My daughter started kindergarten and the immediate response from people I have encountered since has been “Were there tears?” The short answer is no not that morning anyway, we all went to school smiling and prepared for this new experience. We did have a tearful exchange long after bedtime the night before the first day, Parker stated she could not sleep and was full of anxiety.
“My friends won’t be there, what if I won’t have any friends?” she muttered out in between sobbing. After her body and mind finally relaxed she woke up excited and ready to put on her new outfit declaring “I look fresh.”
The tears I may or may not have been shedding were related to the stress of delaying and then choosing a kindergarten. I felt my daughter was kindergarten ready last year, therefore 1st grade ready now… Unfortunately birth date restrictions prohibit or mandate kids start according to a standardized system of laws out of my control. So I waited, continuing her education through Montessori school and at home. There were so many things I loved about her school, it
made the search for kindergarten all the more emotional. Parker had the same adoring teachers for three years, ones who I faithfully trusted and appreciated. She had home cooked, healthy lunches and I knew she was eating better than what I would have been scrambling together at home for her noon meal. Her classroom was autonomous, she got to engage in activities she was interested in and learned at her own level. Over the course of three years I watched Parker thrive, put creative effort and pride in her work and challenge herself to learn more. Her school does offer kindergarten and it was a consideration to stay. However, I knew our attachment was already so strong after three years, if we stayed a fourth I would be desperate to keep her in the pre-school setting until college.
With so much to love about Parker’s Montessori school, I may have been hyper critical of other schools when checking out kindergartens. I researched online last fall, had information packets sent and began touring. I walked the halls of not one, not two but eight different elementary schools. Some tours were more out of curiosity or comparison purposes, I wanted to really see the variety. I toured public schools, a charter Montessori school, private schools, religious schools and a language immersion school. I asked a lot of questions and I kept a lot of my observations and judgements to myself. There were things I liked about each school individually and equally unfavorable items everywhere too. I’ll admit to being personally critical of common core curriculum and an advocate for increasing teacher’s salaries due to their inadequate financial appreciation. I examined the diversity of the students and staff, the quality of work hanging on the walls, the cleanliness and organization of the buildings, and the menu of food served in the cafeteria in each elementary school.
Ultimately I came down to two favorites. The first happens to be the closest private school to our home and one which I was surprised to enjoy so much. It was a small school with one classroom per grade level and went up to grade twelve. Their quality of work, academic achievement, atmosphere and friendliness of the students (all grade levels) far exceeded any other school I toured. Their art teacher and classroom were impressive and since Parker toured with me, she continued to talk about it for months. I was also ecstatic about their lunch menu as it was another school with daily cooked, healthy farm-fresh ingredients. As if this weren’t enough – no common core. The curriculum is structured as Classical Christian and would require memorization of bible versus. While there is a lot to admire about Classical Christian, including the cursive handwriting she would be practicing this year and the focus on grammar, logic and rhetoric, I am not Christian and know little about the bible.
The other favorite school I considered is one modeled from Waldorf education. A short YouTube explanation of Waldorf can be viewed by clicking here. The belief is music, theater, literature and writing need to not just be learned but experienced. They aim to cultivate a desire to learn within each individual child and eliminate the need for competitive testing. My artistically inclined five year old would be encouraged to dance, perform and learn about her world by exploring on their seven acre rural property. Students in the school had cubbies containing slickers, hats and rain boots because they spent a lot of time out in the gardens no matter the weather. When we viewed the school it was for a May Pole Celebration, I observed teachers redirecting students by singing them back into attention. Parker participated in a treasure hunt in the sandbox to find shells, rocks and feathers which she got to add to a fairy house she made out of clay. While students hung upside down from trees, swung on tire swings and picnicked with their patchouli smelling dreadlocked parents, I knew this would be the school to encourage her creativity. About half-way through the Native American story puppet show, when the scent of the burning sage had worn off, I realized it may be unrealistic to plan to attend a school so far from home.
Based on so many variables, cost and distance to my preferred schools, it seemed like I would be having issues no matter where she attended. Ultimately we chose the free public school option with the hope she would be assigned to the kindergarten teacher with the most experience as we indicated to the principal. Unfortunately our request was not respected and she was added to the classroom with a first year teacher with the principals statement “Don’t worry, it will be great.” And every day since the teacher comments “Parker did great.” I understand the teacher is commenting on her behavior, which compared to peers in her class, I’m sure the teacher feels she hit the jackpot with my daughter. Except the quality of work Parker brings home has declined from
what I know she is capable of, not great. The countless worksheets she brings home on a daily basis is equivalent to introductory work she is too advanced for, not great. And the post-it notes I found in her backpack this morning with words Parker said her teacher wrote for her to copy: “speggitti” and “basktball,” really not great. The excitement she had for school and learning is transitioning to becoming a chore and while this happens for many students, it definitely shouldn’t happen in kindergarten.
More tears may be shed over kindergarten, it may be me or it may be her teacher and principal – and we haven’t even gotten to the common core math shenanigans yet. I think the worst part is knowing my daughter has parents who will advocate for her and ensure she gets what she needs, while there are a lot of other kids who have to settle for what they get and will not meet their full potential. I will be speaking with her teacher and without improvement, the principal. Choosing a kindergarten took more effort and thoughtfulness than I took in choosing a college, however, just like in college – there is always an option to transfer.
How would you recommend speaking to the teacher in a way that will promote change without making her offended? Or would you abandon the school?