Encrypt this text message …

“OMG, cant wait 4 my 1st day of skool. Gonna b gr8!”

As a writer and editor, I shudder at the thought of those “sentences,” but the realist in me understands that’s how many kids (and some adults) are communicating today.

When are those bad habits learned? Because it’s definitely not in kindergarten.

The start of another school year is just days away, and with abbreviations and short-hand texting becoming more common, I worry about the future of proper grammar.

This school year is a little more special. Our 5-year-old daughter, Grace, is going to kindergarten.

She’s spent two years developing social skills, good manners and learning basic education at First Lutheran Child Learning Center in Mitchell. The outstanding staff there does a wonderful job preparing kids for that next educational step.

But, when is it time to put your child in kindergarten? It’s a not-so-easy answer, especially for parents who have to make the decision for their first child.

Grace turned 5 in mid-June, so she really could wait another whole year before starting in the K-12 system. She’s shorter than most of the kids in her preschool class, but pre-screen testing shows she’s smart enough to start kindergarten. (Thanks, First Lutheran staff.)

Grace will be in kindergarten in 12 days. She’ll likely stay in kindergarten for two years just so she’s not so young in her class later in life. And, we learned, that’s a completely viable option for those summer birthday kids, even if they are excelling academically.

But, quite frankly, it wasn’t an easy decision. For quite a while, we were asking ourselves, “What’s a parent to do?”

Well, lucky for us Mitchell residents, we have a great resource to provide some insight.

Dina Vander Wilt was named the Mitchell School District teacher of the year in February. As a kindergarten teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary School, she was also named one of five regional teachers of the year by the South Dakota Department of Education, and she’s up for the state award that will be announced in October.

Vander Wilt said it’s not necessarily a child knowing the letters of the alphabet or whether he or she can count that are telltale markers.

“What we want,” she said, “is for them to do more of the social skills, like can they sit and listen to a story? Can they follow two or three directions at a time? Can they put a puzzle together?”

Vander Wilt has been with Mitchell School District for 21 years and said she’s never heard a parent later be disappointed for holding their child back a year.

“You know your child the best,” she said. “But you have to remember, do you want them to leave for college when they’re 17? Do you want them to deal with some tough pressures at a younger age?”

Yikes, that sure moves the life train down the tracks pretty fast. One day considering whether my child should enroll in kindergarten, then figuring if one year or two is best, and now worrying about her teenage years?

But Vander Wilt provided some needed relief explaining that a typical kindergarten school day focuses a significant amount of time on reading and writing. They’ll be learning the basics of how to write and, hopefully, it sticks with them later in life.

Keep fighting the good battle, kindergarten teachers. We need you now more than ever to start these kids off on the right path.

Because when Grace grows up and uses proper grammar, “itll be soooo AWESO.”