Kindergarten readiness 101

February 06,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Kindergarten registration began yesterday. Last week Scott took T. to visit our neighborhood school--a different school from the one our son goes to. When L. started kindergarten, we lived in another neighborhood. The school there--large and business-like, didn't seem the right fit for our little guy. But T. is a different child--unique and special in her own way. More and more I hear about parents who are sending their kids to different schools and trying hard to tailor their child's education opportunities. Gone are the days when all the siblings in one family went to the same school, had the same teachers, and were exposed to the same educational experiences. I'm not saying this doesn't still exist, and a part of me envies it. But in the county where I live, there are so many school options that it can be downright paralyzing. I don't know what T. thought when she went to the open house; she was a chatterbox on the way home, but then lapsed into long pauses--processing it all, I think. We haven't talked with her about school choices and the pros and cons of one over the other. But my heart is torn, and Scott and I are having the conversations for her--each night, after the kids are in bed. L.'s school has been a part of her life for years now. We do L.'s homework in what would be T.'s first-grade classroom. She knows her way to the bathroom, and to the library, and the cafeteria. My heart aches when I think about the benefits of all this, and the scary thought of T. heading through more unfamiliar school doors, into hallways that are large and wide, and don't echo with familiar sounds. She is so tiny for her age, and when I think of her in kindergarten I can't help but see her against the scale of larger things--a bigger library, a larger playground, bigger classrooms, wider spaces. I can't help but wish for some small one-room schoolhouse for her--a place where everyone is kind and friendly, and everything is just her size. (How will she reach the paper towel dispenser? The soap at the sink? Her cubby?) Maybe I felt all this with L., maybe not as keenly, I don't know. I do know I felt ripped open when I left L. at school for his first day of kindergarten. Maybe the scar is still too fresh, or maybe it will open a bit deeper when we see our last baby off to her first day. Despite all this, it is an exciting time. Early in the week T.'s preschool sent a sheaf of papers home with her, all about Kindergarten Readiness. Scott and I poured over them, as if seeing them for the first time--yet I know we received the exact same papers when L. was in his last year of preschool. We talked about how ready T. is--socially, academically, and emotionally--and about how interesting it will be to go through it all again, to enjoy a different perspective of kindergarten this time around, with a child who seems ready to embrace it all with arms flung wide open. Kindergarten readiness...I said thoughtfully to Scott. I know, he replied, sighing heavily, and I could feel the ache in his heart, too, at the thought of T. in school next year. Maybe they should send these lists home for the parents, instead--a checklist of first day of kindergarten readiness for us: * Recognize child's need for independence * Begin to control oneself emotionally in public, even when walking past parents with small children * Separate from child without being upset * Speak understandably about child without bursting into tears Someone needs to create a checklist that parents everywhere will pour over in the quiet hours of the evening, when the kids are fast asleep. There will be handouts to help us weigh the ache in the heart against the pride and anticipation, to guide us through this next big step. Maybe someone can even draw up a handy chart or two for us--one that will prepare parents for the sight of their littlest child disappearing around the corner of a school hallway, and guide us along the long and strange walk back to the car.