Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We Gave Her The Gift of Time

This post is about my family's experience with grade level retention. Your opinions (while welcome!) and experiences may vary from ours. Consult your child's teachers and counselors, I aint no expert.
First Grade Vinnie, 5 years old, at beginning of the school year. 

Last year, I had two first graders under my roof. One excelled in academics, blowing through her sight words, math facts and comprehension skills with ease. Homework, for Averie, took mere minutes. Vinnie, on the other hand, struggled through first grade. Sight words and phonics seemed to hold her back, and in the beginning, we hoped she would be able to pull through. Our initial solution was to do more. We added on our own homework, only allowed her to watch educational shows, played math games, phonics games, sound bingo-you name it, we tried it. I remember my husband in tears, not grasping why one child "got it" and the other one didn't.
Eventually, Vinnie's self esteem sunk as well, when she realized her class had moved on without her and she was given remedial "busy work". She became very good at lip syncing skip counting aloud with other students, embarrassed and aware of her incomprehension.
By the end of the second trimester, Vinnie's teacher recommended we hold her back. At first, we opposed the idea, worried about the stigma that comes with "repeating". We vowed to try harder, spent every afternoon at the library and, in turn, pushed her to her limit. Her learning actually stopped and she began to regress, the harder we pushed. Blocks went up and school life became her (and our) worst enemy.
Once again, during one of our frequent parent conferences, Vinnie's teacher brought the "R" word up. At the ends of our ropes, we agreed to further discuss grade retention with her school's counselors and her mother (I wasn't there for that convo. Phew!) After deliberation, testing, prayer and more testing, the decision for Vinnie to repeat 1st grade was made. With about 2 months left in the school year. Instantly, her burden was lifted, and while we still nudged her to complete her work, we were able to ease up and focus on making learning fun.
A year later, and I have a happy, popular and confident first grader (again, but for the first time). The concepts she struggled with last year are not as mind boggling this year. We have way less melt downs. Her attitude and outlook on life is positive again.
First grade Vinnie at 7 years old. Doing homework. And smiling (February)
I don't exactly know what the difference this year is, but I think her brain just wasn't mature enough to make the right connections to grasp those core concepts last year. Yes, she is doing the same projects over and redoing field trips. Yes she lost some friends who moved on to 2nd grade, but she made 30 more friends who ask her for homework help, include her in reading time and think she's the bee's knees. I am proud of her, and more importantly, she is proud of herself.
There is so much opinion about grade retention and starting kids in school as early as possible, but I strongly feel like giving my child some extra time was the best decision we could make.
So that's our story.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience; it's so interesting to hear! I think you're right about brains sometimes just needing time to "click" on some subjects, and once they're given that time everything works out. I think grade levels really are an individual thing; I was on the older side of my grade and that worked for me. My (much younger) sister (who's almost in high school) has always been on the young side of her grade, and that worked for her. It really is something that should be based on the individual child's needs.

    1. Thank you! I have been seeing some post floating around the Internets about putting kids in school when they're practically babies and I had to share this. No two kids are alike!

  2. In the end, it's what works best for you & your child. I'm glad that she's excelling in school now :) The early grades are so important because they build up the foundation for learning. My daughter was struggling socially in Kindergarten this year because she was shy & the teachers who assessed her had no idea what she knew. She never did preschool because we just felt like it wasn't right for her. Sure, she struggled socially at the beginning of the school year, but now she's social & is doing great. I think as parents we are forced to believe that your kid needs to be in preschool or else. Yes, preschool is great, but it's not for every child. I hope your little sweetie continues to excel & sees school as something positive :)

    1. My other daughter, Cat, had a very hard time in preschool. Her teachers said she would literally take a piece of chalk, draw a circle on the black top and sit in it during recess. We were really worried about how kindergarten was going to go for her. However, something clicked over the summer before kinder and she became a little social butterfly.
      If I could do it over, I probably wouldn't have put her through preschool.