“She will need extra support both at home, and in the classroom, in order to meet the widely-held expectations for this age, by the end of the Kindergarten year.”
These words on my daughter’s second term report card confirmed what my husband and I had suspected all along - she was not keeping up with her peers in most aspects of her development. Since she joined our family at age three, she had struggled to reach her developmental milestones. The effects of neglect in foster care, and of pre-natal exposure to alcohol and drugs were becoming apparent, and we needed to work out how best to support her in school.
By May, we began discussing having our daughter repeat Kindergarten. The principal, teachers, school psychologist and speech language therapist all strongly discouraged this. Their reasons varied from, “She will feel isolated if all her peers move to Grade 1 and she doesn’t,” to, “She is eligible for full-time funding for Grade 1 and we need that.” It seemed that as her mother, my knowledge of her, and her needs, were being ignored in favour of what would be easier, and more cost effective, for the school. Finally, after several more meetings, I went against my better judgement and agreed that she would go into Grade 1 the following September.
Still unhappy with the decision, during the summer I spoke with as many parents as I could find who had faced a similar decision. Many wished they had held their child back, and those whose children repeated the year felt their kids were happier, and doing much better, than if they had gone into Grade 1.
In July, we had a full psychoeducational assessment done on our daughter, by a professional team not used by the school district. On the basis of that assessment, we decided that she would repeat Kindergarten. I sent a letter to the school outlining our decision to keep her back.
Next came the task of explaining our decision to our daughter and her siblings.
In a casual conversation around school starting in September, we began talking about what would happen. We explained to our daughter that she would be in the Kindergarten classroom again. We told her the truth - that we wanted her to go into Grade 1 feeling great about herself and feeling she was able to keep up to the other kids. We talked about some of the challenges she has had in school so far, and how repeating Kindergarten would be an opportunity for her to make some new friends and have some extra time to learn. Our daughter loves helping others, and we suggested that she might be able to help all the new Kindergarten students feel comfortable and learn the routines. This brought a big smile to her face.
We also felt this was a great opportunity to add some age-appropriate information to what our daughter already knew. We gently explained that when she was in her birth mother’s tummy, her birth mother drank beer and wine. And although her birth mother tried really hard to stop drinking, she couldn’t; and when she drank alcohol, it was as if the growing baby in her tummy was drinking it too. We explained that because babies have just started growing, the beer and wine make teeny tiny little holes in their brains that keep the baby from growing properly. Once those little holes are there, they sometimes make it difficult for the babies to learn things as fast as other babies. As the baby grows, she still has difficulty learning things. And that was what happened to our daughter, so she just needs more time to learn.
We went over this conversation several more times during the summer and it gave our daughter, and her siblings time to process the information and ask questions. We also made a huge effort to set up playdates for our daughter with other children who would be in her Kindergarten class.
In a meeting just prior to school starting, the school tried to convince me again that our daughter would be better off in Grade 1. I brought copies of the psychoeducational assessment we had completed and, finally, the school seemed to listen; and they reluctantly agreed.
This September our daughter will be moving on to Grade 1. She has lots of friends in her Kindergarten class, and she is learning at a pace equivalent to her peers.
We are very proud of her accomplishments. More importantly, she is very proud of herself.
*names have been changed to protect privacy.