Friday, June 08, 2007


I'm thinking a lot about educating kids right now. Actually, thinking might be the wrong word here. Obsessing is more like. You see, I've reached this critical point in my firstborn's life where he is the age for kindergarten. The issue can no longer be avoided.

I sent Luke to a waldorf preschool after having visited precisely one preschool, the one that he attended. I didn't agree with some of the philosophy and practice, but those teachers really seemed to love the kids. And there were those great organic snacks. Here's the thing: I didn't think it mattered so much what kind of school Luke went to for a few half days a week, so long as he got to play a lot with a lot of different kids.

But now we are facing the prospect of sending him to public kindergarten, which, where we are moving in Columbus, as in so many cities now, is full day. That is usually around six hours per day, five days per week. And most of the school's websites focus on "achievement" and "independence" and "standards." Of course these are not bad personality traits and goals--but perhaps not so essential for the under-ten crowd. And as I picture my barely five-year-old in such a structured environment for so many hours per day, I feel simply stricken with disbelief.

I truly don't believe that it could be good for him to spend so much time away from us at such a young age. I just don't. I know that it is good for many children, and necessary for many others. But I'm just talking about my Luke. My Luke who still has difficulty separating when he goes to the school that he has gone to for two years where the teachers love him and the teacher/child ratio is 1:7. My Luke, who is still very, very attached to his (somewhat odd) habit of "cuddling daddy's earlobe" or (odder still) "cuddling mommy's mole."

In the most recent issue of Brain, Child magazine--which, I should add, is the most balanced and interesting parenting magazine I have ever read, one that I read, cover to cover, as soon as it arrives--there is an advertisement for FasTracKids. This program, the ad promises, will "build communication and speaking skills, promote leadership and personal growth, and teach the application and transfer of knowledge." There is a picture of a girl, probably about Luke's age, giving a presentation with a microphone. This program is for children ages 0-6. Perhaps if children attend this program they will have the skills necessary to start a company with as clever a name, a company that, as the ad says in fine print, has "franchise opportunities available."

Compare this with the kids in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, written in the 50's, that I am currently reading to Luke. They go to school, sure, and their parents certainly don't agonize over what school they will attend. All of the children go to the neighborhood public school. But school is really just an afterthought. The real drama occurs after school, when the kids wander home together in packs, eat large slices of applesauce cake that their moms bake, and spend the rest of the day building clubhouses, forming "neighborhood clubs," and being cured of their bad behavior with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's magical medicines. 0-4 year olds are certainly not attending school or educational programs. In one story, the baby is dressed in his "ski suit" and put out to play in a playpen in the yard on a cold winter's day while his mom works inside.

Now this is not intended to be a 50's nostalgia post--and certainly the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books don't bode well for women in many ways--but my point is this: I'm stuck in a position where I'm struggling to manufacture a childhood experience for my kids that was standard in the 50's. I want to be able to send them to the local school that all the neighborhood kids go to and that is just fine. I want kindergarten to last half the day and to be about playing nicely. I want Luke and Henry to run around the neighborhood, to spend lots of time outside, and to while away the hours building forts and hauling rocks.

I'm just trying to figure out how to make this possible. I need Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and some of her magic: time travel powder, or urbanizing suburbia pills, or, well, I don't know. Even just some make up her darn mind juice would do.


Nancy said...

Ser, there is hope. I don't know about Columbus, but the girls here have a lot of roaming space and freedom.

But the school thing is still tough. The boy across the street from us is 2 weeks older than Hazel and is being redshirted from kindergarten because his mom doesn't think he can sit still - and true or not - I feel a bit grouchy that he's not being sent in anyway, to make sure the teachers keep a standard in mind of kids needing to run around a lot. I'm with you on what kindy should be, and I fear that the work/play balance used to mean you read to the kid a lot at home, and they ran around at school. I think now home has to be the runaround time, and we have to advocate for more of it at school.

Hopefully at least the school will have decent recess!

Molly Sabourin said...


I feel your indecision! There truly is no perfect way to educate a child. I survive by only focusing on the year right in front of me. I observe and listen to my children, and then pray for wisdom. Public school may work for this fall but not next year, it may work for Priscilla and Mary but not Elijah or Ben- they are all so unique; thank goodness I have options! Worst case scenario -Luke and public school are not a good fit. Just pull him out and try again later. May we both stay flexible and at peace.


Julia said...

Ser, I really enjoy all your posts-- the hilarious Luke and Henry stories always make me laugh and the more thoughtful parenting posts make me think. This one makes me glad that I have a few more years before facing the school question (and it makes me want to check out Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle). Your critique of this weird fast track attitude about children resonates with me. I find it creepy, and I would be obsessing too if I were in your shoes right now. You're a great mom for obsessing. I think that kids can sense it when their mother is closely tuned in to the what they're going through, and that by itself will go a long way as an antidote to whatever they experience in school. I hope that whatever you decide, you can feel resolved and courageous and, like Molly said, peaceful about it.