You might recall that my 4-year-old was reprimanded at school last week for swiping his buddy’s books off of the table. He was removed from the class and the teacher called me to speak with him. You can read more about that here.
No parent wants their child acting up or being difficult in school for no apparent reason. But I also could not understand why I was called for what seemed like normal four-year-old lack of impulse control. My first reaction was to call a fellow parent who has four boys, the youngest of which is in my son’s Pre-K class. Naturally she’s been around the block a few times as far as dealing with a multitude of school issues. I wanted her advice. It turned out that it was her son’s books that were swiped and she thought I was calling to apologize. She immediately said, “Really, it’s no big deal… normal behavior… they all do things like that from time to time.”
She said her son wasn’t upset about that at all, but she stated that later on in the day he did become very upset and was telling her this story about how Oscar (my son) got in so much trouble… he was taken to the office… they called his parents. His mom assured him that he must have misunderstood, that they wouldn’t have done that… She was almost laughing in the phone as she relayed his story when I cut her off and said, “Yes, he’s right. That’s just what happened.”
Another parent said something similar. Her son came home with a story how Oscar got in big trouble that day. So I’m starting to think: Is my son being labeled as the class trouble maker? My husband and I decided to set up a meeting with our son’s teacher. That was this morning.
It went well. She explained that Oscar often does not want to cooperate when they sit down to work on letters or numbers. She stated that during these times he exclaims, “I want to be homeschooled.” At home, we have discussed homeschooling as an option and we have friends who homeschool their children so the concept of homeschooling is understood. This was similar to an event when Oscar chastised his peers for eating unhealthy food... I was called then as well. Food is often a topic of conversation in our household, as are many other important things.
That’s when she said that 4-year-olds aren’t developmentally ready to understand certain topics, that they understand it in their own way and may just say things without understanding them. I explained: It’s not like we sit home directing him to fight the power or break the system. And when we directly discuss anything with our son we always try to do it at a level that he can sort of understand. But we tend to engage in open dialogue in our home, and unless it’s terribly inappropriate, our children are going to hear us talk about schooling options, food choices, global warming, agribusiness, and a whole slew of other topics that are incredibly meaningful to us as adults, to us as a family, and in our opinion to society at large. I’m not going to send my son into another room each time I discuss things that are critical to my core principles!
I also think that, yes, one does have to take age into consideration when discussing certain details or the complexity of any situation, but one should not underestimate young children completely. My son might not listen to everything I say. He might not understand all of it. But he does hear it and he is already forming a crucial set of morals and principals. And isn’t part of our job as parents to raise our kids with a set of beliefs about what we think is important?
I was told that it isn’t him necessarily… that it is his peers who hear these things and have never heard of homeschooling. So? Will it really cause such a rift to mention homeschooling in school? If a child is raised in a religious household and came to school talking about how much he loved God and wanting to say Grace before lunch, would that matter even though it might not be a familiar subject to some other kids? Would he be discouraged? But when my child is simply trying to understand why mommy packs his lunch and doesn’t buy school lunch… and why mommy sends him to school while some of his friends are homeschooled… that’s too complex and developmentally inappropriate?
I’m not saying my son is discussing any of this with tact! He’s four (almost five)! And he is also very good at manipulating adults… he knows exactly what to say to each adult to get their goat. Again, I’m not saying he should be allowed to be disruptive in his class! I believe in my son following a certain set of rules and expectations, and I believe that he isn’t too young to understand that different rules apply to different environments. Although I will never stifle my son’s desire to speak his mind, I do talk to him about appropriate behavior at school and about acting difficult for his teacher just for the sake of acting difficult.
My husband and I worry that he will be labeled as a trouble-maker. His teacher said that absolutely was not the case. Every parents sees their children as gifted, but we really believe (and many others have stated) that our son is incredibly creative. For his age, he has a rich vocabulary and is incredibly articulate. He just isn’t mainstream “good.” He’ll probably never ever be the kid who just sits down rosy-cheeked with a smile on his face and starts following commands. He’s a tester. He’s a questioner. He wants to know why. I’m not saying he should be given free reign… not at all! But I think that the tactics that might work to make the rest of the group conform, might not always be the best option for Oscar.
Don’t get me wrong! I fully empathize with what it must be like to have 19 four-year-olds in a class. And Oscar does really like his teacher. But I sometimes wonder if she isn’t looking for the most efficient way to get all 19 to comply in the least resistant way. Now that I say it, who wouldn’t be? Throughout my blog posts, I have always landed on the side of the teacher. I still believe that it is the new mandates and “rigor” of RTTT and the Common Core Learning Standards that have led to the necessity to force all of these four-year-olds to be handled exactly the same. Fortunately at our school, the kids still get plenty of play time. They get music and art and recess. But for some four-year-old boys, it still isn’t enough. As far as his expected development in literacy and math, and everything else he’s right on track. I’m not worried. He IS a good kid! I just want others to see his brilliant qualities.
Then I asked, “what can we do to encourage Oscar at school?” Apparently the way I pack his lunch might be a contributing factor. I pack his lunch every day except Wednesday when he has pizza at the school. From what I understand, Wednesdays are good days…. so maybe it’s the lunch? But no, it’s not what I pack, it’s that I use washable containers and his teacher feels it’s all too complicated for him and that he looks so “defeated” and he takes a long time and struggles with it. The other kids who bring their lunch have it easier with zipper bags. But I’ve seen him use his various lunch containers at home and he has no problem understanding how they work. And I will NOT pack anything in a throw-away bag, box, or container… Now we’re back to core principles again.
His teacher said he has a lot to manage with my containers and bottles. And I agree. I pack a drink with his lunch, all of which is in individual spill-proof washable containers. And I put small ice packs inside… it’s gotta be 80 degrees in that classroom. There’s no fridge and no microwave so the situation for lunch-bringers is not all that friendly. I have a different container for hot foods. I just feel like everything is geared to the convenience of being on the school lunch program. On top of that, I’m required to send in a snack and juice each day… yup more containers because I do not believe in disposable anything if I can help it.
So, I will try to streamline his backpack, but I have to wonder if that will really improve his behavior in the classroom. Besides, he’s just one to like to take his time eating, and often times will avoid coming to the table in the first place if he’s involved in playing. He’s just one to need lots of prompting… home or at school, containers or no containers. By the way, he or his babysitter two days a week last year never had any problems with my containers.
It was a good meeting and I’m glad we were able to ask our questions and have our concerns addressed. Ultimately we just want our son to be happy at school, and in general he seems to be. We don’t want him labeled as an undesirable. We ended the meeting by laughingly calling ourselves difficult parents… we think critically about most things and ask a lot of questions. It’s natural that our children will grow up to be the same way. And I’m proud of that! I’m sure we will inevitably be dealing with other issues at school as our son learns his place in an environment that caters mostly to compliance and mainstream thinking. There will be those that shake their heads at us and there will be some that accept it. (And possibly embrace it?) I just want my son to have fun at school. Oscar loves to learn and he loves new experiences. I believe he will find his way. But if I feel something is amiss, I will always advocate on his behalf.