On Kindergarten

The boys completed kindergarten! I couldn’t believe we were sending our little (they are so little once again at this age!) innocent souls out into the world. Were they ready? Were we ready? What would happen to them?!

They were totally ready. Of course. And they had a wonderful year! They grew into their own people, and really held their own (each of them!) in a class of completely new people. Their teachers had many wonderful things to say about both of them!

They were in the same class–there wasn’t a choice at this school but I would have chosen that anyway. Since they have always been together in everything, I think it would have been a difficult shock to go into a new environment alone. It was certainly an adjustment for their peers and teachers to figure out who was who…one day in late spring the boys decided to have a Twin Day, where they dressed in the same outfit. I took them to school that day and one of the kids asked one of them which one he was (and then I heard her say to the teacher she tells them apart by their voices).

We’re in our neighborhood school, which is just down the street–less than a ten minute walk! We went from an hour-long-roundtrip daycare dropoff to a short walk! It was amazing to save so much time (and gas money). When it rained or was dark though, I confess that we drove three blocks to get closer. The boys were usually fine with the walk to school but the walk home was always filled with whining about being SO tired and HATING walking, even if it was *immediately* after they’d been happily running around and playing. I always brought a bunch of snacks to shove into their faces to avoid hanger.

The schoolday schedule was only a small transition/change; luckily, our school begins at 845am! And since we live so close by and it’s quick to get to, we didn’t have to force the boys to wake up early or get them out of bed. They were able to wake up on their own and usually had time to play a bit at home before breakfast. What a luxury! Sadly we often got lazy about leaving on time and arrived after 845…I want to get better at this for next year for sure.

We had the boys in three days of after-care, and the other two days I picked them up after school ended at 3pm. Those days felt very short after so many years of daycare pickups at 530/545! The days I picked them up, we usually stayed at school and they played on the playground with other kids. I would read a book. 🙂

The boys had two teachers this year, a morning teacher (a woman, her first year) and an afternoon teacher (a man, who has been teaching kinder for years). They were both patient and kind and just really great. One of them used an app to share pictures and videos with parents, which was really fun. There were all kinds of fun projects throughout the year–a whole thing about plants and experimenting with conditions; and a friendly alien who left clues around the classroom/school. There was a reading program too, or more than one. One was grown-ups coming in to read each week with the kids and give them a book (I always felt bad about this because I know there are so many households who need books but ours is *definitely* not one of them!), and I think they also had reading buddies in an older class in school.

The boys almost never talked about school. I gave up even asking pretty early in the year because the response would be either an, “UGH” or “Stop asking about that!” or “I don’t want to talk about that!” accompanied by an eyeroll. Fine. So the little peeks into their day in the app was a really sweet way to actually see what they did in school. (I’m still not sure about the reading buddies!)

Lunch!! The kids all get their own student number for hot lunch, and after we got theirs I had them practice. They said it over and over, and I had them practice on my laptop number pad. They thought that was great fun and they were very comfortable knowing their number after that.

I got such a heart pang, thinking of their tiny little selves coming into the lunchroom and being confronted by this whole new place, with all these expectations and routines that were foreign to them, and knowing they must have felt helpless and scared and intimidated. What a unique and powerful thing that kindergarten teachers have, to teach their charges how school itself actually works!

M was eager to try hot lunch and he really enjoyed it once he worked up the nerve after a couple weeks. He didn’t quite get their system at first, with plates and choices, but he eventually did. But E was much more hesitant, I think mainly because he didn’t know what to do or that he didn’t know what it would be like. (This is pretty typical of the two of them, actually–M is willing to try new things and branch out, and E hangs back until he knows it’s okay.) I think M said he would help E, and he tried to explain how it worked. M began getting hot lunch several times a week–he liked looking at the lunch calendar for the week and deciding what he was going to get. We felt that it was less about the food itself than the independence and novelty of getting his own lunch like a big kid.

Their kindergarten class had no homework (apparently at least one of the other classes did) and I was very glad for that. I liked that they had time to just play after school, either at school or at home. I am definitely dreading homework in the future…and I’m a former teacher who is pro-homework!

As for actual school skills, both boys have done great. Last summer, they were both already reading. M was a lot more confident, and maybe slightly higher level than E. M would do a lot of writing freely and E wanted lots of spelling help and only wrote things that he could get right. They were both quite good at mental math, adding and subtracting one and two digit numbers.

