My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

Number One Student Of All Time

2006-07-26
When I got up this morning and pulled back the curtains all I saw was fog. Our distant neighbors had disappeared. We were marooned in a sea of cloud. I woke Dusty up and she said, “What, are we in London?”

Driving into town, in and out of banks of fog, I saw a flock of birds flying across the sky and I suddenly realized that it’s almost fall. In one month, Dusty will begin kindergarten. Wow.

While I’m glad she’s finally school-aged, really – where did all that time go? I can account for the past five and a half years. That’s not it, exactly. I’m just stunned to finally be in the place that I knew would eventually come way back when Dusty was screaming her head off with colic during that long, cold winter following her birth.

And I’m glad she’s in full-time kindergarten. You are welcome to disagree with me but I really don’t get part-time kindergarten. Not in this day and age. I mean, most children are in daycare or preschool for many more hours than a full day of school. Part-time kindergarten almost doesn’t seem worth it. By the time you drop them off (or put them on the bus), you’ve got to turn around and get them again (or meet the bus). Assuming that most mornings are filled with academics, what are they then missing? Do they serve lunch? They are missing recess and extra-curricular classes like art and music and p.e. (the less said about the better, frankly), etc?

I’m not a proponent of over-scheduling children’s lives – filling their every waking moment with classes in Latin, lacrosse, swimming, soccer, junior pageants, horse back riding lessons, etc., just so they can get some imaginary “head start” in life (to what end, I wonder?). No. Why force what should come naturally if given the right environment? If a child expresses an interest and a parent can fulfill that request, great. And, being at home is not bad either because children learn a lot just by interacting with their world – dirt is fun and is home to many interesting critters. Sun motes are cool to watch.

From what I witnessed at Dusty’s kindergarten “readiness testing,” all you really need to be ready for kindergarten is a beating heart and a truckload of immunizations. The teachers, supposedly, will do the rest. God help them. Why, pray tell, do they make less than I do?

Because from my experience (which extends beyond just being a parent – “just”! That makes me laugh.), one of the discoveries I’ve made about preschool (full or part-time) and good daycare centers with developmentally appropriate practices, is that young children are much more capable than we’ve historically given them credit for (oooh, preposition at the end! Bad Mommy!). The fact that many children are able to read, write, do figures, speculate about space and raise pretty intelligent questions about the world around them, leads me to believe that kindergarten may actually be a kind of a dumbing down. At least in the public school system. I may be proven wrong but I’ve taught four-year-olds before. I’ve lived with one. I know what four- and five-year-olds are capable of if given the chance. And I also realize that children come to school with wildly different backgrounds and different needs.

So to go from a program that can last from 8:00am to 6:00pm, to one that goes from 9:00am to noon, what exactly does this do for a child? I’m not trying to be overly critical here. I’m just asking a question. I will probably never know the answer because the county’s school system has full-day kindergarten. And thank god for that because I work full-time and it would be a pain in the butt to have to arrange for her to be somewhere else the rest of the day. And it also doesn’t seem fair to have to shuttle a kid around from one place to the next every day. Too exhausting. Not that “fair” enters into the equation. What’s particularly nice, though, about her present preschool center is that they have an after-school program (because, still, the school day is not long enough for working parents – when will this change?) AND have vans that pick the children up from their elementary school and bring them to the center. I love a place that’s arranged for every contingency. Truly.

I believe in my day, kindergarten was half-day (I’ll have to check with my mother on that) and they fit a nap into that day. So, what in the world did I learn? I remember watching film strips. I remember being told that all my art projects weren’t done right (!!). I remember sitting on the rug next to the governor’s (asshole) son peeling the fake fur off a plastic black panther my father brought back from a business trip to Chicago. I remember story time and share time. But I don’t remember much instruction. Could be that my memory for details of this nature is not all that. This was 1971.

That was more than 30 years ago. I am confident that Dusty will have a happy and productive year. That she will soon be able to write a 2 and a 5 that differ from one another. That she will learn phonic strategies to help her read big words (her reading up to this point has been a holistic, self-taught approach). That she will make friends she’ll keep for years and years. Some of my best friends today were people I met in elementary school.

And, Dusty doesn’t have to be a Dean’s List kid, an honor role student, the number one student of all time. She just has to be her same smart self. All I ask is that she do what she’s capable of doing. That she doesn’t squander opportunity. That she’s not still living in my house when she’s twenty-five (though, actually, that’s exactly what she wants – to live forever and forever with Mommy and Daddy and drive us places!). That she grow and mature in a healthy way and discover her passions. Is that too much to ask?
[edit: Reading back over this, I realize that some of my thoughts are contradictory. I think it's more a matter of trying to square the "ideal situation" with reality. And guess which wins? Thus, the after-school bus will have my child on it.]

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9:46 a.m. ::
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