High Variance

Too Soon?

I loved the Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. Not the movie and not just the book, but the whole series of books and the whole world of Oz and the whole host of amazing characters. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 books and by the end of second grade I had read them all. The Scarecrow, the Patchwork Girl, the Gump, the Cowardly Lion, and the Hungry Tiger (just to name a few) were some of my best friends. Given that my daughter R has a wild imagination and a voracious appetite for books, you can’t blame me for introducing these stories as soon as possible. Actually, it was too soon.

We started reading a seriously condensed picture book version when she was about two years old. She thought it was terrific and for months all she wanted to do was to act out the story. She was Dorothy for Halloween last year, and right around R’s 4th birthday, we read a chapter of the unabridged Wizard of Oz every night. She loved it and even though it revved her up a little right before she was supposed to go to sleep, we finished it and dove right into the Land of Oz. Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse were as fun as the original characters and we zipped through Ozma of Oz where we got to meet our first Oz princess.

We hit a wall with Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. The invisible bears were just too scary. That night it took a little longer than usual to get to sleep and the next night, R wanted to read something else.

Last weekend we had a similar experience. As soon as it got warm enough, R has been zooming around on her pink Dora bike with training wheels. We would go as fast as we caould around the block and I would run down the hills to keep up with her. She was looking a little cramped and since the seat wouldn’t go up any higher, I thought it was time for a new bike. Our awesome local shop (The Devil’s Gear) had a used 16” bike that was perfect and we picked it up. It didn’t have training wheels and R said that was fine with her.

I also thought since B just turned two, she was ready for her first bike. We decided to pick up a Burley MyKick. It’s got two wheels and no pedals so you learn to balance right away. My friend Google tells me it’s easier to transition to a “real bike” from one of these than from a bike with training wheels.

Unfortunately, we did not have the fun-filled weekend of bike-riding that I was hoping for. As soon as we got home, we learned that both kids were too little for their new bikes. Seats only go so low. The only short term benefit was that R enjoyed racing the MyKick up and down the driveway.

This weekend things got a lot better. R decided she was ready to ride her new bike and this evening we did 4 laps around the block! It didn’t take long for her to master the straight-aways up hill and down hill. But the seat is still too high and she needs support to start or stop. She’s going to be a menace to herself and our neighbors for a while yet.

Books and bikes are pretty low stakes things, and I don’t feel so bad starting them on the early side. We’ll return to Oz at some point. Our new bikes will be be there when the girls are totally ready. But some decisions are a lot harder to recover from if you make a mistake. Parents of kids who were born late in the year know where I’m going with this: When is the right time to start school?

I’m a December birthday and I started first grade when I was 5. My mom had to convince the principal to bend the rules since technically I was supposed to be 6 by September 1. Throughout elementary, middle school, and high school I was the youngest kid in the class. I was pretty emotionally immature. I had regular “accidents” until third grade. I always had trouble with girls and I think at least part of that was being younger than they were. And yet I feel strongly that it was the right decision for me. I was curious and intellectually ambitious and competitive. I would have been bored silly if I had been held back and even as it was, I wish I’d been challenged more.

I’ve also met lots of people with late in the year birthdays that were pushed into school early, and they’re bitter about it to this day. They really believe they would have had a more comfortable and successful school experience had their parents waited. And maybe their parents should have waited.

The trendy thing to do now is to wait. I swear it all started when Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers came out in 2008. In the first chapter, he tells a story about how elite Canadian hockey players were all born in January or February. When these guys started playing, they were the biggest, most skilled kids on their age-graded teams and so were plucked out and given additional training/coaching. Maybe being the oldest kid in kindergarten or first grade helps with academics too. Maybe.

I strongly believe the “right” answer about when to start school depends on the kid (and the school). R was born in late November and will be starting kindergarten next year (before she turns 5). We will be watching her closely. The academic part of school will be no problem. She’s already got great reading and math skills and she loves to learn. On the social/emotional side, she acts her age. That might be hard when most of her friends are older. We are definitely open to having her repeat kindergarten at a new school. We’re also open to her moving on to first grade. We’re not open to doing something just because everyone else is doing it. We’ll make the decision based on her.