thoughts on kindergarten //

thoughts on kindergarten, public school & education…

DenaOctober 10, 2018

thoughts on kindergarten //

thoughts on kindergarten //

Hi friends, just a quick note to say that this post is a lot longer than my usual posts. I get pretty deep into my thoughts about the American school system and how we’re handling it here. So if you’re interested, grab a cup of tea, and read on. If you’re not, I understand. xo

Yesterday while Marina and I were waiting for Roman to get out of school, I ran into an old friend who has a daughter a year ahead of Roman. Her daughter and Roman went to school together at a local co-operative preschool for one year. She and I share many of the same values in terms of our parenting styles and our conversation really touched me. I’ve been wanting to share some deeper thoughts regarding Roman starting kindergarten, but I’ve been struggling to articulate my thoughts on the matter. However, in speaking with her yesterday, some of my thoughts actually tumbled right out. Before I forget them, I’d like to share them here finally.

First of all, the reason that she and I chose to send our children to the co-op for preschool was because it was very much a play-based learning experience. I firmly believe that from preschool though kindergarten, learning should be largely play-based as opposed to academic-based. What I have learned, however, is that the current theory in the American school system, at least in our local school system, is based around standardized testing and therefore the learning environment is academic-based as opposed to play-based. By the end of kindergarten, children will be expected to have a body of knowledge including basic writing, reading, and mathematics. They will be tested in these areas and expected to perform to a standard. Therefore, it was advised to me that I should enroll Roman in an academic-based preschool experience.

The Preschool Experience

For Roman’s first year of preschool (at 3 years old), I enrolled him in the co-op which was a play-based learning experience. I was confident that he would learn everything that he needed to know there, and he did. Despite the advice of the local school district to enroll him in an academic-based preschool experience (specifically the one that the public school district itself provides for a fee) I had planned to enroll him in the co-op again for his second year of preschool (at 4 years old). However, shortly before the school year started, the co-op ended up closing due to low enrollment. Sadly, this is a common occurrence for traditional preschools today. Most children are enrolled in full-day daycare from infancy to the start of kindergarten because they have two working parents. Therefore the traditional preschool programs are being phased out and children are receiving their preschool experiences in full-day daycare settings.

When the co-op closed, I was devastated. I struggled for several months over what I would do with Roman and my nephew, Aden. From September to November, I homeschooled them while I figured it out. Soon, however, I realized that with my own workload, I was not able to give them the experience that I wanted them to have. Further, I realized that they were missing out socially because I could not devote adequate time to socializing them each week.

One of the other things that I loved about the co-op is that they had options for attendance. There were 2, 3, and 4-day options. Whereas in the program that the school district offers, there was only one option for attendance, and that was a 5-day program for 2.5 hours each day. The idea of sending Roman to school for 5 days a week at age 4 was overwhelming to me. I waited and waited, but finally, in November I made the decision that I would enroll them in the 5-day, academic-based program offered by our local public school district for a price. (Note, public school is free beginning at kindergarten.) It was a difficult decision for me personally for many reasons, but in the end I felt that it was the best thing for Roman when I considered homeschooling him versus sending him to a program with other children.

Looking back, I am very happy with the decision that I made. While the 5-day program was an adjustment for all of us, it was undoubtedly the right decision for so many reasons. First, Roman thrives in an academic-based environment. He absolutely loves to learn and he has no trouble with listening, following directions, and structure. Actually, I believe that he thrives in this type of environment. Now at the same time, I realize that this is not the case for every child and therefore I cannot say it is the best thing across the board. Children have different learning styles and strengths, and that environment was not for all children.

For example, while Roman loved school every day, my nephew Aden did not. He has very different strengths than Roman. Aden has a much higher energy level. He has a more difficult time with structure. He loves to be physically active and is far superior to Roman in terms of athletics. Each day when I picked them up from school Roman would be excited to tell me about all of the things that they did and learned. Unfortunately, Aden would often say the opposite and share that the day was boring and they were forced to sit on the rug and listen to a boring story, etc. On the other hand, on the days that they had gym class, Aden would have lots of exciting stories to share and Roman would be exhausted. Roman also got hurt in gym class a couple of times (both in preschool and now again in kindergarten). He’s inherited my clumsiness, but that’s another story.

