Personal Story

My Son’s Teacher Recommended He Repeat Kindergarten and I’m Struggling—Here’s Why

written by ILLYANA JONES
repeat kindergarten"
repeat kindergarten
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

This year, my son’s parent-teacher conferences were held the first week of March, right before Spring Break. It was his first “official” school conference, and I was looking forward to speaking with his teacher. The conference was on a Friday, and we were planning to head out of town immediately afterward. Our packed suitcases were in the car. I had worked tirelessly to get off work early enough to finish the packing, get to the school on time, and make it to the conference with time to spare. My son and I waited outside on the warmer-than-usual day for our turn. His teacher was prepared for parents who may not have care for their child, so my son was set up with his school iPad right outside the classroom.

My son’s teacher spoke very highly of him—his temperament, willingness to learn, ability to play well with others—all good things. His teacher and the teacher’s aide never had a problem with his behavior. Hearing all these amazing compliments, I was so proud. It’s terribly hard being a single mother. I never know if I’m “doing it right.” The praise from his teachers made me so proud of his ability to stand on his own when I’m not there and reaffirmed that I’m doing OK. But then his teacher pivoted to his academic skills. Despite all the positive feedback, she recommended he repeat kindergarten. My heart dropped. His teacher noted that she could see both the shock and hurt on my face. She was correct, my emotions were swirling.

“Despite all the positive feedback, she recommended he repeat kindergarten. My heart dropped… she could see both the shock and hurt on my face.”

His teacher went on to explain that my son was having a hard time with the reading curriculum. He didn’t know or easily recognize the basic sight words needed to learn to read—words such as “the,” “is,” “her,” “he,” etc. His teacher felt that as one of the younger kids in the class, repeating kindergarten may help. We talked some more, and I was told that ultimately the decision was mine whether I hold him back or not. Regardless, she and the teacher’s aide would keep working with him through the end of the school year, and there would be another assessment before I made the decision of whether or not to hold him back. I had so much to consider to decide whether or not my son would repeat kindergarten.

Reviewing State-Specific Kindergarten Guidelines

Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in the state of New Jersey, where we live, and many other states. According to the Education Commission of the States:

  • 16 states and the District of Columbia require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, and 44 states plus the District of Columbia require districts to offer at least half-day kindergarten.

Despite kindergarten—even half-day kindergarten—not being mandatory in our state, I always knew my son was going to go to kindergarten. In fact, he’s been in a learning facility since he was 2 with certified teachers. For pre-k 4, he went to a private Christian school and excelled. It is important to note that because kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of New Jersey, some districts operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Therefore, my son started kindergarten a semester late when we moved to our current school district.

Finding Additional Resources to Support Him

Being a single mom, I’ve learned to use my resources. Teacher and fellow New Jersey mom, AE, told me about a reading recovery program in our district. “My older son participated in the reading recovery program. This program helped build a strong foundation in my son’s reading success. With this program, he started reading within a month.” So, when I received an email about the reading recovery assessment, I signed my son up right away.

I also signed him up for a small summer camp to help build his reading skills. Additionally, his teacher provided some extra worksheets and workbooks to practice. I’ve also been able to adjust my work schedule to increase the time we spend reading and learning together.

repeat kindergarten
Source: ColorJoy Stock

Asking Other Parents Who’ve Been in the Same Position

It’s easy to feel alone as a single mom dealing with tough parenting decisions—especially when the “right” thing to do isn’t clear. Fellow New Jersey mom and close friend, JM, provided some insight for me and other parents wrestling with the decision of whether to hold their child back.

“In 2012, my son’s teacher let me know that my son would need to repeat the 5th grade. Having this conversation was challenging because, as a parent, I wanted to protect him. I wondered, ‘Was there anything I could have done differently?’ I had to remove my personal feelings from the situation and make sure that my focus was on what’s best for my child. I knew my son was having a hard time in his classes, so I signed him up for tutoring. Although he liked math, he had trouble paying attention and didn’t understand social studies. Additionally, he was also struggling with bullying and racism at school that year, which made it difficult for him to feel engaged. I didn’t want to push him forward another year if he was not truly understanding the work,” she said.

“It’s so important to know your child, and I felt that it was in his best interest to repeat the 5th grade. I wanted to take the pressure off and allow him to dedicate the additional year to truly learning the coursework. My son is now 21, and he said that he ‘doesn’t even think about when he had to repeat the 5th grade.’ At the time it felt like such a major life choice for us, but looking back on it 12 years later, it was just a crazy year.”

Considering His Feelings About Repeating Kindergarten

Lastly, I talked to my son. We talked about his feelings. I told him honestly but age-appropriately what his teacher was concerned about. That if he moved on, he’d have a really hard time in first grade. I told him that other students in his class could already read and would be able to read when they went to first grade. Admittedly, he did say, “Other kids can’t read either.” This made me laugh.

Once I redirected the conversation, this led to a deeper, more thoughtful conversation about why he was struggling. He also mentioned that he wanted to move along with his friends up to first grade. I’ve raised my son as a very social creature and playdates have been part of his entire life. He understands the concept of being “left out” and doesn’t want to feel that way if he repeats kindergarten. He and I talked about how hard he’d have to work this summer to get caught up. I tried to the best of my ability to make sure he understood. 

Making a Final Decision on Whether to Repeat Kindergarten

I decided that he wouldn’t repeat kindergarten and would be moving up to first grade. I believe we can do some great work this summer and get his reading skills where they need to be. If it’s determined he needs even more additional help during the next school year, I plan to hire a tutor. There are options! And once I considered everything, I could not justify holding him back.

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