What We Learned in Public School Kindergarten

There are very few lasting gifts that we give our children.

Christmas is over and as I put away the gifts, I began to think of the true gifts that we give our children in this life. Love. Our time. An education. I have spent many, many hours pondering this last one.

January is here. And you know what that means – it’s time to make plans for the next school year. It’s not ideal that decisions have to be made so early, but it’s just a fact of life in our educational system. Whether your kids are preschool-aged, are in grade school, or are in college, there are decisions to be made.

Now if you have made the school choice once, are convinced that this is the right path for your family, and have checked this decision off of your to-do list – well, the rest of us are a bit envious. This article is not meant for you. Go spend your time doing something more useful like making a manicure appointment. Seriously, you totally deserve it and I hope you will say a prayer of gratitude that you don’t have this recurring decision.

For the rest of us…

If you’re on your knees every December and January, asking for leading in what choices to make for the coming year for your child’s education, then I hope that this perspective may help.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not advocating one school option over another for you.

I have learned through the school of hard knocks that each parent must discern what is best for their child(ren) and their family. Mom (or Dad) guilt is not allowed here. We all make the best choices we can based on the information we have. My only goal here is to share my experience and to encourage you to make your choice based on the needs of your child, you, and your immediate family – not based on what anyone else thinks you should do.

As someone who has experience with homeschooling, private school, and public school, I feel that I have run the gamut – and perhaps the gauntlet – of school choice options. To be fair, I only experienced public schooling while a parent during my oldest child’s kindergarten year. But I did go to public high school in a not-so-affluent area so I can also speak from experience on that.

This post is the first in a series and describes the experiences my family had with public schooling. I chose to write about this first because it was chronologically our first school experience as parents. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post on our homeschooling and private schooling experiences.

What my child learned in Kindergarten

My daughter went to kindergarten in a fantastic school in an affluent district. Her teacher was a lovely, smiling, patient lady who also happened to be an ex-parole officer. This made for excellent kindergarten teacher material. She was charged with simultaneously soothing the little girl who cried for her mother everyday for the first month and managing the emotionally challenged child who consistently interrupted the class and tried to run out of the door to the adjacent playground, all the while attending to the education of the other 21 children in her class. More than once, I walked into the classroom while the woman tried to teach with this particular little boy sitting between her feet as she wrote on the chalkboard.   She had the patience of Job.

In watching how the day was run, what was taught, and how the day was structured, my naive eyes were opened.  This is some of what I learned from my daughter’s kindergarten experience.

1.  MUCH of their day was spent dealing with classroom management issues, standing or walking in line, or working through the logistical issues that managing twenty-three 5-year-olds requires.

The amount of time they actually spent learning was much less than I had expected from a seven hour school day.  Even when they were all seated and the teacher was teaching, there were constant interruptions and resulting corrections that then needed to happen to maintain order.

2.  My daughter was completely exhausted when she came home from school.

I have a vivid memory of one particular day when she literally fell down on the threshold of the front door in a crying mess because she had just had enough. This is hard to admit, but I began to dread the time of day that I would walk to the end of the street to meet her bus. She was just such a wreck that every afternoon became a test of my patience as I dealt with one meltdown after another.

3.  My daughter struggled with learning in that classroom environment.

Who wouldn’t?  Each week I would receive a progress report from her sweet teacher, listing some new skill that we needed to work on at home.  So our list of skills to work on after school grew. Have you ever tried to teach your child to count money while they are an emotional mess after having spent the last 7 hours holding it all together? It was not pretty. It was not fun. It was not effective.

4.  To this day, being “bullied” on the bus is one of her main memories of kindergarten despite the fact that she had a generally positive experience.

My daughter had some “normal” problems with a little boy on the bus that said some unkind things and at least once grabbed her hand and bent her fingers backward. I spoke to the bus driver about it immediately and he dealt with the problem swiftly, moving her (or maybe him – I can’t really remember) to the front of the bus. I don’t remember her mentioning having a problem with him again.  I suspect that she continued to have problems on the bus but didn’t tell me. Kids have an intuitive sense to protect us from their negative experiences and I think she just didn’t want to tell me about it for some reason.

5.  She did learn some skills.

She learned some letter sounds, but we learned more together at home. They worked on simple math skills, but we also worked on that at home. She practiced her writing quite a bit and her comfort with writing as well as the quality of her writing improved.  She did not learn to read.  She learned to wait in line and wait her turn, skills that she had been taught in preschool but were practiced in school, and I believe they are valuable.

At the End of the Year

Overall, I was not completely dissatisfied with our kindergarten experience, but I did have higher hopes.  We completed the school year in June with relief that it was over and a dread of the coming year.  Her teacher had warned me that, while my daughter had known much of the kindergarten material before entering class the previous fall, she hadn’t learned very well in the classroom setting because she was very distractible.  She told me that we would likely need to discuss an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in the coming year.

My heart sank as I imagined all that an IEP would mean for my bright little girl and my family in terms of emotional struggles, stigma, and time spent managing it all.   This was not what I wanted for her.  Every fiber of my maternal instinct screamed, “No!  Don’t do this to her.”  Despite the fact that it’s been nine years ago, I still get emotional just writing about it.

I believe that God used all of these factors to lead us to make a big change in the coming year.  What I thought was a decision meant to help my daughter academically actually changed the trajectory of our entire family in far-reaching ways.

Next week I’ll write about our experiences with homeschooling:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Click the subscribe button to get an email notification of new posts.