Each of my three children had radically different kindergarten experiences.
Why? And what difference has it made in their lives?
My oldest went to public school. He taught himself to read around the time he turned four. The summer after he turned five, I heard him talking with an eight-year-old neighborhood boy about math.
“I hate math,” declared the neighbor boy.
“What?!” replied my son, shocked. “Even negative numbers? But those are so cool!”
That was my first clue that he might not have such an easy time in public school. Never fear, that summer he was socialized by other kids. He got the message: It’s ok to be smart – but it’s not ok to let anyone know. When I took him to meet his kindergarten teacher he told me that he planned to pretend he couldn’t read. I thought it was sad that at age five he had already learned that it was not ok to be himself. But what could I do about it? The world accepts children who ride a bike without training wheels at age three. It doesn’t accept three-year-old children who teach themselves how to write.
I sent him off to school, stayed involved, volunteered at school even though I worked part-time, and did whatever I could to make sure he had a good year. Every day after school I spent special time with him. Just the two of us, talking together about the good and bad things that happened that day. He got pulled off the top of the playground equipment. Someone pinched him. He spent most of the day playing with an iPad at school. Halfway through the year he became increasingly angry, but couldn’t tell me why. We went to Disney World. He got special time with me. Special time with his dad. Special time with all of his grandparents. He went fishing, rode horses, fed his donkey, and had many books and toys. I bought him a Wii U game system for his birthday.
Still, he became increasingly angry. He began to tell me that I broke my promise to him because I had told him that eventually, they would teach him something at school. “They never taught me anything, Mom! Nothing!” he exclaimed. “They say the same things over and over. The teacher lets me play on the iPad because I don’t want to sit on the rug and sound words, but I still have to listen to them! I hate it.”
I didn’t know what to tell him. I didn’t learn anything in kindergarten, either. I’d also taught myself to write at an early age, which prompted my mom to go ahead and teach me to read. My mom tells me it took a couple of weeks for me to learn how to blend and the first hundred words, and then I was off and reading well.
I sort of knew what he was going through, but my kindergarten experience was a lot different so many years ago. My kindergarten was only a half day, and nobody was expected to learn how to read. We each received a new book each week or so on a new letter of the alphabet. My kindergarten teacher and I did not get along and she told my mom that I’d grow up to be a criminal, but other than that, I think we played a lot. It didn’t matter that I was already reading very well and some other kids in my class were still learning their letters because kindergarten didn’t really focus on those things back then. It was more developmentally appropriate.
My son’s kindergarten focused on academics. He was supposed to learn to read, write, add, subtract, and so on and so forth. To perform well on tests. Because he could already do those things and the other kids couldn’t, he was left to endure forced repetition of concepts he’d long mastered. It was mental torture.
I told him that things would get better in first grade, but it didn’t, and it was further mental torture for him. I started homeschooling him two weeks into first grade. I, as his mother, could not in good conscience send him to a place where I knew he was truly suffering every day. I tried to work it out with the school, and I proposed numerous reasonable options that might have helped alleviate some of his mental suffering – and I taught public school for 7 years, I was completely reasonable in my proposals – but the school was rigid and unwilling to make any accommodation.
What else could I do when I realized how bad it was for my 6-year-old son in that environment? I never sent him back. His first-grade year, and the years after that, have been spent in a homeschool environment. He takes outside lessons and courses, but the bulk of his education is at home, with me.
What did I do with my younger children? Would they also need to be homeschooled? At the time, I wasn’t sure what we would do, but as it turned out, each of my children has had a different kindergarten experience.