Monday, September 25, 2017

Kindergarten Transition

Watching my daughter transition to kindergarten has been an eye opening experience, because for the first time I'm on the other side of the "my child looses it when she comes home" discussion. I've heard this from parents for years. I have stock replies.

"It's a long day, your child is working so hard, she needs a place where she can relax."

"Isn't it great that your child feels safe enough at home to let down with you?"

"That is exactly how you'd want it. You wouldn't want it the other way - your child losing it at school but being an angel at home."

I've said all these things, and now I've had them said to me.

On Friday evening I sat in the waiting room of my daughter's taekwondo studio with other mothers who were experiencing life in the first month of kindergarten. We shared our experiences over the last few weeks, and how we see the exhaustion in our children's face. Some had reports of behavior difficulties at school, while others are having the "I don't know who this child is" experience that my family is having.

I suppose we've come to accept this as right of passage. Your child goes to kindergarten, they suddenly have to sit still for a long time and they either don't and you get called by the teacher, or they do, and then come home and lose control of themselves.

But why have we made kindergarten so structured that our children have a difficult adjustment to it? If I'm hearing about this difficult transition from so many parents, and have heard about this for so long - why are we accepting it as a reality?

I don't want to lower academic standards, but shouldn't we be looking at some ways we can change the structure and expectations of kindergarten to make it less of a overwhelming milestone? Can we increase our down time during the day, create more student-led projects, offer more recess or outdoor activities, or just give children more general time to engage in unstructured learning?

I don't know the answer. As a parent, I see the benefits in that, but as a teacher, I'd feel like I was wasting my time. If my goal is to get to grade level by the end of the year, then I'd better get there. No moment wasted.

The thing is, my daughter's preschool day was longer than her kindergarten day. And in preschool she had a math, reading, and writing workshop. She had guided reading and learned to read. She wrote books. Her class did whole-group interactive writing. She had a word wall and she knew every word on it. She can tell you everything she learned about space, dinosaurs, and the digestive system. Her days were packed. But there was nap time, play time, and 2-3 recess periods, and lots and lots of art projects. It was somehow academic, but provided time for the kids to let down between instruction.

My family, like all the others, will get through this. Perhaps my daughter will be stronger for it (which I think is the story parents and teachers tell ourselves in this month of transition).

I work with many homeschool children, and I continue to be surprised by the amount of learning they do in such short periods of time. They aren't experiencing 20 minute mini lessons, followed by 40 minutes of work. But they are learning the same information, and producing the same work. Sure, it's one kid instead of 25, but still. Why are we still forcing the traditional method of sit and learn on our students, when we know other ways work? Are our five and six year olds really learning best from sitting quietly for 20 minutes?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Parenting Milestones

After 15 years of working in public elementary schools I finally achieved a new first.

I became a parent of a child in a public elementary school. My oldest started kindergarten this week. Now, she's been in daycare and preschool since she was 3 months old, so I was not expecting this to be anything different. On Friday she went to her full day preschool class, and on Monday she went to elementary school. She actually had a longer day at preschool, so in reality, this isn't that big a shift - right?

And yet - there is something very different about this experience. To put it in her words "Kindergarten is a big deal."

Frankly, I was surprised by myself. I'm a low key person, and have always been a fairly low-key parent. When I got a call from her in-home daycare provider letting me know that another child had bitten my two year old, my first reaction was "What did she do that made the other kid so angry?" My other daughter fell on the preschool playground last fall, busted her chin open, and didn't cry about it, so the preschool didn't think she was hurt. Turns out she needed stitches. I didn't get upset. I get it. Recess is tough. It's hard to keep up with kids. My kids are fine. I don't blame the teachers.

So who is this crazy, judgy kindergarten mom looking back at me in the mirror? I don't even know this woman who is inwardly grumbling about the class organizational system, the homework system, the way the class lines up, and the way they handle birthdays?  I don't know her, and I'd like her to go away.

We are so lucky. My daughter's kindergarten teacher is wonderful. The school follows the Responsive Classroom approach school-wide, and everything is early-childhood focused. There are toys in the room for choice time. This is a place where childhood is honored. All of those things are rare. And yet I am still catch myself being overly critical.

I think that perhaps I am secretly jealous of this young teacher and her adorable kindergarten class. Secretly I want to be setting up a kindergarten classroom, welcoming the children to their elementary school career, teaching those beginning of the year routine lessons, and building relationships with the class. I loved teaching in the beginning of the school year.

I'm like the disgruntled teenager who is so critical of the head cheerleader because secretly she wishes she had tried out for the squad, but didn't because it wasn't cool. I mean, I could totally have my own kindergarten classroom if I wanted to, I just don't want it really. I just want to think about wanting it.

Plus, I know too much. For every "criticism" I have, I can site a blog post, article, book, or research on why I'm right. But there are probably other blogs, articles, books, and research out there that argue the other way. And none of these things actually matter. It's like judging the cheerleader's red nail polish. Didn't she read that red was out this year? Come on!

I am so not this person.

So my goal is to find a balance. To not be so laid back that I don't get upset that no one thought that the blood gushing out of my daughter's chin was a problem. But not so uptight and critical that I'm labeled "that mom". (I totally already am. I know I've been red flagged already. So I'll just be that mom and not THAT mom.)

I'm going to make sure I'm there and present, but also that I accept that we are all different teachers and there is no one right way to teach.

Being critical is exhausting, and I don't have time to be tired over this!

My daughter LOVES kindergarten. Last night she said she was so lucky to have her teacher, and I agreed. Because I do. I know my daughter is in the right place for her.

Any other TeacherMoms out there who find the same surprising judgmental thoughts pop up?
I've always asked why do we judge one another so much in this profession, and this is an extension of that teacher-on-teacher judgement. Where does this come from?