To Repeat or not to Repeat?

I was hopeful, excited, and nervous as I walked up the steps to my son’s first parent teacher conference several years ago. My son was in 3 year old Pre-K, and I was so proud of how well he knew all his letters, numbers, and shapes. This was the first preschool he had attended, and I couldn’t wait to hear his teacher’s impressions of him.

As I came in, the teacher smiled, but she seemed nervous. Why was she nervous? My son was delightful, and people told me how funny and smart he was all the time. She went through his kindergarten checklist with me, then she stopped. She said, “I know you’re probably not expecting this, but I think your son needs to repeat PreK 3.”

What, now? I looked at the name on the folder in her hand to make sure she had the folder for the right child. There was my son’s name, written clearly. I felt my face flush, then my whole body felt cold. Why did I feel embarrassed and devastated? “You’re a teacher too,” I told myself. “Listen and keep an open mind.”

His teacher went on to explain that although he knew all the academic content for the class, he was less mature than many of the other children, he had difficulty following directions, and he was one of the youngest in the class. She said he just needed more time to mature. With a late summer birthday, he would continue to be one of the youngest in his class for his whole school career if I sent him on each year. 

“Just think about it right now,” she said. “You don’t have to decide now, but give it some time to really consider. ” I thanked her and numbly walked back to my car. I knew she was a good teacher, and I knew my son loved her class. But especially with this being my first child, I was in shock. 

I went home and told my husband about the parent teacher conference. He was shocked too, and we both felt like we just needed time to think about it. As I looked at the schedule of parent activities coming up at school, I suggested that we both take part of a day off work and come watch how our son interacted with others together. We freed up our schedules to both come to the Easter party at school, and we stood together as the children did an activity. While the majority of the other children participated in all the different parts of the party, our son and a couple of his friends ran around the room. My husband whispered in my ear, “Yeah, he can repeat.” I was thinking the same thing.  

What came through all of this was some pretty big parenting realizations. Some of them I really already knew subconsciously, but this brought them to the forefront of my mind. I am not objective about my own children. I can see and recognize many of their strengths and weaknesses, and I can predict their thought processes, but I am totally biased with them. I love them more than anything, and it is almost impossible for me to be completely objective because they are my boys. I see them through the lens of being their mother. Their teachers care for them deeply, but they can also see them more objectively. They can see them in comparison to a group of other children away from their parents. They can see them in a way that I can try, but cannot completely grasp. And for that reason, I really need to listen to them. Since I am a teacher myself I already knew all this, but when it’s your own children, it’s just different.

We made the decision to let our son repeat PreK 3, and it was one of the best things I feel like I have ever done as a parent. The next year that he was in the same class, he became more of a leader. He was able to follow directions consistently, and he wasn’t bored because his teachers gave him more challenging material when needed. He was able to work and play with his friends more cooperatively. In his case, I feel like he just needed the gift of time. Since then, he has been consistently academically strong each year, and he truly enjoys school and his friends. He is in fifth grade now, and I feel like he’s right where he needs to be. 

If you have been in the same situation, I can’t tell you what you should do. Every parent who gets this suggestion from a teacher will need to decide on their own. However, this whole process reminded me that teachers can see our children in a way that we sometimes can’t. Their suggestions and advice are invaluable. As parents, we know our children inside and out, but teachers can see them through fresh eyes. 

Stephanie grew up with her family in Kirkwood, Missouri. She earned a degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and then a Montessori degree in Atlanta, Georgia.  She also lived in Oklahoma for several years, and now calls Baton Rouge home. She taught PreK and Elementary school part time, full time, and had some stay-at home mom time when her babies were little. She teaches PreK four at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and she loves being a teacher mom. In her free time, she enjoys going to Barre class, cooking, traveling, singing, girls' nights, trips to the beach, and spending time with friends and family. She and her husband have two adventurous, adorable boys, ages seven and thirteen, who keep life exciting and hilarious. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. We went (or still going through) the same thing with our 4 year old. We originally put him in 2 day preschool for the social/discipline/maturity aspect. He’s a smart cookie, but we struggle daily with his level of maturity, listening skills, and cooperation. Around December, his teachers expressed their concerns as well. It definitely made us realize that we had done the right thing putting him in preschool. He will go to the 4 day program next year. His amazing teachers are helping him focus every step of the way. Thanks for writing the article!

  2. I am a mom of 4.

    My first child is now 18, turning 19 in late June. His prek-3 teacher said the same for him and we happily held him back. His sister came a year later in late August. The same teacher told us that she was just great and not to hold her back. This left us with a dilemma of them being in the same grade so we decided that despite the fact that she was ready we would hold her back, as well so they would have their “own grade space”. He is now on his way to college and she is preparing for her senior year.

    I want to reassure anyone on the fence that we NEVER regretted this decision for either of them. Both are honor students and have wonderful friends- groups of kids who would most assuredly not be their friends if we had not held them back. They are older than most in their classes and I think are better students and natural leaders because of this.

    The next 2 kids were born late in March and November so we did not have the issue of holding them back. I know it was the best thing for our first two!

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