Monday, March 23, 2015

What's Age Got to Do With It?

We've entered a weird stage where, technically, both girls fall into the same "age category". They are both between the ages of 3 and 5. They are both preschool age. At library, or gymnastics, or any number of activities, they would be categorized, by age, into the same class.

This boggles my mind. Boggles it.

Madison is a mature kid. She's always been comfortable with older kids. She's bright and advanced for her age (I actually hate when people say that since it sounds so humblebraggy. But according to checklists and pediatric norms, especially anything to do with language, she's ahead. Our homeschool curriculum is a kindergarten one). She's got a crazy memory, an outgoing attitude and is comfortable chatting with anyone she encounters in a mature way. She's spent the past year dancing with kids 1-2 years older than her and has thrived in the intensity of that kind of class and become very friendly with all the girls, despite their age gap. It's been the perfect situation. She's an "old" kid for her age. I'm totally ok with this. We don't push her, it's just where she is. It's who she is.

Yet age wise, she's a preschooler.

Reagan is still a baby in many ways. She's growing, but she's tiny. She's still got a big dose of toddler stubbornness. Her speech is vastly improved from where it was when I was worried about it a year ago, but you certainly wouldn't mistake her for someone older. Given the option, she still wants to be carried if I'm willing to do it. She knows her colors and shapes and is right on track for a three year old, but she's nowhere near where Madison was at three. She has tantrums and meltdowns and has absolute fits when she's told the word "no" or asked to do something she hasn't, on her own, decided to do. She's a "young" kid for her age. I'm totally ok with this. We don't baby her, it's just where she is. It's who she is.

Yet age wise, she's a preschooler.

And in many, many activities, they fall into the same category. They should be in the same library group. They should be in the same gymnastics class. They should be in the same tennis group. The same summer dance class. The same church school class this fall.

Age wise, sure. They're both preschoolers. They're only eighteen months apart after all.

Reality? I can't wrap my head around that. Three to five? That's a huge range.

Madison, who is reading and writing and technically kindergarten, in a church school class with Reagan, who can't yet sit still for a story.

Madison, with a mature sense for directions and instruction (if with no natural sports aptitude whatsoever), in a tennis class waiting patiently while Reagan beats the balls mercilessly with her racket.

Reagan, frustrated and tantrumming at the regulation of lines and structure in a dance or gymnastics class while Madison, bored, loses interest entirely waiting for the teacher to help the little ones.

Madison, allowing her attention to wander while a very well-meaning dance or gymnastics teacher demonstrates something she learned two years ago, then getting caught not listening or just choosing to go with the flow and pretend she's learning it for the first time, stagnating or going backwards.

Fortunately, the majority of places we go to have teachers and directors and owners who get that sometimes, often, age really is just a number. Some kids are more mature for their age. Some kids are less mature. Reagan will stay in the toddler class for gymnastics until she's ready to enter the preschool level - whether that's next week or six months from now. Madison has been allowed to dance with girls who are chronologically older, but let her get the higher level instruction she needs and craves. Age is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Her dance studio and her gym get that sometimes kids don't fit into the box they're supposed to, and that's ok. They're fluid and they look at the individual kid and I love them for it. It's a big reason why we stay at those places.

But sometimes it's a hard rule. If you are 3, 4 or 5, you are in this class. Parks and rec, where Madison takes cooking and science classes, is one of those places. You enter the birthday and the computer either accepts or rejects you based on that number alone. If the child is a certain age, they are not able to slide down or up a level. They fit here. In this box. Good luck instructor. Keep the little ones happy and the older ones interested and everyone engaged. Stay out of it, overly involved mom claiming to know her kids best. No, this child is too old for the parent/toddler class. No, this one is too young for the kindergarten group. They are preschoolers. Ages three to five.

I get it and I don't. There are parents who meddle and insist that their children are geniuses while the teachers try not to let the parents see them roll their eyes. There are parents who can't let go and refuse to think that their child could be dropped off a full ninety minutes without mommy hovering over the activity, helping with every step and undermining the independence the teacher is attempting to build. It would be ridiculous to take the age range completely out of it.

But what about replacing the rules with suggestions?

But I think back to myself. As a kid, I was happiest when I wasn't restricted to my own age group. I was involved in musical theater, where the kids were as young as five and as old as seventeen. Sure, you were hanging around with a group around your age, but you certainly weren't confined there. More likely, you were hanging out with whichever group you were based on your audition. There were plays where I was hanging around with mostly older kids, and plays when I was with younger ones. I was in choirs with a wide age range, where you met kids both older and younger who all were on the same level with their interest and ability in singing. When I was a freshman in high school, my best friend was a senior. We were into the same stuff, we were on the same level, and age didn't matter.

This year will be an interesting one to navigate, as Reagan fits firmly into her new category and needs to adjust and Madison potentially gets stuck alongside her until the calendar catches up with who is she is. Until then, I'll just keep giving thanks to the wonderful places we have found, the ones that realize that each kid is unique and will find their place to fit in.

Because really, as we all eventually learn, age is just a number.

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