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.