It’s less than a month until D-day in our house: my only child’s first day of kindergarten.
Veteran moms everywhere are celebrating the end of summer vacation by buying every pair of sneakers ever made (seriously, where have all the sneakers gone?) and price checking pencil cases into next week.
My daughter is as excited as any 5-year-old could ever be, and more than ready, but I’m struggling. Recently, she’s lost the last of her sweet preschooler chubbiness and is stretching out more and more. She’s a pro with her letters, a veritable social butterfly (for the most part), and has absolutely no reservations at all about her first day.
I, on the other hand, am a mess.
Here, kindergarten is in the public school system, and I am terrified. Our public school is particularly large, and my daughter will become one student in a sea of students with varying strengths and challenges. My daughter is also set to start school in French immersion. I don’t speak French, but my spouse does, and I already feel as though I’ll be excluded from the process – from participating in her learning as her biggest advocate. And sometimes I feel like I’m sending my most loved possession to the wolves.
I sat paralyzed in fear for months over which school to choose: the smaller, but more fully French school which was further away? Or the closer, but larger school where most of her friends were going, and where her teachers are more open to communicating with me in English?
Have you ever let a 4-year-old make a critical decision about their own education? Because I was basically forced to, being totally unable to reach a conclusion. And, of course, she wanted to go to the school where her friends were going: the school closer to our home. And when I presented her with the option of learning either in English or French? She chose French. So, we waited until the very last minute to register her (I was not-so-secretly hoping that day would never come), and I closed my eyes and checked off the “French immersion” box. It’s been months later and I’m still not sure if it’s the right decision.
The larger school closer to my home is close to overcrowded, and the resources available to students are sometimes difficult to navigate and/or access. In the event that my kiddo needs some sort of learning intervention, I have heard story after story about how these supports just don’t exist.
I have quite a few friends who are teachers. While I love them and believe them to be amazing at what they do, they are at the mercy of a system which is designed to evaluate, evaluate, evaluate our children – even those as young as kindergarten. I can’t help but think that my daughter will become a faceless number in a sea of students.
My daughter’s early childhood educators tell her they love her daily. They hug and kiss her just like I would. They are truly the best replacement for me and my spouse, and I couldn’t ask for better people to be with her when we can’t. My daughter thrives on that sort of attention, and loves her educators more than anyone. That sort of affection won’t be shown to her in school, and she is going to struggle with that. Big time.
Starting school, for me, signals the beginning of the end of her innocence. She’ll be socializing with hundreds of kids, learning things that maybe I wish she wouldn’t, dealing with rejection and forging her own path. I get that kids need to do this, but I’m not ready. I’m not ready for her to lose her precious innocence.
I don’t want to send her to a place where she’ll be constantly evaluated. I just want her to play, and learn through playing. Although our kindergarten curriculum is play-based, it’s just a matter of time before she loses that love of play.
She’ll be surrounded by electronics. Call me old school, but I am dreading her inevitable introduction to electronics. I see kids who spend half of their days on their phones, playing video games and communicating with strangers from all over the world. I see kids glued to their tablets, televisions and computers. I see kids who never go outside. Right now, we hardly ever allow my daughter to watch television (she’s a total nightmare when she does), and she doesn’t use a tablet or other electronic device. At school, kids have Chromebooks and whiteboards and the whole system is so far removed from the education I wish I could give to her.
I want her to learn outside, in nature. Does that make me some kind of millennial hipster? Maybe. But, I want her to spend every minute outside, exploring and learning through play. I want to be able to homeschool her or send her to a nature school, but those just aren’t options for our family right now. Instead, I’ll send her to a place that doesn’t really fit my values or expectations. Not because I want to, but because I have to. And being backed into a corner means I’m probably not making a decision in my daughter’s best interests.
Kids in our area get a total of 30 minutes outside daily: 10 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes at lunch time. That’s it. That’s a terrifyingly little amount of time to be outside. And I hear horror story after horror story about behavioral problems and the lack of support for said problems and I wonder why a potential solution (to me) seems to simple: kids need more freakin’ time outside. Kids can still learn and be outside. The two are not mutually exclusive. Kids don’t need to be sitting behind desks all day long; they need to be exploring nature and getting dirty.
The truth is, I’m just not ready for this day to come, and I’m left wishing I had the option to choose another path for her.