Even though it did not play entirely well to each of their individual strengths, the program did serve both boys well. It did an excellent job in preparing them for kindergarten. In our district, kindergarten is five full days a week. So having the 5-day preschool program certainly helped with that transition. Additionally, while the kindergarten program here does include elements of play, it is largely academic-based. So again, their preschool experience helped to prepare them for that. Of course, I still hold onto a certain sadness that they are being forced to “grow up” a little too quickly.

thoughts on kindergarten //

thoughts on kindergarten //


There are two answers to the concerns that I have had through this process and each of them is quite simple. Unfortunately, neither of those answers was a possibility for me. The first option that could have been a solution for me would have been to homeschool. While Roman was a baby and a toddler, I had always hoped to homeschool him. That was my plan and I was very much looking forward to it. Then a couple of things happened and I brokenheartedly realized that it would not be a possibility. First, Marina was born and she ended up being high needs. Her first two years of life were an intense struggle. When I was pregnant, I had still hoped to eventually homeschool both of them. But when she was born as high-needs as she was (and still is to a lesser extent) I did not know if I would be able to homeschool them. Now that she is 3, she is still high-needs in many ways, but it is all manageable and I do think that I could have pursued my dream to homeschool them.

However, then the second obstacle came up which was my separation from their father when Marina was 1. After we separated, I realized once and for all that my dream of homeschooling my children for their early elementary years would no longer be a possibility. I had to make money to support myself and my children in a way that I had not previously anticipated as a stay-at-home mother. I have been extremely blessed in my ability to earn a small income through my previous part-time job as a secretary at my church and through my blogging and photography work. This has allowed me to work while keeping my children home with me. One of the things that was most important to me was that I would never have to put my children into a full-day daycare setting. While I think that this is a good option for many families who have two working parents, it was not the option that I wanted for myself and my children. I knew that eventually they would have to go to school. But I wanted them home with me until they were ready for school. I have worked incredibly hard to make that happen and I have been successful in Roman’s case. Marina is now 3.5 and there is another year and a half until she starts kindergarten. Time will tell if I will be able to keep her home with me until then, but that is another story for another day.

In any case, homeschooling was not an option for us. And as much as these circumstances have prevented it, I would be lying if I did not admit that there is a small part of me that is relieved. At some point, the weight of being a stay-at-home mother did start to get to me. I had a desire to start stretching my own creative muscles, to work on personal projects, and to establish some level of independence outside of motherhood. Homeschooling would have surely taken so much of my creative and emotional energy that things like exploring my own professional desires would not have been possible. I still feel confident that if I were able, I would have chosen to homeschool, but I am also content with our situation and, as always in life, I believe that everything happens for a good reason. I trust God’s diving timing and judgment for our lives, both in terms of the decisions that I make and the circumstances that are thrust upon us.

A few final thoughts on homeschooling, I do not believe that homeschooling leads to a lack of socialization. I have many friends who homeschool and their children are incredibly well-socialized, participating in recreational sports, boy and girl scouts, martial arts, piano lessons, taking field trips with other homeschooling parents, and so on. I also love the freedom of the homeschool experience which allows families to have an increased focus on outside-the-box educational opportunities, travel, nature, and overall flexibility. Those are just a few of the many reasons that I would have chosen to homeschool if I could have. I won’t go much further into it here since that isn’t the purpose of this post. I am enjoying these early days as much as I can. I know full well that someday soon I will have big kids telling me, “i need help with my home work.” So I will enjoy it while I can.

Montessori Schools & Learning Academies

Other than homeschooling, the other answer to my concerns would have been to send my children to a Montessori School or another similar type of private learning academy. If you are unfamiliar, the Montessori approach values the human spirit and the development of the whole child–physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. Unfortunately, at least in our area, these schools can be extremely expensive and are not affordable to many families. In our case, it was not an option due to circumstances that I won’t get into. However, it would have been an option that I would have loved to explore. One drawback to this option would have been the distance. Our public school is a short walk from our house and I absolutely love walking my children to and from school every day. It is absolutely one of the highlights of my life and I would hate to have to give that up.

thoughts on kindergarten //

thoughts on kindergarten //

Shortcomings of the American Public School System

I could write a whole new post about the shortcomings of the American school system, but I will not. Instead I will just gloss over some of the major concerns that I have with the system. Then in the next section I will talk about how I am personally addressing some of these issues with Roman. I believe that the biggest fault of the American School system is that teachers are forced to teach children to take standardized tests, instead of being allowed to teach them to learn, to explore, to thrive, and to grow. Of course academics are of the utmost importance, but teaching children to pass a test is entirely different then teaching them for the pure sake of learning. Our teachers are amazing. They are heroes and they are incredibly underpaid and undervalued! Our current system does not allow them to do their jobs (inspiring children to learn). Instead they are judged on their ability to get children to pass standardized tests and it is an absolute failure. I believe that this is the greatest flaw in the system and when you look at our childrens’ performance against other developed nations, the dire consequences of this debacle are clear.

I believe that the system should certainly be more play-based through early elementary. There should be a greater focus on nature, exploration, wellness, and emotions. Academics should be held in the highest regard, but teachers should be allowed to teach children to learn instead of teaching them to take tests. There should be alternative ways of testing a child’s intelligence aside from the narrow standardized testing implemented at present. (Here is a short documentary about Finnish schools which illustrates everything that I am talking about here if you are interested.)

