Sunday, February 01, 2009

Holding back isn’t leaving behind is it?

February is an angst-ridden time for parents of the soon-to-be post preschool set.

In February, kindergarten registration looms large. It marks the beginning of a new era in the parental experience: The time when the real-deal school, now only two seasons removed, mandates its way into the lazy days of our lives. This new life will dump boatloads of homework on our kids’ (and, by extension, our) laps the weekend we plan on visiting the grandparents. It’s inevitable.

Our priority as a new human herder will shift from active learning to passive education.

Some of us were lucky and were able to stave off that initial march into the schooling factory because of a timely cutoff. Our kids just barely missed the arbitrary date of readiness. Others of us wrestled with the question and corresponding decision: Is my kid ready? Should wait another year?

We researched and researched. We stood, pencil poised, over checklists …

Can my daughter listen to stories without interrupting?

Can my son recognize rhyming sounds?

Do they understand actions have both causes and effects?

Does he understand there’s a morning, an afternoon and an evening?

Can she cut with scissors? Follow the rules? Share her toys? Manage the bathroom? Button and zip?

Do people understand when she speaks?

Can he look at pictures and make up stories? Identify the beginning letters of words? Sort by color, size and shape?

Does he recognize simple words like STOP and MOM when he sees them written out?
Can they count to 10?

We agonized over societal norms: Is it better to be older? Will they get bored? Am I holding them back? Am I coddling them? Am I giving them an advantage or am I pushing them out?
We parents also wonder if our kids are ready to be the one sitting on the bus or in the cafeteria alone? Will our kid be the one who gets tripped up by the outstretched leg of the bully? Will our kid be the one doing the tripping? Will our kid be forced to toe the line and color within them, or will they be allowed to use their imaginations? Will they be encouraged to question authority or kowtow to it?

Will we be THOSE kinds of parents who fight THAT unbeatable fight at every turn? Will we be the thorn in the side of the teacher? Will the teacher be one who has invested in her role or just playing a part? We’ve all had bad teachers. We know they exist in larger numbers than anyone cares to admit.

In these simple details do we hover? Do we let go?

We’ve all heard stories about members of the five-year-old set being reprimanded for not using green when they color in their trees.

I know. I know. The teacher has his reasons. There’s always reason. There’s always a test to gauge performance.

But it always makes me wonder what it is they’ve proved.

Kids seem to know better than most adults about rules and how to follow them even when they don’t. They have a strangely acute sense of fairness, even when they aren’t playing fair. They know tree leaves are usually green … unless they’re red or yellow or orange.

We are not the first parents to send our kid out into the world. Yet as I read through the checklist, I got the feeling that once our kids are ready for formal education, they’ve already learned all the things that Robert Fulghum explained in his book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

Perhaps the revised version, which keeps being rewritten by my mind — “All I Really Need To Know I Learned Before ‘No Child Left Behind’” — is what really has me frightened.

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