Word Winding

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Archive for the tag “kindergarten”

Refining Our Scholastic Balance

School decision making may be the most nerve-wracking of all the parental dilemmas.

Our country prides itself on being chock-full of choices (but without so much as a pamphlet to see us safely through). If you’ve ever been concerned about the toxins in your beauty products or the protein content in your pet’s diet, you know the time sinkhole that is internet research.

Now pretend that choice might make or break your child’s future happiness, their eventual career(s), the very wiring of their brain, not to mention all of your familial relationships, and you begin to grasp the enormity of what we parents are asked to do, not for ourselves, not on behalf of an adult or a teenager, but for a child just beginning to sprout, whose needs and desires are still partially obscured.

Way worse than shampoo or dog food. The columns of pros and cons run off into the distance like Platypup’s favorite number: infinity.

If you’ve been coming ’round these parts for awhile, you know I’ve been here before. Three years agoTwo and a half years ago… And most recently this past fall, when we actually enrolled both Owlet and Platypup for the first time.

If I’ve written at least five (six, now) posts on the subject, you know it’s been mulled over endlessly. Thor and I frequently discuss school matters using the semi-coded, intentionally complex language of parents within earshot of their children: “I got a phone message from the scholastic institution in the style of my early childhood and after we submit the appropriate forms on behalf of our male descendant we can observe the occupants in their native environment.” (Translation: the Montessori school says we can tour after turning in some initial paperwork for Platypup.) My friend Kula and I sip tea, commiserate, and take turns as sounding board. Her daughter is right between Owlet and Platypup in age and our opinions on educational philosophies and the various local schooling options always track closely in tandem; no one bears witness to my “what feels right?” soul-search better than she. I sneak-attack interview complete strangers whose offspring are homeschooled or who attend a school on my list. And of course when the moon is full, the cats noisy, or the children restless, I lie awake at night and relentlessly chart and rechart potential courses until I force myself to yoga-pee-meditate back to sleep.

Then a couple months ago, a new chapter in Owlet’s schooling jumped out and threw itself across our path.

Owlet began in the fall at a partial homeschooling program, which we enjoyed but quickly realized was probably not our home long-term due to its tiny size and undeviatingly standardized curriculum. As we explored other options, we came across another hybrid program that seemed much more our style. We applied in November to transfer (this year if possible or at the start of next school year if not) and waited.

We had resigned ourselves to the luck of the lottery for Fall 2016 and were in full on, baby-anytime mode when we got the call: there was an opening if we wanted to take it.

Thor and I tore our hair out a little over the timing of it all (a couple weeks before my due date) but we toured and adored it, took Owlet for a trial day at which she had a blast, and officially transferred… On what turned out to be two days before Cria’s birth.

Bam! Huge life transition times two.

It could easily have backfired, but the combination turned out to be perfect for Owlet. As much as she loved her new school, she was really, really, really sad to leave her first teacher, and a tiny baby sister was an ideal distraction. Her class of fellow kindergarteners and first graders has given her a wealth of friends — and Thor and I a pack of like-minded parents! The curriculum is whatever we want it to be, with expert guidance to take the hassle out of homeschooling. Instead of the worksheets and textbooks that prompted alarming statements like “I hate science,” we have interest-driven projects and research and games. Because the curriculum is so perfectly tailored to the individual student, I can say without hesitation that all three of our kids will thrive here. Maybe there’s a curveball in our future, but for now, this fits us to a T… I know, because my midnight agonizing on the subject has ceased, and with all the newborn nursing sessions and cramped co-sleeping configurations, that’s saying something!

  

   

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Fledgling

It was Owlet’s first day of kindergarten today, and she was first out of bed in the morning.

Well, kind of. Actually, Platypup was technically first up — at dawn he crept into the room where his visiting Granny was sleeping and rather startled her, but she snuggled him back to sleep.

Owlet usually comes into our bed for morning cuddles, but today she headed straight out to the living room, perhaps assuming that because Platypup’s bed was empty he must already be there. I was already awake, dozing a little but mostly plotting and fretting and hoping, so I followed a moment later and found her curling up under a blanket on the couch, a sweet dozy little bundle of a girl. I joined her for awhile, both of us soaking in the nourishment of the mother-daughter bond on a monumentous (slightly scary) day.

Thor appeared soon after, pancake batter in his wake. I kept Owlet company while she dressed. To battle her nerves she chose a couple special objects to bring with her — a small stone and a blue feather — which I filled for her with all the love and security and groundedness I could muster.

Once breakfast hit the table, kindergarten apprehension was mired in a pool of maple syrup and the cheerful clatter of five busy forks. It emerged soon afterward, however, in waves of worry that were met each time by a reassuring adult but never entirely quelled. We might not have made it out of the house without difficulty if not for Platypup. When it was almost time to leave, Platypup flopped on Granny’s bed with a slightly melodramatic air. He said he was sad Owlet was going without him. “I’m gonna cwy,” he announced over and over, flopping around and beginning to tear up.

