Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Trials and Successes of Kindergarten

As our first year with a child in school wraps up, I have started feeling like it is really important to review the year. I keep the blog to mostly share pictures, but I also use it to reflect back when Gwen hits a similar milestone, and this feels like a big one that I would want to review when her turn comes in two more years.
There have been more surprises from Kindergarten than I expected:
Happy Surprises:
The morning schedule- I thought this would be a nightmare adjustment for us. Stephanie has not had any preschool or daycare the year leading up to Kindergarten since I had been home with her for the first time that year, and I was sure we would be wrecked having to get up early and out of the house. Not a problem at all- She is either awake before us or is (mostly) easy to rouse and we are mostly able to get her fed and out of the house with (normally) only a few reminders to get a move on. Generally, I take Stephanie in while Kevin and Gwen stay home, but if Gwen wants to go with us, we drag her along too. I walk in with her every day, and she sometimes finds a friend on the way in and runs off to the classroom with them and I am off the hook for the full walk.
Learning to read- Easy peasy (again, mostly). I tried to teach her a bit in the summer leading up to school- even the easiest of sight words were impossible and frustrating, and I was amazed that I had friends with kids in first grade that could read chapter books, because my kid couldn't figure out the pattern for sounding out cat, hat and sat. School started sending home sight word flash cards once a week pretty early on. She was able to catch on to most of them pretty easily (I think they practiced and stressed them at school), but there would inevitably be about five of the weeks words that she just didn't know and she would make all kinds of wild guesses, and those were always frustrating (making me really grateful that reading has been fairly natural for her- because even that small frustration felt big). Fast forward a few weeks, and she suddenly seemed to realize that there were 20 sight words, she knew 15 of them and she then memorized the five she didn't know and would make good guesses of the ones she didn't know based on a limited selection of words she knew she didn't know. I was totally impressed that she worked that out on her own. Fast forward to the end of Kindergarten and she is easily reading well above Kindergarten level and is well on her way to being able to read easy chapter books next year. I should say that while she can read, it takes time and energy so I think we are a few steps away from reading for pleasure, as it is still work to read.
Bad Surprises:
The afternoon schedule- I didn't see this coming! The bus arrives just after 3, but ideally Gwen would settle for a nap between 1:30-2:30, but that is hard if I have to leave the house just before 3:00. For a while we pushed through, napping earlier or just waking her up. As she is getting older and growing out of naps, she has gotten good at keeping herself awake. She would likely fall asleep around 2:30, but then I don't let her because it is just before we have to get Stephanie. So now I have a tired and manic three year old at the bus stop. I really like the bus stop people and it is nice to have some adult time, but it is next to impossible to break Stephanie and Gwen from the neighbor kids and get home without chaos- Gwen is trying to run around the streets, Stephanie is hiding in her friends car and then when I rally them we have to walk the block home. It is just a block! Why does it take 15 minutes? Gwen is inevitably pushing whatever car or stroller we used to get her to the bus stop, wandering into the grass and then back into the street, with Stephanie zig zagging right along with her. I would really like this time to be a moment for Stephanie to tell me about her day, but it nearly always turns into a stressful corralling process to the front door.
Mixed Bag Surprises:
Reintroduction of the Siblings- Some days we get home and Gwen and Stephanie play just wonderfully together- this is often better facilitated with a treat type snack AND outdoor play. Being trapped inside, not always, but more often, leads to bickering and conflict. You just can't always avoid the inside though! It took me a several weeks of adjustment to deal with Stephanie coming home and the chaos that it could rain down on our home. There are times I just resort to television. I figure Kevin and I unwind every night with a TV show so why not give Stephanie and Gwen that courtesy when the transition is getting ugly.
Friendships- For young kids these days, kids are referred to as "friends" in the classroom nearly uniformly by all adults, as in, "Why did you hit your friend in the face with that toy?" For the most part, the kids really are friends, and they care for each other. The kindergarten dynamic is actually very sweet, and I am surprised to hear Stephanie express her concern or admiration for a classmate that she has never talked much about. On the other hand, some children are not consistently kind, and often those same children can be exclusive. As kindergarten has worn on, she has talks about it more, so I have been spending time talking about what it means to be a friend, stressing that friendship isn't always easy, but it should make you happy most of the time. We are lucky that we play with several neighborhood girls her age that are well behaved, kind and generous. This is such a good model and I remind her that her time with the neighbor friends are what good friendship looks like. Interestingly, her neighborhood friendships are different from each other, and I think that also helps model that a good friendship doesn't have to meet any given set of criteria to make you happy. I think she gets it, and does normally seek out the kindest children, but her feelings do sometimes get hurt by her other "friends". This one is SO important to me. I want her to be a kind friend and I want her to play with kind children. I feel like we are on the right track but that we will need to be constantly keeping an eye on that track!
Homework- After Stephanie successfully completed and tested correctly with the teacher all of her sight word lists, they started sending home actual homework. This consists of one math sheet and one reading sheet with questions. She has one week to complete it and turn it in (I think absolutely nothing happens if she doesn't, but I am a deadline kind of gal, so I wasn't going to find out). The math is a breeze, partly because she can come and go from it, just completing a question at a time as she feels like it. The reading is far trickier. She has to read a full page story and then answer questions about it. That means it all needs to be done at one time, and her attention span has a hard time with that. Combine the fact that her time at school has to be focused with the fact that Gwen is playing while she is working and the reading homework some weeks is a real chore. I would be far happier with a short assignment each night than what we are doing. I am curious as to what first grade will bring.
As I was putting this post together, I asked Kevin and Stephanie what their biggest Kindergarten surprises were. Kevin said it was how much they learned. Stephanie said it was how much TV they watched. The truth, it seems, lies somewhere between their expectations, but I think closer to Kevin's. Kindergarten isn't what it once was- gone is naptime and learning colors and shapes.

A flashback to the first day!

Pictures of Stephanie with her teachers at "Kindergarten Graduation", which I think is kind of a bit of nonsense, so I like to think of it as the end of year Kindergarten program- and if it had been called that, I would have thought the whole thing was adorable.

And pictures from the last day. I made her shirt. I am still a little giddy about how it turned out.

Let the summer begin!!

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