Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Kindergarten Debate

My oldest son is 4. In August he will be eligible for kindergarten. Eligible, mind you, does not mean ready. So, let me invite you into my worry for a moment. If you have enough problems of your own, please hit the red X at the top right hand of your screen.

For quite some time, Mike and I have been discussing whether or not to start Jackson in school next year. He will be 5, but barely. He would be one of the youngest in his class and would graduate from high school when he was 17 years old. If we hold him a year, he will be the oldest in his class (giving him another year of life experience and a lot more confidence) and will graduate at 18. Plus, I'm told, it gives him an advantage should he choose to play sports in high school (being 1 year older and bigger than the other kids). This is not a factor in my decision, but I'm just laying it all out on the table here. So, with all those things in mind, it seemed a fairly easy decision to hold him an extra year and start kindergarten in the fall of 2010, just after his 6th birthday.

Now, my Jackson is very smart. He can write the alphabet (uppercase and lowercase) and understands phonics (as well as any English-speaking child can) and has about 20 sight words. He can count to 40 (with a little bit of prompting after 20) and can add sums up to 10. He can make a graph and then analyze it. He can cut with scissors well. He follows directions and takes turns with other children. He knows the days of the week. He dresses himself, combs his own hair, and brushes his own teeth. He takes cello lessons and plays piano and practices both. So, it would seem, he's kindergarten-ready today as far as skills go. Of course, this leads me to wonder what life will be like for him in 2 years when he begins kindergarten and goes back to square-one, learning letters and numbers. I'm currently taking a class which is a very watered-down version of my own major in college. And I'm bored stiff. The work keeps me busy, sure, but that's all it is: busy-work. I hate it. Of course, I don't hold the teacher responsible. He's teaching the material that needs to be covered. And it is necessary material. I've just already learned this stuff and know it well. The point is, I don't want him to experience this same problem when he goes to school. He's going to be bored and he'll be wasting time that he could be learning new skills and moving forward rather than standing still.

So, I began to consider two alternatives: private school and homeschooling. Now, this is my blog, so if you have any beef with either of those, take it elsewhere. Create your own blog called "Down with Homeschooling" or something, because I don't want to hear it. If you're still with me, read on. Okay, the obvious problem with this is cost. At minimum we're talking fifteen hundred bucks or so each month for all 3 kids (and we're not separating them--I'm not evening delving into that), and most of them are much more. So, that eliminates the possibility of my being Room Mother or even a stay-at-home mom to the preschoolers still at home. Then I have to consider the fact that I'm raising a kid to be a snob. Yeah, that's a little bit of a stereotype. Not all kids from private schools are snobs. But they don't get the chance to mingle with children from all walks of life and learn to get along, a skill which I think is really important. So, the world becomes this fairy-tale-like setting where everyone is middle or upper-class and all kids either get with the program or get kicked out. I'm just not sure I'm really explaining my concerns well, but surely you get the general idea.

Okay, the second possibility I started thinking about was homeschooling. Currently, I'm "homeschooling" preschool with both of the older boys. I am a little bit more structured with Jackson than Ei (because he's just 3), but I make both of them sit down and work with me a little bit every day. We do some seatwork (during which time they are not allowed to get up without asking and are not permitted to have toys at the table) and then do a project together (like graphing or crafts). We go to the library every week and check out books that we want to read and explore new concepts from our books. It's going really well, and we all love it. All of the skills I mentioned earlier Jackson has because I taught him (with the exception of cello, I guess). So, it seems that something is working. I joined a homeschool coop for some support with all this, and we plan to start going to the group so the boys can take classes in January. So, this seemed like a good option (not necessarily the only option) to consider. But, of course, it's not that easy.

