To Retain Or Not To Retain?


To Retain Or Not To Retain?

Around this time last year, I was having serious doubts about whether my youngest, enrolled in kindergarten at the time, was ready to move on to first grade. To be honest, I’d been having doubts for most of the school year, probably as early as October. But his teacher told me to avoid making any hasty decisions. A child can grow quite a bit over the course of a few months, so we waited in anticipation to see if he might “catch up” to his classmates. 

But about a month after returning from spring break, it was glaringly obvious that he wasn’t going to catch up.

He had made some growth from those early warning signs in October, for sure; it just wasn’t enough. Even with his little bit of progress, he was always ten steps behind the other kids in his class. He was diving under his desk and crawling on the floor while the other kids were sitting nicely. He was struggling to sound out simple CVC words while the other kids were working on blends and digraphs. He was struggling to follow multi-step instructions and much of his handwriting was hard to decipher. It wasn’t an issue of him not being a smart kid. He just…needed more time to grow. 

To say this was a difficult choice to make would be an understatement.

It felt like the most important decision I had made in his young life so far. I was essentially altering how the rest of his years in education would look. I was changing his high school graduation date. There were a million ripple effects to consider, and because his private elementary school left retention decisions entirely up to the parents, I deeply felt the weight of this choice on my shoulders. 

It didn’t help that his dad and I were divorced with joint custodial decision-making, but we disagreed on what to do with him. His dad was concerned about the social ramifications of holding him back. What if it was a hit to his self-esteem? What if the other kids made fun of him for repeating a grade? What if he finally hit his stride in first grade and he managed to catch up to his peers? What if a different type of school environment (like a Montessori school) would serve his needs better?

I had different concerns. What if he was simply too young to start kindergarten? (He was a “fresh” five-year-old with a late June birthday when he started kindergarten in August.) What if his struggles in school eventually became a hit to his self-esteem or contributed to a negative outlook on school in general? What if the challenges became a domino effect, leading him to falling behind in school every year, even into middle and high school?

These were all serious concerns to address, and our difference in opinion made the choice extremely difficult. We consulted countless other parents who had held back a child or considered/regretted not holding back a child. I read way too many articles on this issue and gathered way too much advice. In the end, no one had a crystal ball to see into the future. I had to make the best choice that I could for my child given the facts at hand, and the rest was left to hope and prayer. 

In the end, I chose to retain my son in kindergarten for one more year.

He enrolled in the same school (but a new class/new teacher) as a fresh six-year-old for the 2022-2023 school year. Did his friends in first grade have questions about why he was doing kindergarten again? They did, but they were satisfied with the easy answer that some kids just need more time. My son quickly made friends in his new kindergarten class. Reading began to click for him, and he cruised through CVC words, blends, and digraphs. Now it’s spring semester and he’s reading small chapter books and writing little stories. His handwriting and his classroom behavior aren’t perfect, but they are vastly improved from what they were last year. He is a totally different kid, and I couldn’t be more proud of all of the progress that he’s made this year. 

Retaining my son in kindergarten was a really difficult choice, but it was absolutely the right choice for him, and I haven’t had a single regret about it. 



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