Friday, January 13, 2012

Some Thoughts on Kindergarten Choice--and Choices in General

This morning I had a chance to visit my son's preschool during their Morning Gathering time. What a lot of fun everyone had! Presented with journals for drawing in, each child hopped over to a table to lay their new little books down. The teachers led the children through the activities: singing songs, jingling little hand bells, and at the last, an obstacle course round the preschool space which made us all giggle as the kids crab-walked, wiggled like worms, hopped on "their happiest foot", and generally had a  blast. As the group was separated by the teachers--some children were directed to make bird feeders in the art room, some to play in the main room-- I kissed Kiddo and headed back out into the day, grabbing up a newsletter as I left.

I love the newsletters which are sent home each month. There are always a few glimpses into the silly and imaginative world of the children as well as other pertinent information. Sometimes there is an article attached, often with a focus on respecting our children's time to just be kids. Today's newsletter included information on kindergarten and contained a line in this regard:

"If your child will be starting kindergarten in September, now is the time to be thinking about where s/he will be attending. For many families, your neighborhood school may be the best  match. For some families, you may be looking for another setting. .... Again, remember that it is important not to involve your child in any part of this process. These should be adult decisions and discussions. ...Please give us a call if you want to talk with us about your child and school options for next year."

This is one reason I love Kiddo's preschool teachers so much--they really do understand kids. We will honor this request. Kiddo needs to enjoy his next five months or so of preschool. Kindergarten is still a long nearly-nine months away, and too far ahead for to turn his attention to it. He needs us to be mindful that we are the keepers of his childhood, and one part of childhood is that lovely ability to be completely immersed in the present moment. Therefore, we will be happy to discuss kindergarten with Kiddo when he brings it up, which is very rare, but we do not bring the topic up with him.

It's been on our adult minds, kindergarten has. I've written about school choice before, and stand by my convictions that the current situation of Too Many Choices leads us to be less satisfied with the choices we do have. I've also been seriously considering homeschooling, for so many good reasons. It may be that Joe and I will choose to send him to the local elementary school to attend a half-day kindergarten class for the first year and then reassess, but we're not done discussing this. Yet, we do not talk about this in front of Kiddo, nor do we ask his opinion on the matter.

While some parenting styles lately are trending toward more egalitarian-type relationships between parent and child (where children are allowed to call more of the shots and treated more as a peer and less as a child), I'm of the strong belief that children need us to make the decisions, to choose for them. The day four and five year olds are qualified and informed enough to make choices about their education is the day they start hatching from eggs, capable of surviving alone. Youngsters need us to be thoughtful and decisive and to know what's best for them, because they truly aren't capable of the task; just offer a five year old a cookie or a plate of carrot sticks and I guarantee he'll prove me right. I don't consult with Kiddo on what he might like to do at school (be it about  the arts or language immersion programs or accelerated math and science programs) because it doesn't seem right to set the precedent that he gets a say in the matter at this age. He is not a little adult, capable of processing all this information; he's just a kid who wants to go play with his toys.

And the fact of the matter is, school is really not an experience which offers endless amounts of choice. While this could be an argument in favor of home/unschooling, let me define my statement a bit. Even if I were to homeschool, and it might be a more emergent/interest based type of teaching (I believe we can teach much of what needs to be learned through their interests, and this is what I did as a preschool teacher), nevertheless-- we must still "do school" on our school days. Certainly, a home-based curriculum would use up less time in our day, but we can't just blow off school wholesale because we 'don't feel like it'. I'd say it's similar to many adult experiences of work: even if one pursues a career they enjoy, there are still aspects of the job which are less than fun and which must be done, no matter what, even if it's sunny outside and we want to claim a personal day and go hiking--there are very real consequences to not being disciplined about showing up on time and doing the work that is expected of you.

It's not a particularly fun way of looking at the world, but then again, we live in a culture which currently--albeit falsely--allows us to believe that we are entitled to more freedoms than are realistic. Hard work and having to practice self-discipline are often perceived as things to be avoided, impositions on our grand right to basically do what we want, when we want. We see this immature point of view increasingly in the messages our pop culture reflects back to our youth: "Follow your dreams and it will happen"; "If you believe in yourself, you can do anything". I do have to wonder what happened to the values of hard work, humility and dignity*. Sure, follow your dreams, but make a plan for real life too, so that you can keep yourself afloat while working toward those goals. If you believe in yourself, you can do some things, if you work really hard to learn how to do them and make sacrifices so that your priorities are in keeping with your desired end result.

Okay, I've gone off on a tangent here, but all of that to say, I don't want to fill my child's head with false promises or hopes that kindergarten is going to be the land of rainbows and lollipops and that this experience is somehow based on his choices. Heaven forbid, what if he decides he wants to change his mind? I don't want him to feel that we are picking a school in regard to his preferences. This is why we keep our mouths shut around him on the topic. This is a top-down decision, an authoritative decision. He's better off knowing that we will make a good choice for him and we move on from there. Life isn't about having all the choices; rather, I'm going to challenge that thinking by saying that we might be better off learning how to accept and be content with the choices we do have. When kindergarten time comes, we'll do everything we can to support and encourage our little guy, but he still has to go to school.

 And when he grumps, I will borrow a phrase from Mr. Monk~"You'll thank me later."


*This statement makes me nostalgic for the trade apprenticeship programs of not-so-long ago. This method of learning a trade from an established craftsman/tradesman required one to develop a higher, less-selfish set of interpersonal skills. It was expected that the apprentice would do what it took to learn a trade through which they would be able to provide for themselves and eventually their families, possibly for the rest of their working lives. I believe the US transition from being a country known for quality manufacturing to becoming one which is increasingly service-oriented has been damaging to the nation's morale as a whole. When we lose opportunities for people to feel proud of their work and craftsmanship, we lose something that is integral to who we are as a nation. Just one mama's thoughts here...

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