… and I’m talking about Pre-K! The following post is a rant from my most emotional side of parenting. It’s that place you find yourself when you try so hard to make the right decision for your child, and you give it so much level-headed thought that you become overwhelmed and a bit myopic, and you feel confounded and then unsure. That’s the source of this post. It is a decision I have yet to make. It is a back and forth contradiction I have yet to work out. It isn’t fully about education reform or policy. It isn’t quite about curriculum. It probably isn’t even really about the school. It’s about me and this hole I’ve dug for myself where I just can’t seem to decide if I’m making the right decision about sending my son to Pre-K!
The Pre-Kindergarten program at my school is full time. The kids go 5 days a week for an entire school day. I had my doubts about enrolling him in the first place. He never went to any sort of formal daycare or preschool program. In fact, we live in a rural upstate New York village, small enough for one traffic light and a small PreK-12 public school. Other options around here are limited. To choose a part-time program would mean almost half an hour in the car… then what do I do? Drive home, only to have to drive back a few hours later? Hang around town and run errands—with an infant? Neither option seemed appealing to me.
I ultimately decided to send my son to Pre-K. Living in such a small village, everyone knows everyone else. All of his friends, including his best friend, were going. And it has proven true that he loves seeing his friends on a daily basis. He was also independent and outgoing, so I knew it wouldn’t be a devastating experience for him. And I told myself that if for any reason this didn’t work out, I would pull him out and keep him home. I figured Pre-K and Kindergarten would be buffer years before I really had to worry about what kind of education I chose for my son.
I’ll come right out and say it! I hate that my son is subjected to the formal rigor of the Common Core at his age. I think it is absolutely ridiculous to “prepare” these kids for academic success at this point in their lives. I opted him out of his STAR assessments, and I don’t give a fig about how well he’s doing learning his letters or numbers or whatever else they learn through their Pearson worksheets and smartboard. So I ask myself, “why are you subjecting him to something in which you do not believe?”
But it’s more complicated than that. My son doesn’t care about that aspect of school either, and in fact I think he is already bored with it. In respect to the academics I think they do the same thing in the same style over and over again. That being said, he remains very neutral about it and “endures” it so that he can enjoy some of the fun aspects of his days at school. We are fortunate to still have art, music, and gym classes (although I don’t think they have them often enough). He loves these specials. He also loves being able to play with his friends on the playground every single day. What I mean to say is that in his mind, the pros of school outweigh the cons. So, would it be right to pull him out because of my own frustrations?
There’s more to it than that. Almost every morning is a struggle to get ready on time, and in those moments he absolutely does not want to go to school. He’d rather just get out some toys and play. There is usually conflict as we try to get dressed, have breakfast (we still do this at home by the way), brush our teeth, get packed and ready to walk to school. I do not enjoy this conflict at all! But then I pick him up from school and he is happy and seems to have had a good day. But more often than not, it doesn’t last… by the time we get home from school he is exhausted and doesn’t even realize it himself. Anything can make him lose it. He can be angry, upset, frustrated… even mean. He fights with his baby sister and is generally unpleasant to all of us. And so then I resent that the school gets him for the prime hours of the day and all I get is a crabby little boy!
There’s one thing he does that really drives me crazy. I’m not sure if this is born from the “learning” that they do at school, but my son comes home and wants to write letters and numbers on his own. That’s fine in and of itself. But when he makes a mistake, when one is backwards, or one too small, or a line not straight, he gets so angry and frustrated. He cries and destroys what he’s done. It pains me to see him like that. I ask if he wants help. If he truly wants to perfect his letters, I will help. But he rarely wants me to show him anything. And the frustration builds. I try to encourage: “You’re doing great, and each time you practice it gets better!” He’s not convinced. I try to explain: “It’s ok to make mistakes… that’s how you learn. Everybody needs to practice.” It’s still not what he wants. Remember, he’s had a long day and is now overtired. He isn’t even five and I, in fact, don’t care about this part of his education. No child should be this frustrated. I believe that his primary concerns right now should be playing, taking things apart, being outside, and getting dirty. And I wonder, would this matter so much to him if it weren’t such a major focus of the Common Core?
