which I love, by the way). The bathrooms are not connected to the classroom, and if he needs to use the bathroom, he goes by himself. He is expected to control his own food - we send him along with a lunch and a snack, and it's his job to eat the snack at snack time so he'll have lunch later to eat. His day is more structured, more classroom-oriented. This is "for real" school, now!

I was relieved when I dropped him off that some of his friends from his kindergarten class were in his first grade class with him, even sharing a table with him. I was relieved that his teacher seems incredibly sweet and caring and organized. I was relieved to see that many parents are very involved in the classroom, helping out and volunteering, since I can't be (when I introduced myself and apologized that I couldn't be much help in the classroom because of my two younger boys, the teacher laughed and said, "I should be helping you!" See? Sweet.).

I think I was more nervous about his first day than he was. My mom pointed out that he hasn't had a lifetime of summer vacation and first day of school experiences like I have, so he hasn't learned to anticipate the first day in the same way that I have. And he tends to take new experiences in stride. He neither seemed particularly excited nor particularly anxious.

My husband and I are still concerned that this is public school, and, let's be honest, the public schools in our district are not stellar. They're barely mediocre, in fact. We are also concerned that N, with his October birthday, will be one of, if not the youngest in his grade, and we hope that his social skills are mature enough to handle being with kids who may be up to a year older than him. He's not even six yet, and won't be for two more months. We considered having him repeat kindergarten, but he's four feet tall and 63 pounds, he can read and add and subtract, he's incredibly articulate, and he's so smart. If he were in kindergarten again this year, he would tower over the barely-fives, and he would be bored out of his skull.

We had this dilemma last year, when we were debating whether he should do another year of preschool and then start kindergarten this fall instead of last fall. Certainly, there are kids in his class with fall birthdays who will be turning seven soon, when N will have just turned six. That's the trouble with a December cutoff date. California has since decided to shift the cutoff slowly back to September 1, but N was still in the group that could start as long as he had turned five by December 2, 2011, which he certainly did. Most of the other still-fours who started last year were in a pilot program called "transitional kindergarten," which is a two-year kindergarten program to ease the little ones into school, especially those who had never been in a school setting before. They were going to put N in that class last year, but thankfully our neighbor was a kindergarten volunteer and said, "No way you are putting him in the TK class. He's way too smart!" And he would have been soooo bored learning to count to 10 and pick out letters. He had already started reading by the time he started kindergarten!

I'm not bragging about N, by the way (well, maybe a little). I'm expressing the dilemma we had. Because though N may know as much as an average first grader, he is not as socially developed. As a toddler, he was always a little behind in his social skills, preferring the company of kids six months to a year younger than himself. However, he always did more intellectual and developmental growing when he was put in a class where he was one of the younger ones. He likes to be in charge, but he needs to learn to be led. He likes to run the games, but he needs to learn to cooperate. He wants to have friends, but he needs to learn to let his friends make their own choices. And sharing is still hard for him. My husband was especially worried about his social skills for first grade, because if he starts having disciplinary or behavioral issues in first grade, that could haunt him for the rest of his school career. His academics will never be a problem, but he has to get along with his peers, too. But if he's bored in class, that could cause a different sort of behavioral issue, so we made what became the obvious choice: push him forward rather than hold him back. It's not an easy choice. He has a friend who is five days older than him who goes to a different school, and his parents held him back, so he's just starting kindergarten this year. On the other hand, that boy has an older sister who is also an October birthday, and she's quite large for her age (and a girl, so possibly more emotionally mature anyway), so they decided to push her forward! It so much depends on the child.

So far, though, so good. He came home happy. It will be interesting to see how the year progresses and he is challenged more. I was imagining that in two years, I'll be walking two kids to their first day of school, a new kindergartner and a new third grader. I found that very hard to get my head around. At least we have no choice regarding my middle son's start date. He'll be 5-1/2 when he starts kindergarten, because he has a mid-December birthday. The baby, on the other hand, born September 5, will be four days past the cutoff by the time his turn comes around to register for school. Then we'll have to decide whether to try to test him into kindergarten and have him be barely five when he starts, or whether we'd rather hold him back and have him start as a just-six. Well, for that, we have a few years to worry about it!

On the bright side, N's only complaint today was that we didn't pack him enough food for lunch!

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Blog: Jessica on Babies

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