Tuesday, July 07, 2015

kindergarten can wait

today is kieran's first day of second grade. he's ready. he was excited and nervous about meeting his new teacher and seeing how the landscape of this school year would be different. he's been out of school since june 2nd, and he was just starting to get a little bored with camps and my office and being home. this is something we really love about the year round schedule. we take our vacations in september and march, when the beach is quiet and not crowded. we get longer breaks in december right before christmas and in june for the weeks leading up to the 4th of july. it's good. it works for our family.

all of that said, i must tell you that kieran's kindergarten year was hell on wheels. it wasn't the schedule, but rather the jump from a montessori-ish preschool environment into the rigid hyper-structure of today's public school kindergarten. wow. 155 minutes of math and reading with no real breaks every day. 20 minutes of recess, IF he had finished all his work, which he never had. homework on weekends that took us FOREVER to do. a teacher who, though she is a good and experienced teacher, was not a good match for our son and thought he was in need of labels and medication. she was not allowed to say this to us, but it was in every way implied. parent teacher conferences consisted of her giving us lists of his shortcomings and telling us she could do no more to help him unless we got him on a special education plan. we were worried--we talked to his doctor, who all but rolled his eyes at the school system after a handful of preliminary questioning and tests. then we gave up, called that whole year a wash, and just endured. he absolutely hated school. but his grades, i will add, were fine. all year.

first grade was much better, which is almost entirely due to a better teacher fit. it helped, too, that kieran was in after school care at the school, which gave him a very-much-needed sense of school ownership. now he's proud when he does well. he had a flexible and insightful teacher who focused on his strengths and on helping him recognize and address his attention issues without the need to slap a label on them. she had constructive suggestions for ways we could help him at home. my conversations with her were always productive, and i always came away feeling hopeful. it was good.

hopefully second grade will be good, too.

but finn--my sweet, but crazy finn is another bag of chips altogether. he is old enough for kindergarten, his july 12th birthday long before the end of august cut off. he can recognize  colors, letters, and numbers with ease, read a few words, count to a hundred, manipulate scissors--in these areas, he is ahead of where his brother was. but emotionally, he is not there. he is tantrum-y and sees accidental injuries as personal attacks. he hits. he yells. he was thrown out of the preschool/daycare he has attended since he was 4 months old because they were unable to handle his behavior. he is also the loviest, huggiest, most enthusiastic cheek-kisser you will ever meet. he is missing that emotional regulation button that comes with age and experience and will eventually make him a little less sensitive. he also has all the same focus issues as kieran. further, our school schedule means that finn would start kindergarten while still 4 years old, and then turn 5 a week later. what do you do with this child? he's academically ready for kindergarten, but not socially. and there is NO social support in kindergarten anymore. none.

finn, who should be starting kindergarten this week, is getting red-shirted. after much stress, debate, advice from professionals, we decided that sending him to kindergarten was asking for a year of hell for our entire family and was likely to set finn up to hate school forever. we have talked to many families who have been in this situation. nearly all of them who sent their kids anyway regrets it. and not a single one who decided to wait later thought they had made the wrong decision. i believe we are doing right by finn. we have put him in a new school--a teeny, tiny montessori based preschool where the student teacher ratio is 6:1 and the focus is almost entirely on social and emotional development, which is what he needs. he adores it. the academics will come later, but right now, i am choosing to be an elephant mother instead of a tiger one.

some excellent articles i've recently read while debating The Finn Question:

Kindergarten and the Big Divide
Inside the World's Best Kindergarten
Being an "Elephant Mom" in the Time of the Tiger Mother