Previously I wrote about my oldest child’s public-school kindergarten experiences, and how he truly suffered in academic kindergarten – not because he was behind academically as many would expect in this situation, but because he was ahead.
But what would I do for my middle child’s kindergarten? She is a very different personality than my oldest child. I wasn’t sure how she would do in class, but she’s in her third year of going to a Chinese class for two hours each week and she’s turned out to be a people-pleaser. She’s a teacher’s pet. Funny enough, my son turned out to be a teacher’s pet in Chinese school, too. But the difference is, my middle daughter would be a teacher’s pet anywhere, because that’s her nature. She likes everyone to be happy and get along. She’d do well in public school. She’d sacrifice her true self for the sake of everyone else, and she’d put on a happy face about it. Inside, she’d be anxious (who wouldn’t be at the thought of having to conceal one’s true feelings from everyone around you?), but she’d hide it well.
When she was four years old, we did a homeschool co-op and I put her in with the kindergarten-second grade group. She fit in just fine, making friends and easily doing all the work. So I think, if I’d put her in public school, she’d have been what other people think of as a “success.” She’d have gotten A’s. She makes friends easily, too. Every time I put her in a class or group, she ends up with a group of friends around her. She’s kind to others, always concerned with tact and people’s feelings.
My own kindergarten year was a little rough, what with my kindergarten teacher telling my mom that I’d grow up to be a criminal and all that, but the rest of my teachers liked me well enough and I got high grades. I learned quickly to toady up to the teacher and do what was required of me so that I wouldn’t get hassled. It’s not an ideal education, but it’s manageable, and I figure my middle child would have done something like that, probably more successfully since she’s a good deal more agreeable than I ever was.
So I debated about whether I should let her try out kindergarten. She certainly didn’t need to go for academic reasons. She was already reading fluently, and her writing and math were well above grade level.
I asked her about going to kindergarten.
She was completely against going. She didn’t want to leave me. She had zero interest in going to public school. She didn’t want to be away from me from 8-3:30 five days a week, and I didn’t blame her. She was only 5 years old, after all. After the harm my oldest child suffered as a result of the public school setting, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk to send her there. She didn’t need to go for “social” reasons any more than academic reasons. She did fine in her two-hour kindergarten class in Chinese school without me, fine in Sunday school without me, fine in ballet, fine really anywhere without me for shorter periods of time.
I gave her a kindergarten year at home. I bought Sonlight and some other materials to use with her, and we had a good time with this gentle method. We snuggled under a blanket on the couch and read stories and talked about things.
She learned a lot during her year in kindergarten, but so did I.
After a while, I dropped the kindergarten language arts package I’d purchased for her. We opened up the first-grade language arts package and dutifully tried that, but they were far too easy. I was kind of afraid to let her completely skip them. What if she missed some bit of phonics and never learned it? How could she learn all of them if we didn’t go through it systematically? What if she grew up and couldn’t read hard words because we skipped page 57?
It took a while, longer for me because my brain had been told so often that children must be taught to read systematically using explicit and “rigorous” methods.
My son didn’t learn to read using those methods. Neither did I. Neither had she. We learned our sounds and letters (quickly), and read a lot of books we were interested in. Then, we just started reading. It didn’t matter at all that we skipped page 57.
All of my teacher training told me she “had” to learn to read a certain way. All of my experience and research post-official-teacher-training told me that it’s a lot easier, gentler, and effective to let children naturally develop reading. Give them some nudges and some instruction, but don’t get in the way so much, and don’t force anything before a child is developmentally ready.
Officially sanctioned training vs. experience and common sense? Which would I let win with my daughter?
I let go of the “official” way.
In hindsight, I think this was the last step for me to let go of the “correct” and “rigorous” institutional educational style. The only reason to continue to use it was out of fear that the way I knew was working, and had witnessed working many times, might not work in the future.
My middle daughter is in second grade now. A few months ago I found an old reading assessment tool I had saved from my public school days. Out of curiosity, I quizzed her with it. The test went up to a 7th grade reading level, and she easily read it. I did her school the way people have learned for many hundreds of years, prior to the way school-as-we-know-it came into fashion. It worked.
I can see how doing kindergarten at home with my middle child affected my youngest child, who was present for most of the kindergarten activities. She is once more a completely different personality than either sibling. Her story will be the third in my tale of three kindergartens.