PreK… Again?

I am amazed at how the arrival of a simple form letter from my school district has my mind racing and my heart flooded with a variety of emotions. Since deciding to homeschool our (almost) seven-year-old first grade son, our correspondence with our local public school has been at a minimum. The district envelope’s arrival in my post office box made me immediately think my attention was needed for some sort of homeschooling technicality. Maybe my quarterly report was inadequate? No, this letter is coming too late to have anything to do with that. A reminder maybe for the next quarterly report? No, too early. I had no idea of the content… so I opened it.

It has come to my attention that you have a daughter who is eligible for our pre-kindergarten program for the 2015-2016 school year.  If you are interested in enrolling your daughter in our program, please call me by January 30, 2015 to let me know. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you are not interested.

It seems like only yesterday that my son was four years old and excited with the prospect of trying school. We rushed to fill in the necessary paperwork and take care of the health and dental requirements to reserve his spot in the classroom. My earliest posts on this blog chronicled his growing hatred for school as I learned about Common Core State Standards and how developmentally inappropriate they are for young children. I remember an independent, creative, and articulate child who had no issues with being separated from his parents, and who was eager to be in school with his friends. Having a late January birthday, he was one of the oldest children in his PreK class. He learned his letters and his numbers quickly, and was outgoing and made friends easily. Despite this, his hatred for school grew steadily until we were forced to cut his days down to half days, ultimately withdrawing him completely. Our next decision to boycott a brick and mortar kindergarten the following year finally led to our decision to formally homeschool starting in first grade.

Now, my daughter, who turned three in October 2014 will be old enough to start formal school this coming fall! As a parent, I am acutely aware how different my children are from one another. By virtue of birthday, my son was one of the oldest; my daughter will be one of the youngest, starting PreK at three years old! I know that a lot can happen in her development over the next six months, but I’m grasping within my own mind to justify whether or not she will be ready for full day schooling, five days a week. Her diminutive size for her age is a huge psychological barrier for me. This tiny slip of a girl in PreK? Doesn’t seem possible.

My mind continues to list the many other differences between my children. My son was a veteran four-year-old, always articulate, with excellent language skills, and an impressive vocabulary for his age. He was a thoughtful little boy who liked to figure things out, build anything from nothing, and who enjoyed asking “why” and receiving an honest answer. However, I felt like none of this mattered to the expectations associated with his Common Core curriculum. Pencil grip and Pearson worksheets were the way of the PreK world, accompanied by following directions (All. The. Time.) and complying with a classroom culture that became increasingly “sit still and behave” rather than “play and explore.” As is commonly reported in regard to the Common Core, it WAS expected in my son’s PreK classroom that the children learned everything in the same way and at the same time. There was little room for student-led discoveries, and English language arts and math ruled supreme. My son lost interest, starting “acting out,” and in the end just shut down. I was reassured by one teacher the day we left the school for good that “sometimes kids just aren’t ready to be away from home.” But this wasn’t the case for us. My son didn’t fail at school. School failed my son.

And so I come back to thinking about my daughter, almost a year younger than my son in relation to the entry cut-off dates for school, and at a completely different developmental stage than he was (and yet he still did not “succeed”). While there is nothing abnormal about her stage in development, it is clear to me as her mother that she is a very different child when it comes to language, writing, shapes, colors, etc. My son was far beyond her level at the exact same age, but still had the benefit of starting PreK much older. I’m not at all worried about my daughter; as an informed and logical adult I realize that children develop differently, that eventually these basic skills all arrive (with or without the Common Core). But I’m forced to wonder: will she be ready for gripping that pencil and forming those letter and writing those words and sitting still for story time? More importantly, will she be ready for the dull repetition and unimaginative nature of a Pearson worksheet? She’s a girl, so that’s a benefit right there. Studies have shown that boys are at a disadvantage in a formal classroom learning environment. But at the same time, she’s certainly got much more of an attitude than her brother had at this age. Parents everywhere agree that it isn’t “the terrible twos.” As many parents can attest, it’s much more likely that the difficult behavior (all normal by the way) will arise around age three, (and will make two-year-olds look like the cutest, calmest beings!). Will she take that to school with her and be labeled as difficult or bad?

She does, however, have one difference that might benefit her academic career. She loves to color in pre-made pictures. My son hated those exercises, which seemed to be the bulk of the “art” the kids produced, and that were handed out with the real goal of developing hand strength for all of that PreK Common Core standards shit. Everything, in fact, was done with a Common Core standard in mind. It was inconceivable to do anything for pure enjoyment or… I don’t know… because it might be a developmentally appropriate activity for three-, four-, and five-year-olds.

Thing about it: three, four, and five! That’s how old the age range is for kids in PreK. You don’t have to be an expert in early childhood development to realize that the abilities of these children are going to vary greatly. I wonder if all the pre tests, benchmarks, and post tests take that into account. They certainly don’t measure how well-balanced a child’s integration is into a new school environment. They certainly don’t measure if that child is neglected at home and hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in the past several weeks. And I’m quite sure they don’t take into account if a particular student loves art or music, or if their older brother is bullied in his fourth grade classroom, or if their father was just laid off from work, or if they are fascinated by insects, or if they are distracted by the embarrassment of recently wetting themselves during nap time (which will sadly be gone by the time they reach kindergarten!). Standardized tests, the fulcrum of the reform agenda, don’t tell much about the abilities of most children, especially young children at varying stages in their development from who come from extremely different life situations. If my daughter were to go to PreK, we would opt her out of any and all testing at that level… just like we did with her brother! There’s no reason to test a child this young. No. Reason. At. All.

We don’t have much time to make a decision about whether to send our daughter to PreK in the fall. The deadline is January 30, and right now, I just can’t picture her as ready for the realities of today’s PreK classrooms. But I asked her, just like I did my son when he was four, “do you want to try school”? She just gave me a crooked smile like she was contemplating whether to choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream. She doesn’t know what it’s all about. She will decide in largely the same way as my son did. He wanted to go to school because all the other kids his age in our village were also going. Sadly, that wasn’t enough. My daughter will face the fact that the other girls (and boys) her age will be moving off to school next year. And I will be faced with the same internal struggle I had with my son: will she miss out without these same experiences as her peers? I will let her decide. If she wants to try school because her best friend is doing the same, then so be it… the saga of school inappropriate reform will continue for my family. But if she chooses to stay home, I know she will be ok with her family and the homeschooling friends and experiences we have built up over the past two years. The myth of anti-social children no longer concerns me. My son is excelling in his learning, his social skills top notch and completely within the norm. He’s not behind in ELA or math. In fact, he is well beyond his first grade peers in many ways. I surprised myself with how much fun homeschooling is and how efficient. Truth be told, I hope she chooses to stay home. But unlike the strict guidelines of the school reform agenda, I will give my child some say in how and when she is educated.

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