A month after we made a very difficult decision (parenting gets harder each year), I'm finally going public with it. We quit kindergarten. We stuck it out for six weeks in a very sought-after, awards-laden public charter school with more than 100 kids on the waitlist for kindergarten. At the end of the day, we just could not do it anymore. I'm writing this now to give support and courage to other parents who might be struggling with some of the same school-problems we were, to let you know there are other options, and to prod you to be the protector of your child's mind and soul. Maybe our children will read this one day too and gain a little insight into their parents' crazy minds. Here are the thoughts from one of those minds, not in any order:
1. The modern model of full-day kindergarten is not compatible with families that have one parent dedicated to staying home with the kids. Our big 5 year old just recently stopped napping. He still gets tired and irritable in the afternoon if he doesn't have downtime. Being away from home for 8 hours was way too much. He was shattered when he got home, with nothing left for his family. He was too tired to do anything more than grumble, and in turn everyone else was on edge. I love the idea of going to school to have fun and meet friends, but not for 8 hours. I would love 1/2 day kindergarten, but its gone from public school. When I talk to other parents of kindergarteners, they say the same thing. When I mentioned that Sean was so tired he was having breakdowns and crying many days, I was assured by the school that this was normal for the little ones. I don't think this should be normal. I don't think we should wear our (very young) children down to the point of exhaustion. Laura Ingalls didn't go to school until she was 7 (or so). Almanzo went when he was 9 (we're in a year-long Little House phase). They turned out pretty well. I don't think 5-year-old are meant to endure the stress of being away from the home all day in the name of academic achievement.
On that note, this isn't a judgment about whether or not a parent should stay home full time with the kids. Each family has to make that decision for themselves. But, the structure of the modern school day seems more like day care and less like an optimal learning environment. If kids are so exhausted at the end of the day that its normal to have emotional meltdowns, how much are they learning those last few hours? Of all the moms I met over the last few months at the pool, school, and soccer (think about how many that could be....), only one other mother stayed home full time and sent her kids to school. Other full-time moms we know homeschool. Our little boy was stressed to the point of tears by a full school day, while I sat at home waiting for him. It didn't make sense to continue on when we have the resources already at home. If I still worked, a full day kindergarten would be really helpful-- and it is to many families we know. After 5 years of paying for daycare, the thought of free school for 8 hours is so welcome. But, I'm not working, precisely so I can take care of our kids, and sending them away for someone else to take care of them for 8 hours a day did not make sense. The traditional family structure is not compatible with the modern school day-- at least for the very young ones.
2. Given the length of the school day, the standard of work was incredibly low. Sean went into kindergarten reading chapter books on his own, and he was given Clifford. He started addition in pre-school, but was given 5 objects to count in kindergarten. It was very frustrating for a child who loves to learn. The whole day was seemingly filled up with this sort of work, as there was no time for Sean to read his own book. Day after day he would come home with his bookmark in the same place. It was heart wrenching. For Sean it was confusing. He would often say things, unsolicited, like "when are we going to learn something we don't know yet?," or, "I wish school just started in first grade so we could learn new things." For as many hours (and as much energy) as we were giving school, he wasn't learning anything. One day I asked him to tell me one thing new he learned at school and he said "I learned that if you're late to the bus, someone takes your seat." At first the novelty of the bus and going to the cafeteria and going to music class was really fun. But, once the novelty wore off, school became near torture for a child who LOVES to learn and craves new knowledge every second he's awake.
3. Homework. Kindergarteners have homework now. After 8 hours of being away from home and family, as soon as they get home they have to open their bags and start their homework. In a state of exhaustion, which often led to tears. The school had him for 8 hours, and now they were taking more of his time away from us. We were told the homework was "easy," and should take no more than 10 minutes. Anyone who has a small child knows that a ten-minute task becomes an hour-long task once exhaustion sets in. It wasn't hard at all, in fact, the homework was just busy work to get them "used" to doing homework. But it was torture getting it done, and when Sean asked why we had to do it, I had no answers. A few times (maybe twice over the course of 6 weeks) I sent the homework back un-completed, with a note that said he was too tired (especially true the one night a week we had soccer practice). On those nights, my priority was to get my tired boy to bed early so the next day wasn't a repeat of this one, and his homework did not warrant keeping him up after dinner. I was told this was unacceptable and that "homework is not optional." My options were to do battle with my son as soon as he came home from school (when everything in me wanted to hug him, talk to him and just let him be himself--at his own home), or keep him up after dinner to do his homework. I choose neither. I do not care if my 5-year-old isn't used to doing homework. I do care that he has time (and energy) to play with his siblings, enough focus left to be kind to his family, and is a participating member of our household. None of those things were happening while in kindergarten.
