A few long, short months ago, I was an anxious parent sending her oldest son off to kindergarten for the first time, desperately hoping I was prepared enough to do so. In the months that followed, I learned just how much I was not prepared for kindergarten – and just how much he was.
He’s in a Mandarin Partial Immersion program at Meadow Glen Elementary School. I chose it partly for the novelty (because I think it’s pretty cool) and partly because I do really feel fluency in another language from an early age has very tangible benefits.
He picked up Mandarin like it was five day old candy on my minivan floor (with lightning speed, zero hesitation, and no second thoughts). He taught his younger sister and little brother about standing in line, level 1 talk, and sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce. My now-6-year-old son even has me singing Happy Birthday in rudimentary, mangled Mandarin.
But even so, as much as he’s grown, and learned, and started becoming . . . other . . . I’ve learned quite a bit along the way, too.
I learned just how unprepared I really was.
I was not prepared for the level of emotion this kindergarten year would bring out in me.
I nearly cried at drop off every day that first week. I held back tears at the Mother’s Day Tea. I’ve been befuddled, confused, and troubled by report cards that seem to contradict themselves and assessments that don’t match what I know my kid can do at home. I’ve beamed with pride at such small things – he spelled his middle name! He read me a whole story, by himself! I’ve felt probably every emotion on the spectrum, and half the time I can’t tell you what it is or why I felt that way.
I didn’t expect kindergarten to be so academic.
I know, I know, I heard all the time – even from my son’s own teacher. Kindergarten is the new first grade. But I didn’t even know what that meant. Turns out, he learned about sentence structure, storytelling, science stuff like the three parts of an insect, and experiments, and a whole host of other things that never occurred to me would be part of a kindergarten curriculum. I am probably just naïve, but I remember doing things with money and time and basic reading in kindergarten; I do not recall learning half of the things he is expected to know at such a young age. If I had to do it all again, I might have spent a little more time on those areas beforehand so he wasn’t playing catch up so much.
I was not prepared for behavior to NOT be a struggle.
At home, my son is a very physical kid. He plays rough with his siblings. He doesn’t always listen well. I know these things. I fully expected his behavior in school to be an issue. Surprisingly, he has been calm, happy, and helpful in class. He saves all of the things that drive me bonkers for home. I guess I’m grateful that he feels safe enough to act like the wild thing he is, at home.
I did not expect to miss him so much.
As a working mom, I already missed him during my work day, but his days are shared with his siblings and therefore didn’t seem quite so far away from me. In kindergarten, the better part of his day was spent full of people I barely knew, making memories that I have no part of. When I picked him up from after school care, our evenings were a whirlwind of dinner preparation, mealtime, and getting ready for bed. There was not much time left over for bonding, sad to say. The weekends, too, were full of visits to grandparents, running errands, and cleaning up after the week’s hectic mess-making. So I learned I have to schedule time with him, and make that a priority. Maintaining a positive connection and open communication is very important to me, especially as he grows older and spends even more time away. He needs to know me, and I need to continue to know him. It’s far too easy to become strangers to your own children.
I was not prepared for the physical toll learning took on him.
I knew going into kindergarten that the lack of nap or rest time might be a challenge for my son. I didn’t expect to find him falling asleep before dinner at least once a week, exhausted by the mental energy he had spent that day. Yes, he plays hard, but at the end of the day, the brain work that this kid did really wears him out. Before school started, he napped and bedtime was at 9:00 or 9:30 . . . sometimes 10:00 p.m. Once school started, I was lucky if I could keep him awake until 8:00, and that’s only if I didn’t let him sit still too long. I’d honestly move his bedtime even earlier, except I couldn’t figured out how logistically to do so. And daylight savings keeping night time lighter outside. . . even as tired as he would be, he won’t accept it’s bedtime if the sun is still out.
As we look ahead to first grade, I can feel the readiness humming in him. He feels done with kindergarten and ready for a new adventure. I’m grateful to his teachers for helping guide him along the way, and preparing the path for him to start a new journey.
His sister will start kindergarten in the fall of 2017, and now that we’ve done the school thing with one kid, I think we will be more prepared with her (many apologies, first-born son! You were our guinea pig). She already knows so much more than he did going in, both due to a natural interest, and from what he’s shared with her at home. I’m sure her experience will teach us many more things, not the least of which will be that we still have so much to learn.