Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Preschool to Kindergarten

This is our last year in preschool. We have loved it and have had close to 4 wonderful years at this school – two with our eldest daughter, and now we are finishing up the 2nd year with our youngest. I was struggling with the thought of my baby going off to kindergarten next year – I always joke with her that I want to shrink her down and carry her around in my pocket. She loves that and tells me, “Shrink me, shrink me!”

Back in January, we received an assessment from her preschool teacher. We were quite taken aback at the results of that assessment and the ensuing conversations with her teacher. Our girlie, who is (to us) completely wonderful, bright, and witty received less than favorable scores and her preschool teacher recommends that we hold her back for another year instead of sending her to kindergarten. This was a total shock to us. Her older sister has never had problems in school and brings home fantastic report cards and test scores. She attended the same preschool and had the same teacher, but this was six years ago, before the school began doing assessments – it would be interesting to be able to compare their preschool assessments to see what the differences are. Obviously, they are two different people with different personalities, but some of the things that my girl scored poorly on left me scratching my head in confusion. My husband and I felt like, “What is the matter with us? We would never have thought that we needed to teach her that!” Specifically, one of those issues was “alternating feet when walking up and down the stairs.” It’s a developmental thing, and apparently something that they look for to see if kids are developing properly – we never would have ever thought anything of that if it had not shown up on this assessment. I am sure that this was not something that we taught our eldest daughter – it would have been interesting to see if she would not have met standards in this area too.

We have been working on these things (and more) with our girl and we thought we had seen a lot of improvement. The preschool teacher had originally said that she would do a second assessment, but later told us that she had seen "no marked improvement" and wouldn't be doing that. That was followed by another discussion where she strongly suggested that we give our daughter "a gift" and hold her back. She said it would be the best thing we could do for her. She also said that she felt our girl had low self-esteem, often saying "I can't do it" when asked to do something at school. It was difficult to hear one thing from the teacher and feel something entirely different from our personal experience with our child. For most people that know our younger daughter, low self-esteem is not at all in the list of adjectives that they would use to describe her. She's a confident kid -- she knows what she wants, she'll tell you, and she'll also call you on your own behavior/actions if she feels that it's not right. (Grandpa says she'll be a great supervisor later in life!) In fact, this was another thing to consider -- is it that she can't do the work or that she has no interest in it? She'd rather play, certainly. But is that the issue? She has (what we think is) a great vocabulary for her age. She is wonderful socially -- that was actually one area on which the preschool teacher praised her.

It was hard to separate our personal bias as parents and try to make the right decision for our girl. Would it be so bad to hold her back? No, not necessarily. But what if she really didn't need that extra year -- what if she were bored attending preschool again. How would she feel entering the 4's class as a 5-year-old? How would she feel being a grade behind her cousin who is only a month older than her?

We had discussion upon discussion (my husband and I) about what to do -- friends and family encouraged us to get another assessment, we spoke with our doctor who felt that our girl was doing just fine developmentally. When we mentioned that she was struggling a little with writing her name (which is 9 letters long -- she does the first 3 with ease), the doctor said, "Well, her name isn't LISA. It's pretty long to learn and remember!" We called and spoke to the principal of the elementary school (who knows us from our eldest daughter attending for the past 4 years) and she was encouraging by telling us that it is their job as educators to make sure that our child is successful in school. She assured us that if we or they felt that our child needed help academically, they would provide her with the tools to be successful. This all helped reassure us that kindergarten was the way to go this next year. The final deciding factor? We took our daughter to have her eyes checked. The Lions Club had come into her school and they voluntarily tested the kids' vision. They sent home a note saying, "have your child's eyes checked again." We thought perhaps she wasn't cooperating, perhaps she was distracted. Our doctor's office referred us to an eye doctor and my husband and I took her to her appointment. We mentioned the assessment to the eye doctor and mentioned that we were wondering if perhaps her eyesight could be affecting her school work. After a trying time with the doctor's assistant -- her seeming very crabby and put out that we were somehow wasting her time -- our girl was hardly answering any of her questions -- the eye doctor examined her and told us that she has a good deal of astigmatism and she needs glasses. This was quite a surprise to us, and I asked, "Does she need to wear them all the time?" The doctor said, "It will be such a difference that she'll WANT to wear them all the time. It will be like, 'Oh, hello world!'" We left his office and picked out a pair of pretty pink frames and we waited for a week for her glasses to come in. The doctor was right -- at her young age, she adapted to them immediately. She puts them on first thing in the morning, she takes them off at night and puts them on her nightstand. And they seem to have really made a difference to her in every day life and in school.

Recently, my husband was assisting at school and while he was helping out in the other room, the teacher had each child go up to the board individually and write their name and draw a person. Both of these have been issues for our girl. My husband did not see this, but the teacher told him later that when she called our daughter up and told her what she needed to do (name and person), our girl thought about it for a second, then went over to the attendance board and grabbed her card with her name, carried it over to the board and used it to help her spell her name! She wrote her name on the board and she drew a stick figure person, just like the teacher had requested! The teacher was very impressed -- and so were we! I overheard the teacher telling another teacher at the school that our daughter had really improved. It's been a trying few months, but we are happy that we kept working with her, kept advocating for her, and tried to consider every possibility to make the right decision for her and to give her every opportunity to move along to kindergarten.

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