After a number of difficult days in a row, I came really close to just withdrawing him from school. I even wrote a letter to the principal and my son’s teacher explaining my reasons and concerns. It was helpful in articulating what it is that’s bothering me. Along with some of the points made previously, my main question is this: Will I look back and regret that I made him go to school when he could have been home with me? After all, it isn’t compulsory at his age. Should I keep him home during this tender innocent age and have as much fun as possible?
I never sent the letter. I sat on it and the next day decided to just keep my son home. We had a great day. He played all day, helped me do some things around the house, was wonderful company, and played so nicely with his 14 month old sister. We even went Christmas shopping for Papa! I could still withdraw him. I wonder if the school would accommodate a request to send him three days a week. I doubt it.
I go back and forth. My son goes back and forth. After his day home, he went back to school and had a great day… said he really liked going to school. There are certainly days when he loves school, and there are other days when he’d just rather be home. He’ll tell me he doesn’t like school one day, and the next day he says he wants to go. So for now I’ll send him, but I’ve decided that I’m going to pick some days when he can just stay home.
As I sit here trying to finish this essay, I get a call from my son’s teacher. Apparently today is not a good day for my son at school. His teacher says he is having trouble settling down with his book. Out of the blue, he reaches over and swipes another kid’s book off of the table. This is odd for my son. Where he will generally take out his frustrations on me, he will rarely lash out at his friends. Naturally, I’m trying to piece together his day and find out what led to this. I am told, that sometimes my son has trouble settling down for certain activities, like when they learn their letters. Now, perhaps they do more than worksheets, but so far that’s all I’ve seen, and I know he’s bored with this.
To quote a line from a recent essay on Worksheet Education, “Students may be bored and exhibit behavioral problems as they get restless with the ‘drill and kill’ nature of the test prep worksheets.” Is this happening to my son already– in Pre-K? Perhaps not, every kid has a bad day. But was it really worth a phone call home? The teacher thought that if my son talked to me, it might rectify his behavior. I knew it wouldn’t, but here goes…. he heard my voice and just broke down. What was I supposed to do anyway, reprimand him over the phone? And why be mad at such a trite misdemeanor?
When the teacher came back on the phone I really didn’t know what to say. My son is generally a sweet, good-natured kid. I briefly conveyed my feelings about whether Pre-K was the right choice for us. I guess what I really wanted to hear was some evidence that she saw him as a great kid, maybe hear her tell me something wonderful about him, maybe say SOMETHING, ANYTHING that might ease my mind. After all, his outburst was an anomaly for him. But she only said, “Well, that’s a choice you have to make.” Anyone who knows my son will tell you, he’s not a “trouble maker.” He is delightful and inquisitive and responsive and articulate. I wonder if the teacher sees these traits in him and it saddens me to think she might just see him as the difficult one who isn’t following protocol.
It is unspoken, but the teachers, the parents…. and even the kids have already labeled certain other kids as the ones who continually disrupt and cause trouble. Nobody will use a particular name, but when you hear a story you know… you just know. As a parent, I REALLY want to know what they think of my son. My parent-teacher conference was a let down. I understand that if I choose to send my son to school, I don’t get to cherry pick the aspects that I like. We have to take the bad with the good.
I guess this means I should schedule a meeting. It does no good to infer without talking to his teacher more in depth. And my conundrum about whether school is the right choice right now continues. Or I could just be overreacting. Did I mention this was my emotional rant? Any honest parent will admit to how difficult it can be going through anything for the first time with your first (or only) child. You often second guess yourself. And that’s where I am right now…
… In fact, as I hover over the “Publish” button to post this, I keep hesitating and wondering if what I’m putting out there makes any sense. I keep changing my mind and questioning if what I just wrote makes me sound like an idiot parent. This post is more personal and I feel very vulnerable putting it in the public realm. But maybe there will be those who can relate and I can ease my mind knowing there are others out there who are or who have been in the very same conflicted place.