Over the course of the year, both boys learned a ton of sight words and began reading more, and more smoothly, and even more confidently. They can both easily read picture books and low-level chapter books. (They can sound out 90% of Harry Potter too!) One thing that you can’t teach that they both do is that they read with correct intonation! Not just reading with punctuation, but like, acting out tone too. E got really great at writing, and really interested in communicating that way, and began writing confidently in his creative spelling, which I love. M got a little more hesitant about his spelling but he also has done a lot of great writing.

fortune teller

Above: a fortune teller by E from last year. Check out the very early creative spelling–he’s improved a ton since then!

Rainforest ecosystem: “There is water, sun, air, space, nutrients, minerals, soil, leaves” I love how E labels all the parts of his drawings. ❤

On the left is M’s very neat handwriting this spring, and on the right you see both boys’ handwriting. Below, you can see what M’s handwriting is currently like. It’s become really sloppy and harder to read. 😦

From what we could tell the school didn’t do much of a math “curriculum,” it was more like playing with patterns and manipulatives. Their report cards say they did well/fine…but we felt like they were definitely above grade level in both reading and math! I really have wavered for the whole past year about ‘enrichment’ or doing extra academic stuff at home–clearly their skills are pretty good right now and part of me wants to push them a little to solidify those skills (especially math). I don’t want them to get complacent, and I definitely don’t want them to get arrogant or entitled…but I also don’t want to take the joy and fun out of learning for them. And also, I mean, it’s freaking kindergarten. They don’t need to be, like, doing math worksheets or memorizing times tables or whatever in kindergarten. They have so many years of that in the future and I have to keep reminding myself to let them stay little and playful.

Both boys but especially E recently began pushing against some boundaries and control, namely in not getting to do what we grownups get to do. One spring afternoon at the school playground, E was whiny about something–I think he wanted to go home and M didn’t. So he asked if he could walk home by himself. Now–we live maybe four or five blocks from the school, and we have walked back and forth since they were small toddlers–easily several hundred times. So obviously I wasn’t worried about how he would get home, but there is a fairly busy neighborhood road that one has to cross. I told him we could practice: I would follow from a distance and have dad meet them close by. He did perfectly of course and after that I totally let him do it on his own…but I may have spied once or twice. Of course M wanted to do it right away also and of course he was fine too. And after that, they walked home alone regularly. Funnily enough, the whining of “I wanna go hooooome” would immediately become “Can I walk home by myself?” with a big happy non-whiny smile when I said yes, so that was a win. (Sometimes they insisted on going home by themselves but take different routes so they would be actually by themselves.) Part of me felt weird about being comfortable with letting them go on their own…it’s so not done nowadays! But also I’m happy that they’re independent.

This year and being in school really solidified that E and M are their own actual people, not just our sweet little babies. You know? They made friends and did activities and learned things, all without us knowing anything about it. And not only did they make friends with their classmates, but lots of bigger kids are their buddies too!

We’re both really proud of them. They’re good kids, they’re smart, they’re doing well in school, they like learning. It was a really good kindergarten experience.

It felt like a big milestone, to complete a year of school for the first time, only behind starting school for the very first time. And now summer is already over and it all starts again!

Starting School! A ramble

Our boys will begin kindergarten this week.

I think I need to say that again because even though I’ve said it a lot in the last few months, the gravity of the idea still hasn’t quite sunk in. (Hence the wandering mess that I’m sharing with you here.)

E and M are starting school this week. They will be in kindergarten. They will be real students in a real school.

I started this post on Sunday. The ultimate Sunday–the last Sunday of their little childhood! Holy big deal!

Here’s what is getting me all emotional–the change, the huge, massive shift in our lives, and in all of our identities.

For these last five and a half years, the boys have been in some kind of daycare/childcare, but we’ve always had so much flexibility. Since A and I both work from home and especially since I became self-employed, we’ve been able to do schedule things whenever we want. I can pull them out of daycare for a random trip to Seattle, or for a birthday outing, or just to go have a special day together. It’s always especially nice to be doing fun things on weekdays, when all the other kids and grownups are at school and work! It feels like we’re playing hooky and getting away with something. And it feels like freedom.

But this is a really big transition. We’re now chained to the school year, the school day, the school calendar. They will be in school for the next THIRTEEN YEARS, which is basically forever. We’ll have to do our vacations, our special days, on all the holidays just like everyone else. No more freedom, no more spontaneity. (Sure, we can do a random day off I suppose, but I don’t think I’ll actually want to do that much. I’m too much of a rule follower and I do believe that attendance is important.)

