The pros of repeating first grade

Julianna and I on a mommy-daughter date to Disney On Ice this weekend
Julianna and I on a mommy-daughter date to Disney On Ice this weekend

At the end of last school year, Christian suggested to me that perhaps we should have Julianna repeat kindergarten. I told him no way; why would we do that? She’s basically with all her peers. He shrugged and said, “Okay,” and that was the end of that.

By the time I attended the Down Syndrome Education International conference a few weeks ago, the picture looked pretty different. The first time Julianna came home with a page of homework crossed out, I told Christian, “That’s it, they’ve started modifying her homework.” He disagreed. He thought it was just a mistake in the copies and it was probably crossed out on everyone’s.

When it happened again the next week I was certain I was right. The weekly reports that go out to all the parents talked about math sentences, and the homework that involved addition was excruciating for us. A week or two more and the Xd out pages disappeared. The weekly reports started including counting by fives–something Julianna didn’t have in her homework at all. I had a moment of mourning as I recognized the beginning of the split between my daughter’s capabilities and that of her peers. Then the worry started.

Because really, if she can’t even keep up in the first half of first grade, then that day when she’s going to need more help than can be given in an inclusive classroom is nearer than I’d like.

The day of the education conference, one of the presenters talked at length about the complex dance between expectation and ability, and how we keep our children artificially young. As an illustration, she talked about her daughter’s lack of academic prowess, and added that her daughter learned more math in the first year or two she lived on her own than she did in all the years of education that preceded it.

At lunchtime, I fell into conversation with a woman who was attending the conference with her daughter’s sped teacher. Her story sounded virtually identical to Julianna’s, and her daughter was repeating first grade because of the math issues.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Kids with special needs are allowed to attend public school until age 21. Why be in a rush to get her to high school graduation? She can’t keep up in P.E., she can’t keep up in math, and in both cases it’s because she doesn’t have the foundational concepts in place. She’ll get them eventually (probably), but not at the same age as her peers. Why have her continually frustrated? Give her brain a chance to make the neurological connections. Once she “gets” the foundational concepts, she’ll at least have a fighting chance of staying close to grade level–not forever, but for a while. Close enough, that is, to allow her to remain in the classroom for an extra year or two. That is our overarching goal: to see Julianna’s education carried out with her typically-developing peers for as long as possible before the walls go up for good.

So I brought up the subject last week at parent-teacher conferences, and the conversation is underway. Now I just have to get over my fear that it’ll be emotionally rough for her to see her peers move on if she stays put. To have to make a new set of friends. (Because Julianna has such a hard time making friends, you know. 😉 )