4. Common Core State Standards. If you don't know what this is, Google it and start educating yourself (or see the links below). I didn't know what it was when we started school, but I did take note of the inanity of his math homework. It was so simple it didn't make sense. And it didn't use numbers. This was maddening for a literal-minded 5 year old. The more research we did, the more we were sure we did not want our child subject to this curriculum. In short, Common Core is a federally-written curriculum instituted in almost every public school in the country (all but 3 states adopted it under coercive "incentives" from the government, but several state legislatures are now putting forth legislation to abandon Common Core in their respective states). On week 5, every kindergartener must be learning to count to 5. If he already knows how to count to 5, there are no exceptions or accommodations. You must learn how to get along to go along. Everyone goes home with the same worksheet, which is incredibly abstract and difficult to understand, despite the incredibly low concepts being taught. If the goal is to increase our children's stamina for government bureaucracy, and homogenization of minds, the curriculum is brilliant. However, we decided as a family that our goal is to educate our children at the pace they need. Common Core has no room for that. As a side note, the week we left school I think the kids were counting to 7. This week at home Sean started adding two-digit numbers, after mastering one-digit addition and subtraction. He loves it and constantly asks me to give him more problems, "like, with different numbers this time though."
For a quick summary of why we don't want our kids educated with the Common Core standards, this is a great article. Its about Common Core in Catholic schools, but it hits the high points:
Here's another good (secular) article from the Washington Post:
And finally, if you are now too interested to stop, as I was a month or two ago, here is a 20 minute video explaining the pitfalls of the early-ed math portion of Common Core. If you have a child in K-3rd grade, or you will soon, this is a MUST watch. Put it on while you clean the kitchen tonight. You will not regret it:
One final anecdote: On the very day we decided not to send Sean back for anymore school, I went to the grocery store and ran into two moms from the pool. The first asked me how school was going, and when I sighed and hesitated she jumped in and told me they just pulled their son out of public school too, and it was because of the Common Core work they were seeing. (Honestly, look at your children's math homework--- you will notice it looks a little fishy). The second mom is a teacher at a small Christian school downtown. She said that very week they enrolled five (5) F-I-V-E new children from public school whose parents were fed up with what they saw and, like us, could. not. take. it. one. more. day. I know these are just anecdotes, but it seems like all over, the system is not working. The private schools and the home schools are filling up because we do not want the federal government telling our children exactly what they need to learn week to week.
5. Peace. School was not a peaceful experience for us. Sean was visibly anxious and on edge every day. Since starting homeschooling, he is remarkably more relaxed. So is the rest of our family. No more lifting sleeping children out of bed at 6:15 to hurry them through a truncated morning routine. The kids wake up at a normal hour now, have a normal breakfast, and we start school work around 8:00 a.m. or so. So much of the school day felt unnatural and forced, that doing what comes naturally now is so much more peaceful. The kids naturally sleep to a certain time. Sean is naturally reading on his own and devouring any literature you put in front of him. Why should we try to stop that? His attention span is naturally unbelievably long, so we let him read until his eyes are blurry. He will pick up a chapter book and read it cover to cover in one sitting. Our family (yours truly included) naturally rests in the afternoon. Sean gets the quiet time he naturally craves, and we are all more peaceful to start our evening routine.
We figure there's no such thing as reading too much-- especially for a 5 year old! He is learning habits to last him his whole life right now--and we want him to love reading his whole life! He averages about 150 page a day. Yesterday he read about 230 pages (due to a long trip to the doctor). Compare this to 0 pages a day at school. He is in a natural flow (in Montessori terms), and we are allowing it happen, which results in peace. His attention span is nurtured at home-- he's allowed to focus for hours on something that interests him, instead of changing activities every 25 minutes, which was very stressful at school. Yes, homeschooling is more "work" for me. But the goal of a raising a family was never as little work as possible. And, even though I am doing more during the day (and our house is usually a mess now), we are all more peaceful, and that is a much better place to be. Soccer is more fun because there is energy for it now. Brotherly relations are back in tact because they are rested enough to speak kindly to each other, and are forced to "work it out" throughout the day.
So as of now, we are homeschooling. Until about a month ago I never once, ever in life, ever ever, said I thought I would homeschool. When asked if I intended to homeschool I would always tactfully say "I don't think my talents lie in that area." I was scared and intimidated and thought I never could do it. And guess what--its pretty easy, and not that much different from what I was doing before. Let the kids read, teach them a few things, which, if you are an adequate parent, you're doing anyway, and they will learn. I don't know if this is a permanent situation or not. We like the idea of our parish school, but have to figure out if that would be a good fit, financially, emotionally, academically, etc. for our boy and our family. What we have learned in our short stint in school thus far is we need to ask the right questions and not be satisfied with answers we don't like. We have options, it just takes a lot of courage to use them sometimes!
So, Sean, if you are reading this years from now, I hope you don't think that we just quit kindergarten because it was a really hard situation for us. I hope you know by now that if something isn't good for you, or isn't right for us as a family, your parents will work really hard, make bold decisions and sometimes do crazy things (like homeschool) until we find what is good and right. The goal in life is not to make things easy, but to love God, use the talents and interests He gave you, and to try to do the right thing. We are trying.