We doubt ourselves. It's the hallmark of my generation of
parents. How can we be sure of anything, after all, when there is always a new
expert, a new study, a new mom at play group who has all the answers.
So it's no surprise that I wondered whether my spirited
little boy was ready for the structure of real school. At the end of a first
quarter full of notes sent home from the teacher, I felt tears brim in my eyes
as I talked with the superintendent. I had called the meeting to ask, straight
out, whether he was ready for this. Whether I'd made the wrong decision.
Whether I was pushing him too fast or too hard.
With much kindness and understanding, the superintendent
assured me that my son is the perfect age to be starting
kindergarten, and that some children just take longer than others to
acclimate to the structure of a school setting. He's a bright boy and is
excelling academically—his maturity level just needs to catch up.
I left that day feeling a little better, but part of me
wished that I had chosen to homeschool him this first year. It's difficult, you
know, being a parenting writer while also parenting my own children. I am
constantly immersed in the latest research and studies and I'm tuned into what
is happening with children around the world. I have very strong opinions on
parenting and teaching and what childhood should look like. Of course later I
ran across this
recent study that found improved self-control and attention in
kindergartners who enrolled a year later than their peers. Of course it did.
It feels to me like American children are pushed to grow up
too quickly. We are too focused on the rigors of the academic process, and we
are neglecting the child's needs to learn through play. Yes, even older
children. (Even adults!)
What's the rush, really? I'm always amused when I hear
parents concerned about waiting too long to potty train their child. How many
adults do you know can't use the toilet because their mom
waited too long to potty train them? Do you know anyone who can't hold a
job because their parents started them in school too late? I think there is
more at stake by pushing our kids to start things too early than there is by
letting them stay kids as long as possible.
Maybe there is an education in digging holes in the mud and building
sand castles. Maybe there is a wisdom to be found only once you explore
deep enough in the woods behind your house. Maybe there is a wealth of
knowledge to be gleaned by spending time with relatives and mowing the yard
I feel like I might be coming across as anti-education, and I
am definitely not. I am for preserving the innocence of children as long as we
can, and I am for our education system growing and adapting as we learn more
about the mind and its development.
As for my son, he is adjusting—albeit slowly. I am getting
fewer and fewer notes sent home in his backpack. He's growing up. He's six
years old, and he's growing up.