07/11/2013 04:52 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

How I Knew My Daughter Was Ready for Kindergarten

Nicole Sprinkle

My daughter was one of the youngest kids in her kindergarten class this year (she turns 6 this month). Being on the petite side, she was also one of the smallest. When preschool came to a close last year, I'd had a flash of a thought of keeping her there for one more year. But it was merely that: a flash. She'd loved preschool, but seemed readier than ever to move on. Her teachers had always praised her precocious vocabulary and manners. She adored books and drawing and playing. It was a no-brainer.

She took to kindergarten really well, just like I'd expected. She came home chatting about her new friends, singing new songs and brimming with stories of her day. She loved riding the bus, her teacher and her 5th grade "kinderbuddy." When I took her to drop-off birthday parties, she jumped right into the fray and didn't pay me a second thought when I left for the allotted two hours. (That's right, you don't have to stick around for kindergarten parties!) We did her "homework" every night -- usually ten minutes worth of a simple drawing or a letters or numbers exercise.

And then she took her first standardized reading and writing test -- on a computer.

The results came home and my heart sank. She was average. Average in her class, and below the district average (a high-performing district, to be fair). Some further digging on my part revealed that a large chunk of kids in her class were already reading (the 6-year-olds, mostly). I couldn't believe it. As a working mom, I started beating myself up. I hadn't been taking things seriously enough; I should have been doing more work with her at home. I should have kept her an extra year in preschool.

I immediately scheduled an appointment with her teacher, a wonderful, experienced woman with a beatific personality. As I hurled anxious questions at her, she continued to reassure me that Nina was doing just fine, that the tests meant very little at this grade because most of the kids weren't even comfortable using the computer (which is a whole other issue I won't even get into here). She praised Nina for her uncommon sense of fairness, her inclination to help her peers negotiate difficult situations, her steady improvements and growing confidence -- and her talent in art. I left feeling a little better, but still unsure of my decision. I amped up the reading and math work at home and pushed Nina harder. We ended up having some stressful nights ending in tears when I lost my patience because she couldn't get all of her sight words. I'd turned neurotic.

And then I relaxed.

I made peace with the fact that she was going to be in the middle of the pack this year, end of story. More importantly, she loved her first year in kindergarten. Once I embraced the idea that she could be good but not necessarily the best, something lifted.

I stop pressuring her and she started enjoying homework more. She came out of her shell. She flourished in her own tiny, perfect way. She learned at her own pace, made friends in her own style and learned a lot about self-acceptance. She taught me a thing or two about it to boot.

And then sometime in early spring, she made a big developmental leap. Suddenly, she was reading more fluently. She was sounding out big words. She was adding and subtracting. She was challenging herself each night at homework time to try a little harder. When the second round of tests came, she'd done better. She still wasn't the top dog, but she'd improved -- in reading and math. Her report card showed steady progress in all areas.

School is out now, and she's still the youngest in her camp group, her ballet class and among her best friends. But I know she'll be ready for first grade, just like she was ready for kindergarten -- on her own terms. I have no regrets about not holding her back in preschool for another year, and I hope other moms might take heart from my experience when faced with the same decision come fall. Every kid is different, and some children may not be emotionally ready for kindergarten at 5 it's true. But that aside, I wish we didn't live in a society where having a leg up in kindergarten was even a topic of conversation.