My Jackson is also painfully shy. I don't even think shy is really the right word here. He's really--[gulp]--antisocial. Okay, now some of you are reading this and saying, "No, he's not! He plays with my kid just fine." Well, that might be true. But, I assure you, if I left his sight, he would become a nervous wreck. He cries every single week in his Wednesday night class (and that's with his brother there, in the church where we've been going since before he was born), and Mike has to go sit in the room with him. I can't even describe how he behaves in cello lessons (although I made an effort to HERE). So, I have to consider that, perhaps, being around other kids to "socialize" him would be beneficial. But I'm just not sold. I mean, we're around other kids almost every day. He goes to MOPS, Mommy & Me, library, Sunday School, Enrichment, and his Wednesday night class. He does fine with playdates and with kids his age when I'm present. But even with all this exposure, he still acts...well...weird. I just don't think it's lack of socialization. I really think it's anxiety. And I think this because I was the same way. I distinctly remember in 2nd grade we got a flyer for Brownies. There was this tiny part of me that wanted to join (all the other girls were going to!), so I brought it home to my mom. She said I could join. I panicked. Suddenly I began to picture myself in this group with a bunch of kids I didn't know and my family far away, and I didn't want to do it anymore. I couldn't tell my mom I changed my mind (Why? I have no idea. I was an anxious kid, I tell you.) so I dropped the registration form behind the bookcase where it would surely never be found. And this was not the only example of my overwhelming anxiety. My mom had to sit in my 1st grade class forever while I adjusted to the new school (we had just moved to Tennessee from Oklahoma). And sometime ask me about the paper backpack story. Geez. I was a nut. I was so anxious about social interaction and being away from my comfort zone that I stayed in tears. I was miserable. And I'm not about to let Jackson have the same kind of childhood. So, I wonder if maybe homeschooling would be a very kind thing to do for him. He could get a good education without all the anxiety that goes along with leaving home. Nope, there wouldn't be a basketball team. Nope, there wouldn't be a band. But there are coops and community orchestras and plenty of ways to get those kinds of experiences.

Oh, wouldn't it be great if it was that easy? I could just say, "I think this is what's best for my kid," and be done with it. I joined the homeschool coop and my husband's radar went up. He's completely opposed to the idea. So, it's causing some friction at home. And I know he wouldn't be the only one. It would be a tough sell. And that's if I tried to sell it at all. I'm just not sure if that's where I think we should be headed.

So, for now I pray. I feel pretty sure that we're not doing kindergarten (wherever that might take place) next year anyway, so we have some time. I wish the stars would spell out a message from God, but even if they did I would probably still find a way to question if I was doing the right thing. This is huge, right? Or is it? Is it just cut and paste and letter people and who cares where he goes anyway? And how can you tell if you got it right until it's all said and done? I guess anxiety doesn't go away with age. If you are so inclined, say a little prayer for us. And, by all means, join me in The Great Kindergarten Debate. Goodness knows I can't do this alone. I leave you with the picture Jackson drew in response to the book Barn Dance. He's so wonderful.


Sadie said...

One of the reasons we went with homeschooling was that my oldest was well closing in on 1st grade level when he was about to be 5 (also a young one- Aug b-day) but he wasn't ready for K in other areas other than book-smarts. Holding him back wasn't an option for me. So we decided to take it one year at a time. school at age 5 isn't mandatory so we had a year to homeschool with no worries and see how it went. (also a year to convince those not keen on the idea that it was a good thing) We still do it one year at a time, if ever it doesn't seem to work for us anymore we will reevaluate.

On the shyness thing- my oldest is the same and I still worry about it constantly. But like you, I was just like that in school. I am a shy and anxious. I blogged about it earlier this year ( and if you read the first comment from Sarah helped me. ANd I got a similar email from another in my homeschool group and it helped too. Both seemed to say that you guiding them through their shyness was better than the alternative in their case...
good luck in your decision

Kerry said...

Okay... here's my two cents... or ten bucks with inflation...
1. I NEVER set out to homeschool... the opportunity needed to present itself to me in the form of my oldest child who would not be able to make it in kindergarten for many of the reasons you are concerned about Jackson. Prior to this, I was somewhat anti-homeschool, anti-private school, and fairly pro-public school.
2. My nephew is in the same situation as you are with Jackson and my brother and sister-in-law decided Montessori school for him (he just turned 5 but is in violin, reading, etc. but has the social anxiety). He is doing fantastic there (well, in Chicago, but Montessoris are pretty standard). They can't really afford it and have no idea what they are going to do when my niece gets to kindergarten but are taking it year-by-year.
3. Actually, a year-by-year basis is what I tell everyone I am doing... being single and trying to financially figure out things I don't know what the future holds. I think we are all in that boat.
4. My youngest brother has an August birthday and when he was four, we lived in England and he went to day school and learned to read, write, add, subtract, and multiply. My mom still only enrolled him in Kindergarten (public school) the next year when we returned from England, even though he was smart and socialized. To this day, my brother thanks my mom for doing this because of peer influence and leadership.
5. No matter what you do, someone is going to make a negative comment. I applaud you for beginning to search out options ahead of time.
6. I encourage you to read, "So you are thinking about Homeschooling" by Lisa Whelchel. I also encourage you to read, "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jesse Wise. They will both give you different perspectives... even if you do send them to school.
7. You are a great mom and Mike is a great dad! And there is no wrong answer in what you decide. Because the kids have your support, they will succeed in whatever they do. I'll keep this in my prayers for you!