We suspected our son was going to have a difficult transition to kindergarten. He was a dreamer, who showed no interest in learning his letters beyond the ABC song and the spelling of his name.
However, when I, or my husband, voiced our concerns about starting Kindergarten, we were met with sympathetic nods and assurances that Kindergarten was made to get kids ready for those academics.
Though well intended, in our case, those assurances were not accurate.
Our Kindergarten (which is a very normal Kindergarten) tested my son in September, and he was given the homework of memorizing every upper case and lower case letter, and their sounds, in order to “catch up.”
My son was labeled “behind” in September.
Which is before First Grade.
So, it’s technically Grade Zero.
My son, who has no cognitive delays or learning disabilities, was labeled “behind” for Grade Zero, in the first month of class.
It wasn’t just academics. His poor teacher! Not being ready, not being interested, made for a kid who was difficult. Though never aggressive, he was quickly becoming labeled as the chatty kid who was always squirming and asking if he could get out of his chair.
There were a lot of notes home.
He’s my firstborn, and this was all a shock to us. The expectations were even higher than I had worried.
My son, who is super bright- despite not having memorized all of the alphabet yet- realized he was behind. All of the reprimands about sitting still and being quiet weighed on him. His self-esteem plummeted. He stopped chatting and stared anxiously out of the car window while we drove to school.
Teacher meetings. Notes home. Teacher meetings. Notes home.
By December, I had run full-circle. I had tried being supportive, reprimanding, rewarding, hoping, and crying (privately). I had felt sorry for the teacher, hated the teacher, and come back around again.
We spent winter break doing worksheets and running through flashcards, trying to get his self-esteem back up. I was hopeful again when he went back to school in January.
But that self-esteem was not back up. A new development, the worst one yet, reared its ugly head; My son stopped trying.
The behavior notes slowed, but the concerned teacher notes increased. Instead of asking me to help him practice, I was being advised to give him incentives for doing his work. His folder was full of clean-copy worksheets, and there were even blank pieces of paper with “incomplete” written on them.
At another teacher conference, this time with the Vice-Principal and teaching assistants, I was informed that my son was “not focusing” and “not putting in the effort.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t see this as a complete self-esteem break. They thought he was still being “difficult.”
My husband and I had a long talk about homeschooling that night. We weren’t sure if we would be any good at it. We worried about disrupting our boy’s “normal” schooling. It took another month of pep talks and eerily empty worksheets before we were forced to get more serious.
I registered our homeschool, wrote a note to the school to thank them (and make sure no one blamed his teacher for this transition) and we took our boy home.
At first, there was an even more melancholy little boy. No matter how I tried to phrase it, he seemed to think he’d done something wrong to be put into homeschool.
Slowly, however, he started to relax. He chatted away. He played wholeheartedly with the kids in our neighborhood.
For his lessons, I focused on the curriculum covered at the beginning of the school year, reviewing the foundations of math and literacy that had been quickly left behind in the first two months of his old school. I let him run around in between lessons, and we were busy with non-academic activities most days.
His confidence slowly returned, and he started to proudly tell people that he was homeschooled.
We moved to a new neighborhood during the summer. My husband and I thought long and hard about enrolling our boy in this new school district or continuing to homeschool. We changed our minds almost daily throughout our moving month.
Then, almost overnight, a big change occurred. My son started bringing me books and asking very specific questions. Unlike what he’d always asked about before (e.g. the story, the jokes, the characters), he was suddenly interested in the letters, words, and sentences.
“Mama, what does this one mean?”
“Lots of A’s mean he’s yelling, right?”
“You read this part, and I’ll read this part.”
His curiosity about words was suddenly overwhelming. Everywhere we went, he wanted to know what all of the signs said. I found myself reading out loud ingredient labels and package directions for foods he wouldn’t even eat.
This change brought clarity.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with my boy. There was no reason why he couldn’t go to school-
Now, he was ready. Now, he was curious and interested in learning. Now, he was willing to sit in a chair for a while, if it meant he would finally know what these words mean.
We had suffered. My boy had gone still and quiet in Kindergarten because he wasn’t ready. We’d accused him of not trying. My husband and I had agonized endlessly over his schooling.
Homeschool gave us a chance to recover and to realize what should have been said earlier.
Some kids aren’t ready- yet.
What feels like pulling teeth now will actually happen with only a little effort later.
We hadn’t qualified for preschool assistance, and we had chosen to have a stay-at-home parent instead of daycare expenses for our two kids. I do believe that an experienced preschool teacher could have flagged us, saving us almost 7 months of heartache.
It would have been so simple. “There’s nothing wrong with your sweet boy, but he’s a good candidate to wait on Kindergarten for a year. A little more development and maturing, and everything will be just fine.”
I can’t guarantee I would have taken the advice well, but, considering we’d guessed Kindergarten would be difficult before he started, it might have been just what we needed to hear.
Our boy went back to Kindergarten this week. I spoke with the administration at his new school, and they flagged him to be in a super-experienced teacher’s classroom.
My son was nervous to go back to school, and he asked a lot of heartbreaking questions, like, “What if I’m not smart enough?” and “What if I mess up again?”
We’ve reassured him as best we can.
His first week was astounding for all of us. No behavior notes. No concerned teacher comments. I told myself not to get too optimistic, since school just started.
Then, he came home with a prize from the class treasure box. He got it for doing a great job all week. He was so proud and happy, and I mentioned that a class with a treasure box sounded so cool.
He shrugged and said that his old class had a treasure box, too. I was left staring on the spot while he went off to play.
7 months in his old class, and I never even knew there was a prize system for achievement. He’d never had a chance to experience it, that I knew of.
When we made the decision to pull our son out of the Kindergarten that he was not ready for, we did it with heavy hearts. We were sure we could very well end up regretting the decision.
Now that I can see the whole picture, what I really regret is not having taken him out sooner. There is a very simple, gentle cure for not being ready.