Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections on Kindergarten, Ten Days In

I've been hesitant to publish this post ever since it was titled "Reflections on Kindergarten, Six Days In."  That's right, I've let it sit in Draft mode for a whopping four days, due to fear of the great parental phenomenon known as Jinxing Oneself.  But, knocking on every piece of wood I can find, I will publish this preliminary assessment of kindergarten:

It's going way better than I thought it would. 

First off, he likes it.  He comes home spouting glowing platitudes like I love kindergarten! and I wish I could go to kindergarten every day!  Then over the weekend, doing his weekend homework, he asked, Is there more homework?  Because this homework is too fun!

All this coming from a child who could never muster more than mild tolerance for preschool.  Preschool, which I thought was universally-loved, like puppies and pizza.  (Though now that I think about it, Nathan doesn't actually like those either.)

Behaviorally, he has achieved my goal of at least making a good first impression.  The class uses a behavior system where each kid has a clothespin with his/her name, clipped on a color chart.  You start each day on green, and you can go up with good choices: blue, purple, and pink.  You can go down with poor choices: yellow, orange, and red.  That's a whole seven-color spectrum on which I can rank myself as a parent each day, despite that fact that the kid's school behavior is somewhat out of my hands. 

So each day he comes home with a calendar in which he colors the day's square with the color on which he ended the day.  Now, look: I know I don't have a pink kid.  I taught for three years, and I can still name the kids who would have been on pink: the sweet kid, usually a girl, who was always, always doing the exactly right thing, the nice thing, the helpful thing.  Nathan is not going to be that kid.  That's fine.  I don't care if he isn't a pink kid, so long as he isn't a red kid. 

So far (knockonwood, knockonwood, knockonwood) he's been on green, with the occasional blue. 

And so kindergarten life is chugging along.  With each passing day, life overall feels less traumatic.

Here are a few more obvious conclusions I've come to in the last couple of weeks, with regard to school:

  • It's so EARLY: Now look, I have the rare kid who likes to sleep in.  Sure, this was an incredible luxury for about four years.  But when he slept in until an all-time lateness of 11:30 on August 1, I knew I had trouble.  (For purposes of accuracy, I'd like to point out that 11:30 was an outlier even for him.  His average wake-up time was probably more like 10:00 over the summer.)  But I knew that by August 23 he'd have to be up at 6:30, and that is a serious difference.  I did Sleep Training 2.0 during the first three weeks of August, getting him up earlier and earlier.   Now we're up at 6:30 every single day, albeit not happily.  But he did get up voluntarily at 6:30 on September 1, which is a five-hour difference in one month.  I consider it my first-ever sleep-related victory as a parent.  
  • But when I say early, I'm not just talking about the wake-up: Our whole day has shifted now.  Nathan gets on the bus at 7:11 a.m., which means I have to start my day of productivity at 7:30.  (I've allowed 19 minutes for pointless Internet-surfing.) Under the old model, the day seemed to begin at more like 9:30.  Now I'm cramming in all the exercise, work, chores, and errands before lunchtime.  And pretty soon it's ...
  • 2:00: This is the time Nathan's bus gets home.  Which is a problem, because I generally regard 2:00 as the worst time of the whole day.  No, wait!  I didn't mean it's the worst time of the day because that's when Nathan gets home; in actuality I kind of miss him during the day and I'm excited to have him get home.  I just mean that 2:00 is the worst time of the day because I'm experiencing post-lunch exhaustion, but also realizing that holy crap, there's so much more day to get through.  So 2:00 is always a time of that classic, What are we going to do to get us through until dinner?, a relic of the baby days.  Of course, dinner is now at 5:00, and bedtime is now at 7:00 ... hence my assessment of Early. 
  • Also, paper.  Now, having been a student and a teacher, I know there's a lot of paperwork that goes home from school.  I understand why every single office needs a separate form with emergency contact information and a parent signature.  Getting hundreds of children to and from and around school every single day is a nearly-impossible feat.   I get it.  I'm not complaining.  I want my kid to be safe and well-cared-for.  But I also know that if I didn't stay on top of the volume of paperwork that goes home, I would very quickly become a giant problem for the school.  I don't understand how people keep up with this when they have multiple school-aged children, or two jobs, or aren't native speakers of English.  
  • Subset of the papers: Fund-raisers: You know that bumper sticker that says something like, "It would be a great day when our public schools had all the funding they needed and the army had to hold a bake sale to buy grenades"?  Never have I more wanted to paste that sticker on every vertical surface I own.  (Though I kind of think it fails as a bumper sticker on an actual car, since it's too wordy and seems like it would increase the chance of people rear-ending you as they strain to read your sticker.)  So anyway, the schools are under-funded, and have to make up for that lack of funding with fundraisers.  We're ten days into the school year, and already I have: signed up for a 5K fundraiser, ordered Market Day, bought 2 magazine subscriptions, collected 8 Box Tops for Education, and purchased books through the Scholastic Book Order.  How much are the schools getting from the actual government?  Like, a nickel?  
  • Homework: Homework is a touchy subject.  Some parents like the homework, some hate it.  Some think kids should get more homework, some think they should get less, some think they should get none at all.  So far, I'm going to admit it: I like doing the homework.  However, I understand that we're in the honeymoon phase, and also that kindergarten homework is kind of simple and fun.  But here's why I like the homework: It makes me feel like a good parent when I do the homework with Nathan.  He's never been the kind of kid who is receptive to attempts at formal learning experiences at home (you know, workbooks and the like).  Homeschooling him would be a nightmare.  But with the homework, he understands it's mandatory (though, technically, the teacher said it was optional, but he doesn't know that), and so it's the first time I really feel like I've been able to sit down and teach him a formal lesson.  And, in the interests of being diplomatic, I will admit to having full understanding and sympathy for homework-haters.  Not only is homework decidedly less fun in the upper-grades, but there's a huge quantity of it.  Every textbook series used in school today has some sort of built-in homework, so that means that elementary school kids are getting multiple subjects of homework at night, in addition to enrichment projects and the usual 15 minutes of free reading.  
In conclusion, I'd like to say that so far I like our kindergarten life.  I like the balance of time without Nathan and the time with Nathan.  I like the routines.  Sometimes I miss him terribly and can't wait for him to get home, and other times I wish there were kindergarten boarding schools.  Sometimes I feel like life is so easy now that I'm outsourcing my kid to the public school system, and sometimes I feel like life is full of all kinds of added responsibilities now that we're in the public school system.  Usually I feel all those emotions in one day, multiple times a day.   It's a whole new world, but so far it's one that I'm glad to be living in.