This kindergarten transition is also about the boys ‘belonging to the world’ more and more (I just read that phrase the other day, isn’t it perfect?). We’ve had a little of that with daycare, where all these people know our kids and we don’t know them. It seems really weird and it makes me feel protective and cliquey, like hey, they are OUR boys, why do you know them. But of course that makes no sense. They’re going to have a new life at school, with new skills and new influences and new friends. None of which we have any control over!

They’re big little kids. They’re independent. They love math problems and they’re starting to sound out words. They don’t know how to tie shoes. They don’t know how to swim. They hold my hand when we cross the street. They lay down and cuddle on the couch with me. They pile on my lap so I can read them a book. They are best friend brothers and I think they also play with other kids, but probably mostly each other. How will they do at making good friends with other kids? Will they only hang out with each other? How much of a bad influence will they get from other kids? (I freaking hate the big after-school kids at their daycare who have taught them all kinds of terrible things.) Will they totally lose their innocence? Will they grow up too fast and want to stop being sweet little boys?

From now on, they are students. School-age children. And we are school parents! We’ll join the PTA and volunteer with school events! This is a whole new level of adulting and I feel a little blindsided and intimidated.

Another funny thing is that the day is the FIRST day of school. And I have to keep remembering with a little bit of shock and dismay that then they KEEP GOING. Forever and ever! It’s not just one day, it’s the first day of the rest of their lives! Ack!

Will they have homework? (Not in kindergarten, thank goodness. But I’m sure it will start after that.) What if it’s terrible and annoying? How much of a pain in the ass is schoolwork and projects and stuff going to be? What if one or both hates going to school?  What if someone cries or throws tantrums about not wanting to go to school? How will we deal with packing stupid lunches every day? Will they make friends? Will we make friends with the other class parents?

This is a huge transition for us too. I’m having a really hard time because I’m so used to school from a teacher point of view. From a parent point of view, this is completely new and different and this summer I’ve felt so helpless! I know absolutely nothing!! I also know nothing about what I *should* know and expect! For someone who likes to be in control, this is difficult.

I bought their school supplies several weeks ago, because someone on FB had to tell me to look on the school website to see the list. How would I have known to look on a website for a school supply list?! Was I supposed to know that?! Why does everyone else know this? Why do I know nothing? Why is the our district school website such a terrible labyrinth of bureaucratic confusion? I feel so new and bumbling!

We haven’t bought them new backpacks for school. I didn’t know what size backpack they’re supposed to have for kindergarten when they’re still so little. There are so many sizes of backpacks now, did you know that?! What do they even bring in a backpack? Are they going to be carrying notebooks and binders and pencil pouches? Two years ago I got them these little backpacks that we’ve been using for traveling and summer camp and daycare change of clothes. The lunch boxes that we got them two summers ago don’t really fit in the backpacks, so what *does* go in there? I don’t know if we’re fancy enough to get those metal bento box style lunchboxes that would fit. It doesn’t seem very special to just use the same old backpacks–but now it’s three days before school starts so have I completely ruined the Special First Day of School?!

This is their VERY FIRST FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!! Shouldn’t it be the most special of them all?! Am I making not enough of a big deal about this? Why haven’t I been able to plan better for this?

We’ve been able to roll into daycare whenever we wanted, and pick them up whenever we wanted. Now we’re locked into an actual, firm schedule. Miraculously, our school doesn’t start at the crack of dawn. We’ll be able to maintain their normal morning routine (wakeup between 7/73, breakfast, playtime, leave around 830), so we are very happy and relieved about that.

We are also super excited about physically going to school. It’s only a few blocks away—we timed it this week and it took less than NINE MINUTES to walk there!! We’ve been taking them to a daycare is 20 minutes away for the past FOUR YEARS. Each roundtrip to drop them off or pick them up was an hour. So there were two hours of daycare driving every day!! We will save so much gas and so much time! Plus, a little exercise and fresh air! (This is very easy to say in sunny August–we’ll see how I feel in dark and rainy November…)

We have one boy who is excited about kindergarten, and one boy who is nervous about kindergarten. They’ll be in the same class, so I think that will be really nice and helpful for them to have their best-friend-brother right there. They’ve never been apart or in separate classes, and I think going through the transition to real school together will be good.

I guess I just need to remember to take one thing at a time. Our kids are good kids and I think they’re going to do really well in school. It’s just a new part of our journey together as a family.