Owlet came to him almost at once, murmuring the reassuring words of a born nurturer and stroking his back and head, looking intently into his eyes and giving him sweet hugs. (This is the point where my own eyes started to fill.) After a few false starts, more touching goodbyes, and a last-minute geranium blossom to join the stone and feather, she, Thor, and I were off!

Concern for her little brother carried Owlet as far as the car, but once we were underway she grew quiet and pensive again. We parked, played a little shadow tag on the short walk to lighten the mood, and entered the school.

   

Thor and I stayed for the first 45 minutes or so by teacher invitation — it is a small K through 6th grade class, and everyone seemed to understand without being told that Owlet would need a little time to warm up. After some initial introductions, the class headed to the library to pick out a couple of books for the week. Reading always invigorates our little bookworm, and though she didn’t like me saying Thor and I would be leaving after library time, the joy of new books mitigated her discomfort somewhat.

We returned to the classroom, books in hand, watched as the teacher cleverly paired older students with younger ones and explained the next activity (something about verbs), and then we said our quick goodbyes. I peeked at Owlet as we crossed the threshold. To my surprise, she was already looking at the teacher rather than us, which I took to be a very good sign.

We returned home to a Platypup thoroughly revived by the thought of adventures with Granny all day. Between errands and teaching, the hours passed, and before long Thor and I were basking in the glow of an entirely changed Owlet, who bubbled with stories under the kind eye of a teacher she clearly adored as she brandished her handiwork:

   
 
The top photo shows the Little Dipper and several constellations Owlet made up and gave letter names to. (Generous soul that she is, she brought home a couple marshmallows to share with Granny and Platypup.) The artwork at the bottom involved pencil, salt, and watercolor; there is apparently a starfish in pale purple in the middle.

One day does not a school year make, of course, but I’d say we are off to a beautiful start!

Fledgling

It was Owlet’s first day of kindergarten today, and she was first out of bed in the morning.

Well, kind of. Actually, Platypup was technically first up — at dawn he crept into the room where his visiting Granny was sleeping and rather startled her, but she snuggled him back to sleep.

Owlet usually comes into our bed for morning cuddles, but today she headed straight out to the living room, perhaps assuming that because Platypup’s bed was empty he must already be there. I was already awake, dozing a little but mostly plotting and fretting and hoping, so I followed a moment later and found her curling up under a blanket on the couch, a sweet dozy little bundle of a girl. I joined her for awhile, both of us soaking in the nourishment of the mother-daughter bond on a monumentous (slightly scary) day.

Thor appeared soon after, pancake batter in his wake. I kept Owlet company while she dressed. To battle her nerves she chose a couple special objects to bring with her — a small stone and a blue feather — which I filled for her with all the love and security and groundedness I could muster.

Once breakfast hit the table, kindergarten apprehension was mired in a pool of maple syrup and the cheerful clatter of five busy forks. It emerged soon afterward, however, in waves of worry that were met each time by a reassuring adult but never entirely quelled. We might not have made it out of the house without difficulty if not for Platypup. When it was almost time to leave, Platypup flopped on Granny’s bed with a slightly melodramatic air. He said he was sad Owlet was going without him. “I’m gonna cwy,” he announced over and over, flopping around and beginning to tear up.

Owlet came to him almost at once, murmuring the reassuring words of a born nurturer and stroking his back and head, looking intently into his eyes and giving him sweet hugs. (This is the point where my own eyes started to fill.) After a few false starts, more touching goodbyes, and a last-minute geranium blossom to join the stone and feather, she, Thor, and I were off!

Concern for her little brother carried Owlet as far as the car, but once we were underway she grew quiet and pensive again. We parked, played a little shadow tag on the short walk to lighten the mood, and entered the school.

   

Thor and I stayed for the first 45 minutes or so by teacher invitation — it is a small K through 6th grade class, and everyone seemed to understand without being told that Owlet would need a little time to warm up. After some initial introductions, the class headed to the library to pick out a couple of books for the week. Reading always invigorates our little bookworm, and though she didn’t like me saying Thor and I would be leaving after library time, the joy of new books mitigated her discomfort somewhat.

We returned to the classroom, books in hand, watched as the teacher cleverly paired older students with younger ones and explained the next activity (something about verbs), and then we said our quick goodbyes. I peeked at Owlet as we crossed the threshold. To my surprise, she was already looking at the teacher rather than us, which I took to be a very good sign.

We returned home to a Platypup thoroughly revived by the thought of adventures with Granny all day. Between errands and teaching, the hours passed, and before long Thor and I were basking in the glow of an entirely changed Owlet, who bubbled with stories under the kind eye of a teacher she clearly adored as she brandished her handiwork:

   
 
The top photo shows the Little Dipper and several constellations Owlet made up and gave letter names to. (Generous soul that she is, she brought home a couple marshmallows to share with Granny and Platypup.) The artwork at the bottom involved pencil, salt, and watercolor; there is apparently a starfish in pale purple in the middle.

