Kindergarten Journal, Episode 1: I Worry

smoke in disguise

My son Smoke starts kindergarten in less than a week. I should be ready for this. Because he has an October birthday, he’s had to wait until he’s nearly six to start. His friends with March birthdays and August birthdays have, in his eyes, beat him to it and ever since he turned five, I’ve been answering the question “When does kindergarten start?”

Smoke was still in diapers when I learned about the official cutoff dates, and at the time I thought it was a shame that he would have to start so late. I knew that many parents these days were holding off on kindergarten, intentionally waiting until their kids were older, or as they called it “ready.” At the time, I saw this practice as overprotective. For some reason, I was eager to begin my son’s formal education, to watch him learn to read and write, to forge his own way in the world. Also, I’ll just say it: I was looking forward to free childcare.

But over the past year, the year that would have been my son’s first year of kindergarten if I had petitioned for early entrance, I’ve come to question all of my assumptions about his readiness. Now that he’s nearly six, and should be more than ready, I wonder if he’s ready at all.

I wonder if he’s ready for a class of twenty-two students.

My son has gone to preschool since he was two and for a long time I assumed that this meant he’d be amply prepared for kindergarten. Then one day it hit me—his preschool had pretty much the same cast of eight kids for three years. In kindergarten, he’ll share a room with twenty-two kids. For six hours every day. That sounds emotionally exhausting to me, and I guess I should know. I teach groups of 28 college students for two hours at a time, and when I come home my brain is fried. I can barely form a coherent sentence. Sharing one space with that many personalities is work.

I wonder if he’s ready to follow instructions.

I know I’m biased, but I find my son brilliant. He uses big words, tells elaborate stories, and spends hours focused on building tiny sculptures out of Legos. For a while I took for granted that my son’s intelligence guaranteed that his school experience would go smoothly, but I’m no longer sure. Smoke likes to do what he likes to do. His brilliance lies in his ability to concentrate. But this ability, paired with his constant insistence on following his own agenda, will likely be at odds with his ability to learn at school. He’s not so interested in pleasing adults.

I wonder if he’s strong enough and kind enough.

I worry about the pecking order in kindergarten, about the small groups that form, the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion that shift and evolved. I wonder how my son will fare. I worry of course that someone might be cruel to my son, but I worry more that my son might participate in cruelty. I picture those smaller kids, those genuine five-year-olds, the ones with snot bubbles in their noses, or the one who pees his pants on the first day. I sure hope he’s kind to them.

*This post kicks off a new series on Goodnight Already that tracks my son’s transition into kindergarten. I’d love to hear from other parents who are entering the same era. Please consider sharing and commenting if you are so inspired.

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17 comments

  1. Will you get out of my brain please? It’s just not fit for company.
    We just took the twins (October birthday!) in to meet their k teachers; school starts next week. And every thought and worry you’ve had, I’ve had. I had them first this time last year when my oldest was headed into k. And yes, he had a summer birthday and is the oldest and a boy so we held him back. From my experience with him I can say that every fear is well-founded. But that it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. He’s the smartest and the least smart, the kindest and the meanest. It’s amazing. And every afternoon he is so fried that he rides a tricycle in circles in the driveway for twenty minutes when he gets home. Then he upgrades to a small two-wheeler, then a dirt bike. Then he’s human again. Stump will be terrific. (Except when he’s not. But that will be fine.)
    My comments on your blog almost always inspire me to write a post on my blog. Which makes you inspiring. So thank you. Happy school!

    1. Ha, I love the home from school routine. I need that for myself too. Maybe I can guide Smoke to do something similar since, knowing him, he’ll probably just freak out and start punching things for the first few weeks.

  2. This is a hard transition. I have decided to homeschool for the time being. I’m excited but have concerns also. My public school concerns echo yours. And my one thought is if it isn’t working you can change it. There are probably lots of homeschool resources in the area, you can legally send your kid to school for only an hour or two if that’s what works for you. The schools will deny it and will fight you / but legally you can ( as far as I understand). There are families here who have done all sorts of crazy shit to support their children’s learning style and to get them the best education possible. – just be open and flexible – make changes if it’s not working.

    Ah the adventures of motherhood…

    1. Working to change things that don’t work for me is a good idea. One of the things that concerns me is that so many teachers really divide kids by gender. I’d like to avoid having Smoke fall into the Boys vs. Girls trap. But maybe I can try to gently influence that if it’s a problem.

      1. I don’t know why I just now followed your blog. An oversight on my part. Now I have to catch up on the latest kindergarten news in your family.
        I wanted you to know you inspired me to create a new page on my blog. I called it “The Kindergarten Chronicles.” I’m going to use it to keep track of those little things that happen each day.

  3. You may be surprised how well the small preschool class has prepared Smoke for the complexities of a larger class. I found the chattiness issues we had with Collin in preschool were the same things we heard about at teacher/parent conferences in kindergarten. Was Smoke kind in preschool? If so, he probably will continue to develop that trait, and I assume he had to follow rules and listen to adults in preschool. I think his uncommon ability to focus will serve him well. I found, when volunteering in Collin’s K class, the kids who were very easily distracted struggled the most. They had trouble following directions and completing tasks. They got more yellow and red warning and time-out cards than the other kids. From this essay, it is obvious that you are an insightful and observant parent. I say don’t sweat it too much
    until you have a concrete reason to. There is always solution if a situation requires one when the parent is as engaged as you are.

      1. Hard to believe, isn’t it? We even heard about it from one of his teachers this past year.

  4. Thank you for this! My son started kindergarten last week, and I worried about so many of these same things–especially the second one you listed!
    The part that I wasn’t prepared for was how hard I would find Tadpole’s burgeoning independence. I was okay for the first few days, when I walked him in and made sure he put his lunch away and helped him ask his teacher any questions that he had and reminded him where to put his folder. But after two days, he insisted that he was ready to get dropped off in the carpool line. So I have had to trust that he’s managing all of these things on his own. Plus, I’ve had no contact with his teacher since Tuesday morning! I was used to seeing his preschool teachers when I came in to drop him off or pick him up, and getting a report from them about what they did during the day, any concerns about Tad’s behavior, etc. Now I only have Tad’s report about how his day went and what he did (and he tends to be very vague about the details). I assume the teacher would call us if there were any major problems, but it’s hard to have so little information about how my little/big boy spent hours of each day. I wish I knew more about whether he is being kind to his peers and whether they are being kind to him, whether he resisted cleaning up, etc.
    I’m proud to watch my little guy with his big backpack as he walks into the school building each morning, but it’s also really hard.
    Good luck next week!

    1. Oh wow, thank you for that preview. I hadn’t thought about the teacher check-in factor, but of course. With 22 kids, I’m not going to have the chance to talk to the teacher every day.

  5. I know I’ve said this before, but I so appreciate getting to read your inner narrative turned into story. I have a feeling a lot of parents share similar concerns and contradicting feelings about this first day. Beautiful job, as always, of giving voice to you and for them.

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