The Kindergarten Schedule Is Total Bullshit

by Leigh Anderson

I’m sometimes a stay-at-home mom and sometimes a work-out-of-the-home mom, which allows me to be pissy on both sides of the fence. I work erratic freelance jobs, a player in the “gig economy”—partly by choice, but partly because that’s just how the writing and editing field works. The first 4 years of parenthood, I was mostly at home, which was a very sweet time, yadda yadda, but it had disadvantages, too, namely lack of money and adult conversation. (I found myself leaning over the baby and cooing “Do you know what a dangling modifier is? Does Mama’s widdle baby know how to weed out the passive voice?”) But one thing that wasn’t challenging was scheduling: If it was kid-related, I did it. My husband got his ass to work every day and back, and I schlepped kids to the playground, mommy and me classes, and the pediatrician. No fuss, no muss.

But now it’s kindergarten time for my older son, and I’m in an “on” phase with my work, and…it’s freaking chaos. This is largely because the kindergarten schedule is total bullshit.

I mean, an end time of 2:30? That is convenient for NO ONE. That’s precisely when my younger child is napping, so it means carrying a dazed, enormously heavy toddler out the door—seriously, he’s huge and when he’s sleepy he’s dead weight. I feel like Holly Hunter lifting John Candy in a fireman’s hold.

Now I know that younger sleeping kids are not the school system’s problem—but if the schedule were designed to work for stay-at-home parents, the day would end at noon, because 5-year-olds still need a rest after lunch, and it’s a natural break in the day.

But 2:30 doesn’t work for working parents, either. What lawyer or nurse or janitor, or anyone, is ready to knock off work at 1:30 and zip off to fetch their child? If I want to book a job, I have to tell potential employers that I can work from about 9:30 to 1:30, which severely limits the options I have for employment.

But what about the after-school program, you say? The day, as mentioned above, ends at 2:30. Pick-up from after-school is at 5:30, a three-hour stretch of time to fill—and the after-school classes are about an hour. The rest of the time, at least at our school, they…hang out. The school becomes just a kind of holding pen.

An indoor holding pen, which brings me to my last point: The schedule is bullshit for the kindergartners, too. Even at 6 hours a day, the kids only get one period for recess, and if it’s bad weather (frequent here in the northeast) the kids watch movies instead of run around in the gym or play games. Current research indicates that children learn best through hands-on play, and I’m concerned that my son will be spending too much time at his desk rather than kicking up his heels. Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom has written that pushing young children into academic studies too early stunts their physical and social development, and that we really need to be allowing them to run around rather than sit at desks: “[I]t is before the age of 7 years—ages traditionally known as ‘pre-academic’—when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.”

And so my husband and I are now thrust into the world of color-coded shared calendars, in which we try to keep straight who’s working more in a given week, who’s picking up, and what hours our roster of part-time babysitters can work. In addition, I’m constantly considering whether my son is getting enough rest and exercise, whether an after-school class called “Decorating Cupcakes” is a good use of our time and money, and if I can take enough time to spend a few extra hours with him playing outside.

It’s a crazy-making juggling act, and I feel like none of us is winning. And frankly, any kind of system in which you can’t win, is, well, bullshit.