Thursday, June 4, 2009


With kindergarten looming on the horizon for R, I've been having a lot of fears and worries and struggles about his school experience and about how to be the best mother I can be to a boy. Our vacation with A's parents poked at some of these fears a little bit because of the way that A's dad was with R. He kept yelling at him and expecting R to sit still, not climb on anything, not touch anything, not explore. I got really frustrated because A and I try to be very open about letting R explore, climb, exert energy - within reason, of course.

Growing up with three sisters didn't really prepare me for raising a son. Luckily, having two nephews come along before I had R helped a little. I've learned as R has grown that he needs to run, to climb, to jump, to test his physical limits on a regular basis. We try to make sure he has time at the playground or riding his bike every day when it's nice out, and when it isn't we take him somewhere where he can run or climb - like a playspace or the Museum of Science. We even encourage him to run laps in our house, which he loves.

When we were getting together regularly a couple years ago with another couple who has a girl the same age as R, we noticed how their daughter could sit and do craft projects or art for two hours at a time. R loves crafts and painting and drawing, but his spurts of those things last more around 20 minutes. For a long time at preschool, he would only bring home crazy scribbles, and I could tell that he took a crayon and made a quick mark on the paper so that he could get up to do something else. I was so excited when he started doing big Lego kits because it was the only time I saw him sit and do something intently for more than an hour.

The kindergarten teachers told us that they have recess twice a day to help with the energy levels of the kids, but that it is still a hard transition for some children to be sitting for the school day, which is full day in our town (8 am - 2 pm). And that, even physically, kids don't have the gross motor and muscle development to sit that long. That worries me. R often tells me that he doesn't like school (his preschool) because it's boring and that his favorite time of the day is playground time. (Luckily, his preschool has three outside times for his age group.) Of course, he tells me this in the mornings when we're trying to get ready. Once he's there, he barely acknowledges A and me to say goodbye, and usually we can't pry him out in the afternoons without a major struggle.

I've been reading Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, and it talks a lot about how the basic way that schools and classrooms operate doesn't work so well for many boys. I don't want R to have a bad school experience. I'm afraid that if he doesn't like kindergarten that that will basically blow it for him for the rest of his education. I don't want his beautiful, inquisitive nature to be crushed by the school environment. He's so interested in so many things - especially science-related, and I want that to be encouraged and to blossom through school.

I know these are fears that probably all parents face. I guess part of me is freaking out because here I've just been blessed with this one child, and I've only got this one opportunity to do it right. Not that if I had other children and things went badly with one of them, I'd just give up and focus on the others, but (hopefully) you know what I mean.

I'm comforted partially by the fact that I didn't have a particularly good school experience either, yet I ended up at the top of my class, went to a great college, and have had a decent career. I definitely had traumatic moments throughout my school years, beginning in kindergarten when my teachers got mad at me for being able to read. They sat me down in front of the entire first grade and handed me a book to read to them. I was too shy and scared to read with 54 kids looking on, so the teachers grabbed the book away and said, "See?! You can't read!" and then took me back to my classroom. So, I had many bad moments like that, and I don't remember particularly liking school at any point in time, but I made it through okay, I guess. (Of course, that moment is burned in my brain and I do think that many of my bad school experiences are what turned me into a very shy person.) Huh. Now that I've written that, maybe my fears about R entering school are more about my own bad experiences?

Anyway, I will say that yesterday we had to go for the new parent orientation for R's after-school program, and it made me feel a lot better. The program has a lot of kids in it, and it's definitely a bit chaotic at times, but they give the kids LOTS of time outside or in the gymnasium when it's cold/wet. And, there are many young men who work as group leaders in the program. We've been so lucky that R has had some male teachers at his preschool. I know that has been wonderful for him. The director of the after-school program is a guy, and there were at least two other 18+ guys there yesterday playing games and taking care of the kids. All of the group leaders and the director also work at the Boys & Girls Club as lifeguards and swimming instructors, and that's where R goes for swimming. (One of his swimming teachers - a woman - will actually be one of his group leaders at the after-school program, so that will help him feel more at home. Plus, he already knows one of the boys who will be attending the program with him.) So, even though the kindergarten teachers are all women, at least he'll have some other male role models around in the afternoons.

