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School Daze

On being the oldest and the youngest in Kindergarten

Otis Francis starts the transitional kindergarten program this month.

When you have babies and young kids, every parent you meet offers the same advice: Enjoy every moment, because the early years pass faster than you can imagine.

It’s a timeworn cliché that I find myself repeating to new parents. Now, suddenly, our son Otis is in school. The days of his mom deciding on a whim what adventure he should experience next are over, sort of forever. Not counting weekends and holidays, of course. He’s on the 9-to-5 track for life. OK, so it’s 8-noon for the first few years. But still, the time did indeed fly. And now a little bit of freedom (his and ours) is gone.

Otis was born five years ago in the month of September, so he’ll be in the transitional kindergarten program at his Irvine Unified School District elementary school. The year of transitional kindergarten is for kids born on Sept. 2 through Dec. 2. The general idea is that it’s not that great being the youngest and smallest in your class.

I agree, because I was both. Eons ago when I went to school, the California birthday cutoff was Dec. 1. I was born on Nov. 28, so I started kindergarten when I was 4. Which probably would have been fine, except my mother, my two sisters and I moved to Colorado when I was in second grade or so, where the cutoff was in September.

So for all of my school years I wasn’t just the youngest, but the youngest by months. And the oldest kids were up to 15 months more advanced than I was.

And that sort of stunk.

I was less mature, less athletic, less assured socially and less able to compete in many areas, with the exception of academics. I had my share of bullying. I thought I was bad at sports, but in fact I was only a late bloomer, who later in life turned out fairly OK.

Back then, gym class had a “Lord of the Flies” aspect to it. The gym teacher didn’t teach us how to do anything; class was about celebrating what the agile and athletic kids already knew how to do.

The seven circles of gym class hell included climbing a rope, dodge ball, Newcomb ball (a version of volleyball where the ball is caught), square dancing and tumbling. In the latter, I never advanced beyond the head and handstand station, while the cool girls were busy doing round-off back handsprings.

The lowlight was in fourth or fifth grade when a frail kid, who was allergic to milk, and I were ordered by the gym teacher to go to the parallel bars. We held ourselves up, straight-armed, for as long as we could. You know, to see who was the weakest.

I’ll give you one guess who fell first. Not that I’m permanently scarred.

So I’m thrilled with the transitioinal kindergarten program, and I’m happy that our son will be among the oldest in his class, and not the youngest.

Otis is already proficient in many areas. He reads well and his current obsession (beyond iPad apps — I probably let him play too much) is a multiplication table book. He loves symmetry, so the times tables have an appeal. But based on my experience, being smart doesn’t outweigh the other aspects of being the youngest in your class.

I was worried that Otis’ program would just be an earlier iteration of kindergarten, and that we’d run the risk that the kids in the class will be bored spending a second year in actual kindergarten. But we attended an orientation night for parents last spring, which put those worries to rest.

Interestingly, one of the teachers who spoke at the program was my wife’s kindergarten teacher, and she has been with the district since the 1970s.

She doesn’t teach at Alderwood Elementary, where Otis is going, but we know parents whose kids attend now or have gone there, and we hear nothing but amazing things.

So ready or not, school’s in for our eldest. And just like when he was born, nothing will ever be the same.

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