The Cutoff Kid

A few weeks ago, I was slicing up a pizza for the kids for dinner, Millie by my side watching intently. I sliced it once and Millie piped up, “You made two halves!” I replied, “Very good, Millie.” When I sliced it through once more, Millie said, “Now you made four quarters.” Thinking I would be able to stump her because besting my kids brings me great joy as a parent, I then made two more cuts and asked, “Alright, smartypants. What comes next after four quarters?” Casually, she replied, “Eighths!”

I’m exceptionally bad at math so I was super surprised that she knew the answer which, was probably less an inherit ability to do complex math and more of a working knowledge gained from an iPad app. But still, Millie’s bright.

Millie has always shown an early aptitude for school. And, by “early aptitude,” I basically mean she was preceded in birth order by two boys. Henry and Charlie are both intelligent, eager and highly skilled in many areas but they certainly weren’t demanding to do homework at three years of age or crying unconsolably at four because they didn’t know how to read. Millie was.

Whether Millie’s aptitude is the byproduct of being third in line in succession behind two boys or true, unbridled genius, I can’t yet tell. Regardless, she has always had this Matilda-esque ability to pick up new skills, revel in novel ideas and master concepts that often times leave Bob and I sort of staring at each other, slack-jawed.

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Obviously the work of a genius. Just look at those jazz hands.

I can’t remember exactly when – probably at some point when I was researching schools during our move to Northern Virginia – I came across the Virginia regulation that mandates incoming students must be five years of age on or before September 30 to be accepted into kindergarten. The boys’ birthdays fall nowhere near the cutoff date so I guess I just hadn’t paid attention to the language before but with an October 12 birthdate, Millie would miss kindergarten admission by 12 days. No exceptions, it would seem.

This means, for the past couple of years, as Millie’s abilities have become more apparent, I have absolutely fretted about her kindergarten start. That is the only word to describe my anxiety over when and where and how this would all play out.

There didn’t seem to be any way around the September 30 regulation and, because so many preschool programs also abide by local school system policy, we kept running into it, like a brick wall. When we enrolled Millie in preschool at almost four years of age, she was the oldest in a class of mostly young three-year-olds. She deeply enjoyed the curriculum and we adored her school but her overarching daily complaint was that several of her classmates didn’t “behave,” were always in her face and “annoying” her. It was simply an issue of maturity but I bemoaned the cutoff date responsible for her placement.

As the months marched on towards her fifth birthday, I stopped asking for kindergarten advice when the responses were, “Don’t rush her.” Or, “You should just enjoy this time.” It was hard to explain but in actuality, it wasn’t that I was pushing her, it was that I was trying to keep up with her. There is a huge difference between the two.

Millie was academically and socially ready to be with her peers. She’s been ready. It was endlessly frustrating that twelve days made such a huge difference.

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Wedding anniversary tribute. Missing that pesky silent E.

Everything came to a head this past fall. With a kindergartner ready for kindergarten but no kindergarten to attend, we were left with three options:

  1. More preschool.
  2. Private school.
  3. Homeschool.

My least favorite option was private school. Not only does our rural setting make the getting to and picking up from a traditional private school in the nearest major town logistically impossible, the tone deaf suggestion of, “Well, you could always private school!” consistently enraged me.

While additional preschool would have given me the brief respite I needed from the unrelenting care of three children, I still didn’t feel like it would meet Millie’s needs best. She adored all of the art projects and circle time at her preschool but had been pushing us at home to do more of the work she had seen her brothers doing for school. I knew her preschool wasn’t offering that type of enrichment.

So, in the end, I felt that Millie’s needs could best be met by homeschooling her for kindergarten. Bob concurred. If there wasn’t a spot for her at our school, we’d have to make do at home.

We’ve been making do at our little ad hoc at-home kindergarten since last September. Our curriculum consists of workbook time, artwork time, inappropriate wearing of pajamas all day, occasional coffee with friends, extensive field trips to Target and A LOT of iPad learning-to-read apps. It’s the most relaxed syllabus in kindergarten history. Millie also plays for hours in her room with all of her toys and dolls and little treasures. She’s doing a lot of imagination building this year which, I tell myself when life gets in the way of our schoolwork, is a key component of kindergarten.

I have put zero pressure on myself to accomplish huge things this year with Millie’s education. I’m not a trained teacher so my main goal was to keep her engaged and interested in learning through this odd gap year. I think we’re achieving that goal even if she’s still frustrated that she can’t yet read Little House on the Prairie.

There are some states that address cutoff kids with Transitional Kindergarten programs to help fill just such a gap year. Targeted specifically at children that fall in the months right around that cutoff date, they offer classroom experience with less rigorous curriculums. Something like this would have been ideal for Millie.

But, we had to settle for our dining room table instead.

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And, as much as I’m sure Bob would prefer to stop talking about it, the dilemma over Millie’s education isn’t over quite yet. We have additional decisions to make this fall about whether to place her in kindergarten again or test her into first grade.

Even if she is academically and emotionally ready to rejoin her peers in first grade, I have serious reservations about her being the youngest in her class as she advances through middle and high school. Since “redshirting” kindergartners has become more commonplace, Millie could potentially be starting high school with kids that are much older. Not to mention, entering college at 17. I quickly run off the rails with what-ifs.

My concern isn’t without precedent since I lived this exact scenario. I tested into kindergarten at four years of age and was successful throughout middle and high school but burned out spectacularly my freshman year of college. I rebounded but have wondered, as I’ve walked this path with Millie, if having an extra year under my belt would have made a difference down the educational line.

However, holding her back because of her age and not ability is exactly what we’ve been railing against for two years. This is all so confusing. And, the decisions seem so momentous and long-reaching. Wanting to do right by your kids sure is emotionally taxing!

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Millie says this is me. At least I’m smiling?

While there are still moments when I wish this year would have been different for Millie, when I wish she could have joined a classroom that she so badly wanted to be a part of, I’ve mostly treasured our time together. She is an eager learner, game for almost any adventure and, just this week, emptied the dishwasher for the first time all by herself. In summary, she is a superb student.