Monday, June 25, 2012

The Best Decision I Ever Made for My Child's Education (It's Not What You Think!)

For those of you who know we homeschool our two youngest children, you are probably thinking that homeschooling was the single best decision we ever made for our child's educational well-being.  But in spite of the passion I feel for our homeschooling and the quality program that we follow, WRONG!!  The single best, and most important, educational decision we ever made for our child was to NOT put him in kindergarten at age 5. 

My third child was born May 3, 1996.  His older brother would  be 10 years old in  just 22 days.   His sister was nearly 11 1/2 years older than him.  He came to us after two traumatic miscarriages.  By age two, a friend who was also a speech pathologist was expressing some concerns about my sweet baby boy's lack of words.  When he was 2 1/2, we added another bouncing boy to our family.  To say I  was overwhelmed with a toddler, a newborn, and two teens was an understatement.  But by this time, there was no denying this toddler had some serious speech delays.  We started him in speech at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  He got speech therapy and speech and hearing students got hands-on experience in working with children needing help.  He enjoyed "going to college" before his older siblings.  Having two teenage siblings and parents who worked with the church youth group regularly, he assumed he was also a teenager.  He, however, was becoming belligerent and withdrawn because he was so misunderstood.  He was saying a lot to everyone, but unfortunately, he only had about 10 words which were recognized by those listening to him.  The boy had repeated ear infections from about 9 months of age.  He had surgery receiving PE tubes at the age of 16 months.   Nonetheless, his speech and fine-motor skills had been severely affected.   While he enjoyed the university program, he just didn't seem to be making progress.  At age three, we had him evaluated by our local school system's early intervention specialist.  It was determined he had "severe" speech problems.  As a result, he was sent "out of zone" to an elementary speech teacher about 15 miles from our home for speech therapy.  Mrs. K. was a gift from God for all of us.  She assured me that my boy was going to be fine and in short order, he was progressing beautifully.  He began to be happy again and was less frustrated.  He had just needed to be heard and understood.  By age 4 1/2, Mrs. K. said he had progressed to the point of being able to attend preschool speech at our local elementary school.  We then began a relationship with a wonderful speech teacher who would work with him through his kindergarten year.   The local school system had blessed us greatly by teaching me how to work with him at home and in teaching him to speak properly.  

In August after he had turned four, we enrolled him in a three day per week preschool  program at the high school which his older siblings attended.  Classes were for 3-4 hours per day.  He loved school and was proud to be "in high school" like his big brother and sister.   He did his work along with all the other children.  But as the year went by, we were seeing some other problems with this child's development.  

The following spring, I took his ABC book he had made to church with me one day.  He had done worksheet after worksheet, first tracing his letters and then copying them on tablet lines repeatedly.  I showed his work to our church kindergarten teacher.  Our church had a wonderful preschool program with a certified kindergarten class.  This program was well-known in Knoxville and so I totally trusted "Mrs. Peggy's" opinion of my boy's work.  I assured her that I wanted her honest opinion about his kindergarten readiness.  She just shook her head from side to side and recommended that we not put him in kindergarten the next fall.  She recommended a five day per week preschool program.  We took her advice and enrolled him in the church preschool class.  He spent five days per week with another great teacher while continuing with his speech program at our local elementary school three days per week.

That decision was the single best decision we ever made for this particular child.  It gave him another year to work on his fine motor skills through more practice with paper and pencil and crayons and picking up small beads and other exercises recommended which to him were just games that we played.  He continued improving in his speech also.   He also became better able to  sit and learn for longer periods of time.

We were assured that instead of trying to catch up and stay caught up with his peers all through school, he would be performing at grade level without struggling.  When he began kindergarten, we were so pleased to find that not only did he not have to catch up, he excelled in school.  He consistently had excellent test scores and even "off the chart"  scores in some subjects.  By giving him one more year for his skills to catch up with his age and size, we gave him a gift which potentially has changed his life.  He hasn't had the frustration of giving school his all only to fail.  He has the capability and skills to go far in his education during his high school years as well as in college.  

Even though he will turn 19 the month he graduates from high school (slightly older than the norm), we still feel we did him a great favor by that decision early in his life.  He has been a top-notch student throughout his school career to date.  He also has a little more maturity than most kids at his grade level.  With dual credit education in his future, I feel secure that he will be ready to handle the extra responsibility as well as the exposure to the young adult world of education found on college campuses.    I feel strongly that had we enrolled him in kindergarten at age five, we would still be dealing with the problems he would have had to overcome.  Instead of struggle and frustration for all of us, we have experienced great joy in his schooling success!  My advice to other parents is to never think that because your child is a certain age, that he or she has to start school.  Base the beginning point of your child's formal education years on their development and readiness, not on a number.  You will never regret it!


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