Friday, May 11, 2012

checkmate, mister trampoline

So...this happened.

Cal joined the chess club this semester.  It's just one of the after-school extracurricular activities at school--they have sports ones and academic ones and even an "etiquette" class (which struck me as charmingly Southern, something like training for a cotillion, but which after some time I am also seriously considering because STOP MUMBLING AND LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYE WHEN YOU SHAKE THEIR HANDS, SON).  Cal's done the karate class and the science class, but nothing, nothing has been like him taking this chess class.  He is obsessed.  He loves chess.  All he wants to do is play chess.  All he wants to do is talk about chess, which is fairly boring to say the least.  He sees cars parallel parked on the street with a space in between and he compares it various chess board setups.  So: basically me and Tetris in the 6th grade.

Yesterday the chess club held its trophy ceremony for the end of semester, and before you get too excited, just know that every kid gets a trophy.  It's a feel-good thing, like that "King of the Hill" where Bobby wants to play soccer and when it's a tie game the coach shouts, EVERYBODY'S A WINNER!  So yes, everybody's a winner.  But the kids are fairly quick to notice that the size of your trophy is dictated by the number of points you've accrued over the season and the number of games you've won, and while I wasn't expecting too much (Cal just learned to play chess a few months ago, and he's just a first-grader--chess club has kids from kindergarden through fifth grade so obviously the older kids and the veteran players are generally going to be better) he actually did respectably.  And Lo, we were proud.  But more importantly, Cal was proud.  He was very, very proud.

While at the trophy ceremony, I tried to be subtle about the fact that I was eyeing all the second graders in the class, mentally assessing how large they were and how readily they could beat up my own kid--and somewhat relieved to note that these kids, at least the boys in chess club--which, GRANTED, may be a skewed subset--were not that much bigger than Cal.  In fact, I don't think I could have readily distinguished the rising third graders from the rising second graders, which made me feel better.  It made me feel better because...

...we actually decided, in concert with the administrators at the school and the guidance of Cal's first grade teacher, to go ahead and let him skip a grade.  (Remember, we talked about this a few months ago, though we hadn't quite made up our minds at that time what precisely we were going to do.)  In many ways it was a difficult decision, but in other ways it was also an easy decision because his teacher felt so strongly that it was the right move for him, and the administration was inclined to agree.  Joe and I went to a series of meetings and talked about it, and after reading some of the evaluations and testing results, and making sure that this would be the best decision with adequate administrative support and oversight, we decided that we should go ahead and just let him do it.

So, he'll be in the third grade next year.  I don't think it's actually a very big deal--either way, he'd be in a new classroom with a new teacher, and the school is so big and they shuffle the students each year so that he'd be in a group of mostly new classmates anyway--so the grade number posted outside the classroom door actually doesn't matter all that much.  We'll have to do a little catching up over the summer, mostly on the concrete curriculum items that they cover in second grade--U.S. History or Geography or Weather Patterns or whatever they hell they learn about in the second grade--but I don't think that should be too hard.  And luckily it seems that I'm going to be on maternity leave this summer so I think I can probably help with a lot of that.

I also realize that there's probably going to be a range of reactions to me talking about this, running the gamut from, "Well, good for Cal!" to "Oh SHUT UP bragging about your stupid kid" to, "This was a very poor choice, he's going to be socially maladjusted for the rest of his sad, anemic, chess-playing life," but...look.  We just viewed this as a parenting decision like any other.  It's not a prize, it's not an indictment, it was just a decision we had to make, and in the end, after a lot of consideration, we made the decision that we thought would be best.  And that's all we can really ever do, right?  If it was a good or bad decision, we'll find out eventually, though I doubt, like with most things, that it will ever be as black and white as that.  But we think it's the best choice right now.  Anyway, I mentioned it on the blog before, so I just wanted to give you some follow up, now at the end of the school year, on how it all shook out.

We didn't want to mention to Cal that we were considering the grade advancement until it was fairly set, but we eventually told him this Friday, not quite sure how he'd react.  We emphasized that even if he was going into second grade, he'd have a new teacher anyway and a new classroom anyway and he would likely be with all new kids anyway, and you can still have playdates with your old friends wasn't a real big deal to be going to the third grade instead.

"Oh."  He shrugged.  "OK.  Whatever, that sounds good."

I think we're going to be fine.


  1. Woo! I remember the thrill of getting my first Math Superstars trophy in 1st grade. I mention this only because in the realm of elementary school geekiness, I'm pretty sure that Cal and his chess club are cooler. (Dammit.)

    With respect to the grade jump, I didn't even think about what judgmental things people were going to say. It's awesome to be at a school where the teachers are doing the best that they can to make sure that kids thrive--whatever that means for each individual child.

    Also, Cal is cute and I feel a fondness towards cute children, so I'd probably still be excited regardless of what happened. (Who DOESN'T find a little kid obsessed with chess to be adorable?!)

  2. Congrats to Cal! Excellent news. My husband was also obsessed with chess as a small child - a love that continues, but I don't share, so he geekily plays it with his best friend (back in England) via e-mail. Seriously. One e-mail move at a time. With the time difference, it means a game takes a while to play.

    No matter what anyone says in regards to the grade jump, you guys did what you and the school felt was best for Cal. So good parenting job! I tend to feel that no matter what decision parents make, others are going to be hyper-critical, so you just need to do what you and the other interested parties decide is best.

    No matter what you had done, things would have sorted themselves out in some way. My parents chose not to advance me a grade - complicated, but it also had to do with my being 'young' for my grade (born end of August!) - and I actually ended up deciding on my own in high school to participate in a program in high school that enabled me to start university early (at 16).

  3. Impressive!
    Maybe chess club will help with that grade transition, since he'll already know some of the older kids.

  4. I wish my school had an etiquette class, and that it was mandatory!! Props to the south.

    I'm glad to hear your family decided on whether Cal should skip a grade or not. His reaction was great! He'll be okay. Kids are resilient. :)

  5. Anonymous9:41 AM

    I'm a first grade teacher, SWellesley '01. Sounds like a great decision for you and your son. I took a class on acceleration and social adjustment of students recently. The research on the topic all supports putting kids with their intellectual peers - they'll do well academically and socially. The arguments about 'social adjustment' and 'being too immature' to keep students with their age level peers don't really float when you look at actual research. Glad you decided to do what felt right to you!

  6. Despite my best efforts, chess is still a mystery to me (okay to be fair, not my *best* efforts, how about repeated mediocre efforts?).

    We moved our son up from 2nd to 3rd grade during the year this year and it has been a great move for him. His school has mixed age classrooms for 1/2 and 3/4/5 so he was going to move next year anyway. It has been a little rocky for him interpersonally since at 8yo, he was an older 2nd grader and now he's in a classroom with 11 year olds. However, it has been a huge success for him academically. His learning and engagement are wonderful to behold. I hope Cal continues to thrive in his new grade!

  7. Anonymous12:42 AM

    I too skipped 2nd grade and fancy myself a well adjusted person:). It was a great experience for me and put me right where I needed to be, as it turned out. No regrets! Good luck to Cal!

  8. Second grade is useless. Phonics?? PHONICS? Psh. I am one week more pregnant than you and feel like a BEAST. I am schadenfreude-ishly hoping you explode with baby in the next 2 weeks. But are still comfortable. Just not so trim and cute :)

  9. Chess indeed sharpens the mind. That's what happened to Cal after quite some time of learning how to play chess he becomes better and competitive in the field. Chess develops good concentration and focus on kids which they can take and apply when they are in school. Parents are also the key to the mental growth of kids. They need to be supportive by constantly encouraging their children to learn and play chess.

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