Saturday, August 13, 2011

First day of school - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yay, the great room is painted, internet provider has been switched, and my computer is up and running again! Let me tell you what's been going on around here.

School started this week in our area. One child has been through this before, loves school and the people there, and while she wasn't skipping to school this time around, she was excited to go.

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(That's a happy look, in spite of the blaring morning sunlight that battered us the second we walked out the door.)

She came out of class with just as much excitement as she took in with her, even though she was visibly exhausted. Her teacher told me how helpful she was, recounted things my daughter had told her, and was thrilled to have my oldest in her class.

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The other child has been anxious all week about starting Kindergarten. He has been acting out and turning shy. He was clearly a little worried about not knowing what school would really be like.

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(That's an anxious look, also while avoiding the sunlight battery.)

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I've been working with him on his language, along with basics like letters and numbers, for some time now. He can count past 30, knows all of his letters and sounds, and already has a handful of sight words memorized. Academically, I wasn't too concerned. I worried more about how he would handle the anxiety itself of going to school. I worried about how he would interact with the other children — he's a tender-hearted child, not nearly as rough-and-tumble as some of his peers. I didn't want him to get his feelings hurt.

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The funny thing is, I worried for nothing. Not a tear was shed when he went into class. He was smiling and enjoying the excitement of his peers. He told me he had a good day. He was excited about going back the next morning. He made new friends and played well with others. He marched into class with pride and security the next day. He told me about his favorite friends, recalled minute details of the story his teacher told, and became a stickler for following the rules — and making sure his classmates followed them, too. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that he was teachable, kind, and ready to be in school.

That was, until his teacher pulled me aside.

She asked me when his birthday was and then suggested I have him wait a year to go to Kindergarten. I asked her what, specifically, was concerning her so that we could work on it.

The reason she wanted me to hold him back?

Writing his name and scissor skills!

I didn't see it coming. She asked him to cut something out and he told her that he couldn't do it. I had been so focused on his mental readiness when I guess I should have been focused on fine motor skills.

When we got home, worried that he really couldn't do it, I taught him to hold the scissors with the thumb in the little hole, the fingers in the big hole, and the tip pointing away from his body. Within a few tries, and some insisting on my part that he try even when he feels like he can't do it, he was able to cut a straight line. It seriously took all of 5 minutes to teach him to cut properly. Yes, I had to help him past his insecurity, but it really wasn't that big of a deal.

And his penmanship — we've been writing his name just 5 or 6 times a day since he started and he's already making drastic improvements. It's not intuitive for him yet, but he's catching on quick. He never really had an interest in drawing as a child so I didn't push it — especially when his language skills were a bigger problem and I was doing the pushing in that area of his life. I mistakenly thought that penmanship was something that he would learn in Kindergarten.

The more I thought about it and got some great input from friends, the more I realized that this short-term fine motor skills problem wasn't something worth holding a child back a year. It didn't add up.

So, at the end of the school day, I went to his teacher to get her perspective. "I don't think ANY child who isn't already 5 should be in Kindergarten," she said.

Okay, I can understand that — California has a very late cut-off date for Kindergarten, and some children don't turn 5 until December. She was an active participant in lobbying for the cut-off date to be moved up. And it will be, in a few years. But in the meantime, she has a handful of 4 year old's in her class that are there legitimately.

I explained all of the reasons why he was ready for Kindergarten and she admitted that he would probably catch up in the areas he's behind. The odds of him being held back after a year of school were very low. But, she said, it would be detrimental for him the rest of his school career to be younger than many of his peers. It felt like she was switching tactics on me. (I don't think she knew that my husband, who also had a fall birthday here in CA, grew up being one of the youngest in his class with absolutely no problems because of it.)

Turns out that she (and the pushy school secretary) are trying to get children to enroll in the pre-K program that the district started recently.

But my question is, how is this specific program, which is held at a different school by the way, going to benefit my child? How would it be more helpful for him to go to this pre-K program instead of possibly taking Kindergarten over again at our school should it be necessary? I see how it would help out his current teacher, she wouldn't have to teach him to use scissors, but as for the child himself, I think it would do more harm than good.

He would have the same struggle with his fine motor skills in either classroom. But the pre-K program isn't even at our school, so he would have to leave his friends behind, start in a new school with a new teacher and a new class, only to be taught the same things, and then switch schools AGAIN when he returned to K at our school. Not only that, they would be taking him away from a class of mature children and putting him in a situation where there are a lot of children who are very young developmentally.

I just don't see how this would benefit him.

Granted, I'm his mom so I have mom blinders on, but I feel like shipping my introverted little man off to a different class is probably the worst solution to this problem. I'd be much more inclined to homeschool him for a year than send him off to a different classroom that, by the way, has the exact same start time as my daughter's class. One of the two of them would have to loiter around for 20 minutes before school and I am NOT okay with that.

He's a big sweetheart, with an imagination that is exploding, he's mellow, teachable, catches on quickly, and his main struggle, now that his language is up to speed, is that he is trying to find self-confidence in his skills.

My goal for him is to turn his frustrated "I can't do it!" into satisfaction in knowing that he really can do it. And I'm not going to do that by sending him off to a different school.

My thinking right now is that I'm going to ask his teacher to send home a copy of any of the fine motor skills work they do, so that I can teach him how to do it myself. Sort of a home school/public school hybrid. If they think he's still not ready for 1st grade at the end of the year, I have no problem at all sending him to Kindergarten again — at a school he's already familiar with, being taught by teachers he knows.

At the end of the day, I was way more stressed out about the first day of school than anyone else. Both children were happy. The mama bear in me had come out in full force and I was full of anxiety.

This year I was thankful for our annual tradition of going out to eat on the first day of school. I needed to sit back, relax, absorb the positive energy of my cute little family, and eat my worries away.

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I gained some perspective and peace of mind as we sat at our booth together.

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I am so grateful for these points of light in my life! I feel so incredibly blessed to share my life with them. If my son's Kindergarten teacher only knew how precious and utterly sweet this little soul is, she would fall in love with him too and lobby for him to stay in her class, not try to pawn him off on someone else.

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For the record? I had crappy handwriting in elementary school, too!


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Update - the intense pressure to hold him back, vs. his great progress.

And, the end of the school year - how it all turned out.


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