One day does not a school year make, of course, but I’d say we are off to a beautiful start!

Finding Our Scholastic Balance

It’s fall, and for kids Owlet’s age, that means starting school. Or, more precisely, it means endless questions from both strangers and the near’n dear about whether/where you are attending kindergarten.

We have only been able to offer lengthy, rambling answers to this question… Because we really didn’t know yet. This makes us sound terribly unprepared, but the truth is, I’ve been actively investigating local education options in our town since I was pregnant with Owlet, and in a more general capacity have been considering the question on and off since I switched from a Montessori school to a public school in third grade.

I know what I want: I want Montessori. I want Reggio Emilia. I want unschooling. I want Teacher Tom. I want challenging, engaging curriculum that meets my kid wherever they are, be it ahead of or behind their grade level. Above all, I want part-time school, because with Thor’s and my flexible daytime schedule and the majority of our working hours being afternoons (me) and evenings (him), that would really make the most sense for us.

The difficulty is when you get to the front of the line and attempt to order such an education, well, the gal behind the counter looks at you funny and says “we don’t do special orders, ma’am.” And let’s not even talk about the black hole of despair that is the charter school waiting list experience… Even when you are not positively certain you would want to send your child there anyway.

I’ve become resigned to the fact that doing the right thing as a parent is way trickier than doing the right thing as an individual. As a parent, I don’t generally feel 100% doubt free… So I’m learning to look for what I’ve come to think of as “balanced doubts” — minor doubts that sort of cancel one another out, because one tries to pull you a little north while the other tugs south. With school, I simultaneously worry about not enough free play and not enough academic stimulation. The right situation would leave me not hugely concerned about either one.

Here were our various experiences up till last week:

  • accepted at new charter Montessori school about to open this fall whose lowest grade level would be first grade but who would let kindergarteners apply a year early to enable parents to better compare them with other schools… super promising, except they didn’t manage to start this year after all due to issues with last-minute town requirements, and may or may not manage to ever open. Le sigh.
  • marooned on waiting lists at two local charters that had enough Montessori in their blood to be worth considering.
  • marooned on waiting lists at expensive private Montessori schools that looked awesome aside from the tuition thing.
  • had our application mysteriously never arrive at or get lost by a semi-homeschool charter with an optional classroom day (for kids K-6 in a modern taken on the one-room schoolhouse) — major bummer when we decided this was what we wanted to do and were told they had no record of us and had just filled up a couple weeks ago but we would be first on their waiting list. (The form Owlet filled out back in January as part of our ill-fated application is below, for your amusement.)

    

   

Needless to say, we were rather discouraged. Not that we were even sure of what would be best for Owlet, but finding ourselves without any options to choose from other than full homeschooling or regular public school (neither of which felt right)… It was a tad unsettling. And full of doubt, none of it properly balanced.

But then I thought of this one preschool, a place three different people whose judgement I trust had recommended in the past. I called. I fell a little in love with the head teacher right there over the phone. We visited. There is a small, pleasant indoor space with books and toys but more importantly there are a zillion outdoor places for a child to get lost in play: huge outdoor kitchen, sand pits, art, dolls, cars of all sizes, a zip line, swings, tree houses, hay bales, a tightrope, an adorable little playhouse, fields and bushes and trees. The kids roam freely and the head teacher’s philosophy is (1) play is most important for this age range (2-5yrs), (2) kids get dirty when they play, so please dress them with that assumption, (3) kids should be allowed to eat whenever hungry, and (4) if she wishes to have a group activity or circle time it is her job to make it interesting enough to attract them — and the kids are always welcome to decline to join the group. There are cats and a dog and chickens. Plus dozens of fruit trees. It was kind of like our home on steroids. I had to drag Owlet away with promises to return.

So we were feeling pretty positive, and the tuition was reasonable enough that we felt able to send both kids twice a week (saving us from a myriad of terrible mornings with a disgruntled left-behind Platypup). We were a teeny tiny bit hesitant to have no formal Kindergarten experience for our precocious Owlet, but knew she would be ok without it. She reads at an upper elementary school level and in true unschooling fashion learns a heckuva lot just by talking to the people around her. In other words, we had an unbalanced doubt, but only a mini one. Totally manageable.

And then, just today, the semi-homeschool charter dropped us a line and said we were off the waiting list and into school right away if we’d like. And that wee little nagging shouldn’t-she-be-in-Kindergarten piece of us parents roared with joy. We visited. We liked the teacher. We came home with a boxload of materials. In the first couple hours, Owlet read all the books they sent home and finished the first week and a half’s worth of math, decided on her own when she was done, and then after dinner chose to do a couple pages of the letter-writing workbook.

Yes please, waiter, we’ll have both, and thank you so much for finding the second page of the menu. We will take one day of academics where Owlet will be the youngest (and, of course, bring the leftovers home to enjoy throughout the week, at times that suit our wacky schedules) AND we’ll take two days of free, rambunctious, outdoor play where Owlet will be the oldest.

Boom. Doubts balanced.

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