Finally, the food in the American school system is a despicable joke, but that too is a story for another day, or another post altogether.

My Approach with Roman James & Kindergarten

To close this post, I’ll talk a little bit about my current approach with Roman & kindergarten. To be clear, there is no perfect approach to this. I understand that my approach won’t work for every family for a whole host of reasons. I am just sharing a little bit about what I am doing personally. It is presently working for us and that’s all that matters to me.

First, I pack Roman’s lunches every day. I give him a healthy variety of items in his lunchbox every day so that he has choices. He gets snack time at 10 am and then they have lunch a couple of hours later. I fill his lunch box with all healthy, organic options. I make sure to give him two options for snack and two options for lunch. I always give my children options when it comes to food. While it may make my job a little harder, I find that they eat more and better as a result, and so that alone is worth it for me. Food does not go to waste because he usually gets whatever he didn’t finish for dinner, along with a dessert incentive to get it finished. 😉 (I am not above bribery as a mother and I am not ashamed!) Every day I include all healthy, organic options in his lunch box. I do not include junk food because of course he would choose the junk if that was an option. He is a child! That is the same reason why I do not allow him to buy his lunch. On a the lunch tray there will be decent and junk options. Most of the time, kids will go for the junk. It’s not rocket science.

Inside of Roman’s lunch box every day there are different things and I usually go over it with him in the morning so that he knows what to expect. As I mentioned before, everything is organic and here are some of the staples that I put in on a weekly basis. Juice pouches, raw vegetables, raw fruit, high fiber crackers, mozzarella string cheese, sunbutter & jelly sandwiches on multi-grain bread, quesadillas, fruit snacks, veggie chips, popcorn and granola bars. Obviously I don’t include all of those things each day, but usually it is some combination of those things. Roman has this PlanetBox lunch box and we love it.

Secondly, I am the lead class mom for Roman’s class. Since I drop him off at school and pick him up in the afternoon each day, I have a close relationship with Roman’s teacher and she chose me to be the lead class mom. I love this because it allows me to be in his classroom at least once a month. Honestly, sending him off to a school for five days a week has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a mother. I so desperately wish our district had a half-day kindergarten option. But getting to be his class mom has been the next best things for me. So far I got to go on their class apple-picking trip and I got to go into the class to assemble and bake apple pies with them. Soon we will have their class pumpkin patch event and later their class Thanksgiving feast. I look forward to these opportunities and I would not trade them for the world! Roman also understands that most of his classmates do not to get to have their moms in the classroom. Of the 20+ kids in his class, there are only three of us class mothers. Every time I get to visit Roman’s class, he tells me that he is so grateful that I get to be with him and that I am the best mama in the world.

Third, we have conversations about school every day. Every single day, I ask Roman how his day was. I run through a list of questions with him based on things that I believe are important for me to know. One day soon I will write a post that includes the questions that I ask Roman each day, but for now here is a similar list if you are interested. I can not stress how important it is to me that I stay informed about what he is doing in school each day. I will do everything in my power to keep this line of communication open between myself and my children for the rest of my life. Also, I am very careful about my reactions to what he tells me. No matter what he shares, I always reinforce that I am proud of him and so excited to hear about his day. Sometimes we need to have conversations about how he might benefit from doing things differently, but I craft these conversations carefully and pointedly so that I never discourage him from sharing his heart with me.

Finally, because of the many shortcomings of the system, I supplement Roman’s education as much as I can. Honestly, this is incredibly easy to do with him because he is so easygoing and adores learning. We go on multiple nature walks every week (weather-permitting), we visit the library often, we read lots of books, we talk often about feelings & emotions, and we do tons of projects. Admittedly my children get more screen time than I would like, between tablets and Netflix. However, I only let them watch and interact with educational videos and games. I totally see the positive outcomes of these things in what they learn, say, and do; and therefore I don’t feel too guilty about it. Of course, I am as tired as the rest of the parents in the world and I don’t always get to supplement his education the way that I would like to, but I do my best and I lean on my motto for motherhood which is that my best is good enough.

thoughts on kindergarten //

thoughts on kindergarten //

With all of this being said, none of it is perfect. I, like all, am a flawed mother in so many ways. My children do not live perfect little lives. There is often chaos, tears, lack of patience, and so on. Sometimes I hide in the shower and cry. But this is motherhood, this is our life. I am so grateful for it and I will continue doing my best. I pray that this post will not come across as judgmental in any way, although I understand how it could. But this is my blog, these are my thoughts, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to share it all.

So much love, always–

Comments (2)

  • Alissa

    October 11, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Loved this list!

    1. Dena

      October 14, 2018 at 11:30 am

      I’m glad you liked it Alissa. It’s so fun to hear about their days. Also, admittedly, a little scary—at least for me. ♥️

Leave a Comment

Prev Post

Apple Picking & Fog Magic & Letting Go

Next Post

diary: leaves are falling