Every night, I ask The Boy about his day. I ask for his highs (“What was your favorite thing that happened today?”) and his lows (“Was there something today you wish you could have done differently?”). Lately, the response to the second question has been consistent: “I would be in Kindergarten.”
My response each time he did this was also fairly predictable (“You’ll be in Kindergarten soon enough.”), but tonight I asked why he wants so much to be in Kindergarten.
“They get to do more challenging work,” he replied. “I want to do more challenges.”
“Like what?” I asked. After all, I figure, I can always talk to his teacher about letting him try some of the more challenging lessons. This is one of the benefits of the early Montessori curriculum.
“The hundreds table,” he said. “I want to work at the hundreds table, but I can’t because I’m not in Kindergarten.”
I nodded. “Okay, I’ll ask Ms. M about letting you work on the hundreds table.”
“Well, I have to finish my lesson first,” he said sadly. “I didn’t finish my lesson today.”
“Well, then after you finish your lesson, maybe you can try it next.” He nodded in agreement, but I could tell that wasn’t the only challenge he wanted to try. “Is there another lesson the Kindergarteners do that you want to do, too?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “The one that goes 1, 10, 100, 1000…”
“Okay,” I promised, “I’ll ask her to let you try that one, too.”
This is something I wish I could talk to Mom about, just to get her perspective on the subject.
When I was four years old, I remember playing in the playground (in the sandbox, no less; I brought home sand as a kid much the same way The Boy brings home mulch) and being called to the principal’s office. This was a bad thing, I recall thinking. And when I got there, my mom was waiting for me.
I wasn’t in trouble, and I remember thinking that was kind of odd that my mom was there but I wasn’t in trouble. Instead, they asked me all kinds of questions. I don’t remember most of them, but I do vividly recall being shown a paper with the alphabet.
“What’s this letter?” someone asked, pointing to the paper.
“O,” I said.
“And what sound does that make?”
“Ah or oh,” I replied.
I was asked about several other letters, then asked to read some simple words before I was allowed to rejoin my friends on the playground. My mom stayed behind a while to talk to the teachers before she collected me and took me home.
That fall, I started Kindergarten. I wasn’t 5 yet, and all of my friends were still in Pre-Kindergarten. I (thankfully) have no recollection of my first day of school, but my mom told me that I cried and kicked and screamed that I wanted to go “there”, pointing to the main campus across the street.
After that, I was always one of the youngest kids in my class.
Sure, I adjusted after a while, but I struggled to keep up with the other kids. In time, I’d get annoyed that some of the kids in my class weren’t stronger readers or couldn’t remember historical timelines. I did well in Language Arts and History (and was often bored in those classes), but I didn’t think of myself as smarter than anyone else because I struggled in math and sciences (sometimes getting so overwhelmed that I would give up entirely), and, in retrospect, I worked really hard. What made it even tougher for me, though, was that I was put in advanced classes throughout school, and I felt pressured (mostly self-imposed, though my dad had high expectations, too) to excel in all of them. A “B” was tolerated, a “C” was frowned upon, and a “D”? Let’s not even talk about that.
The Boy puts a lot of pressure on himself to master things and excel. In this way, he reminds me of his oldest cousin, Miss J, who is another perfectionist. Even though Big Sis E emphasizes effort over the final grade, Miss J really pushes herself to excel. And, really, it makes perfect sense. I mean, if you try your hardest, chances are you’ll succeed. But I remember when she was a little girl how she would get so wound up that she would physically shake. The Boy isn’t as intense, but when he’s struggling to master something (like tying his shoes), he hyperventilates. So God knows I have no desire (right now) to push him any more than he already pushes himself.
But I will ask Ms. M, as I promised him I would, about letting him try some of the more challenging lessons. The mixed classroom of 3- to 5-year-olds was one of the things I liked about the school, anyway; he has access to more challenging work if he wants it and more remedial work if he needs it. I don’t think he’s quite ready for Kindergarten yet, but I firmly believe that a child who asks for challenging work should be allowed to attempt it.