I think my greatest fear is that he will have a terrible time in school and that we won't be able to provide him with an alternative, like a private boys' school or homeschooling. We just can't afford financially to do either of those things, especially the private boys' schools in the Boston area. I do think that A and I do a good job of exposing R to learning and to new things, and R has been like a giant sponge in absorbing all of it, so I'm hoping that that will carry him through even if school isn't so great for him. He is very well prepared for kindergarten academically, I think. He is reading when he wants to, he can write his letters well and he's started to write words without asking for us to spell them out for him, and he's recently improved his math skills a lot. Numbers used to frustrate him, but he seems to have gotten over the mental hurdle there. So I'm not worried that he's going to lag behind in that sense. It's more that I'm worried that the basic classroom environment won't work for him and that he'll end up getting in trouble for it, and then he'll lose his motivation and interest in learning.

So, I'm praying about it and learning as much as I can about how to raise R in a positive way that encourages his boyhood without letting him run completely wild. And, I'm hoping that R's teachers will be kind and encouraging and creative about how to teach both girls and boys. And, I'm going to enjoy this last summer with R before I send him off into the unknown.


LEstes65 said...

You're an awesome mom, number one. And number two, R is a bright kid. Pokemon Boy is always telling me school is boring and his only favorite times are recess or art or music. Yet he brings home As and loves going to school, even though he won't admit it right now.

Kinder is all about adjusting. They're all wiggly and ready to burst at the seams. And their teachers will understand that and help them transition. The fact that you're aware of everything that's ahead for him shows that you're going to be helping, too.

I have no doubt that R will do smashingly and - just like every phase our kids go through - you guys will all get through it together.

R is gonna ROCK that kindergarten. I have no doubt. And if you feel like calling and venting fears, crying (I had trouble letting PB go the first few times), or anything else, you do that.

I love you.

sandwhichisthere said...

Rix will be fine at school. The worst for you will be the first day he gets on a school bus. I remember the sadness I felt when you did. The school bus is a gauntlet for boys, both before and after school. Rix's biggest problem will be when all of the other children realize he has become the teacher's pet. He will be. He is smart, he is handsome, and he has manners. I have noticed his social skills, he will do well in any environment. Make sure that he knows how to tell time from an analogue clock. I remember being traumatized by that ordeal and I remember a boy that used to wet himself every time it was his turn to tell time from the big clock on the wall.
That was one of my school experiences and you have given one of yours. Neither experience will be relevant to Rix. He will have his own triumphs and disasters. Your Mother knew the key to doing well in school, do the homework the minute you get home from school. He will vacillate and cajole but you must be as firm as your Mother was. He will then do as well in school as you did.
I see one problem in the future, one that I saw frequently in the Army. When filling out a form, you are only given ten spaces for your last name. That was in the days before hyphenated last names. Things have probably changed but it might be wise to check into how they deal with that. Little bumps in the road can become huge roadblocks for anyone. He will have to deal with his peers about having an unusual first name. If he has trouble with that, I can help. I am familiar with that.
Groups of children can be cruel to other members of the group. It is an unavoidable but disgusting fact. On his journey from a boy to a man he will learn to walk his own path. With his head held high and his shoulders straight back he will find his own way. Be prepared, it will probably not be your way. He is a boy and will find his own way.
I remember reading an article several years ago that made sense to me. The article stated that if Alexander the Great and Napoleon and Albert Einstein were in an American grammar school today, they would be put in a special class because they went their own way and were not sufficiently moldable. Rix will do well because you have taught him manners. Having manners mean that you understand that society has rules of behavior and a way of dealing with straying from the rules. Rix will follow the rules but always be analyzing the relevance of the rules. He will find "The Way of Rix!".
You can find out more at the supper table than you can from all of the paperwork that will come home from school,

shaun said...

I hope you can just let your fears go and enjoy your son(I know you do, just sayin). We all have unique experiences and worrying won't change what will happen. Look at Mike, ( he is a special kid ) his grades fell at the end of this year and most mornings he says he doesn't want to go to school, but he scored years ahead of his grade level on the FCAT.
He will Probably go into the gifted program next year and that will probably be really good for him. But it doesn't change how he feels about going to school.
I guess I am saying that much of Rix's school experience is out of your control, He will be fine he has really good genes.

heidi @ ggip said...

We don't make the age cutoff for kindergarten so we will be waiting another year. I did read "The Trouble with Boys" which sounds similar to the book you read. I really liked that it showed me things to look out for and ways to advocate for my boy's needs in school.

Good luck! I hope he loves school!