My twins club blog, Mad About Multiples, is having a topic week this week on Back to School, which has spurred me on to finally write about this! This post is cross-posted at Mad About Multiples and you can read more Back to School with Twins posts there.
On Tuesday, August 25th, Ben and Lily had a big day – they headed to kindergarten at our neighborhood public school. It was an exciting morning! The First Day of School Fairy came (thank you for the idea Makes and Takes!) and brought the kids new lunchboxes, thermoses, some craft projects and Peanut M&Ms for an after school treat. We jetted off on scooters to settle in and get introduced. It was a big disorganized – no true kindergarten orientation and we got the schedule for the morning at 10:30 as we were leaving…a nice memory, would have been nice to have that BEFORE the morning began! But all in all, a successful initial start.
Ben and Lily are in separate classes and Jeff took Lily to her class, while I started in Ben's. I teared up a little as Ben's teacher read "The Kissing Hand" (one of our favorite books that we've had for a long time, courtsey of Nana Sandy)…not really because they were going to kindergarten, but it was sort of a twin parent moment. I wanted to soak in Ben's first day, but I was also a bit sad to be missing Lily's first moments. It is always hard to feel pulled in two different directions with twins (oh, the guilt!). But, as it turned out, Ben's teacher was quick to turn us parents loose, while Lily's teacher took her time, so I was able to luckily make it over to Lily's class and hear her teacher read "The Kissing Hand" as well (and to get my special kiss!). Having Ava there as well complicated things just a bit, but she was very patient and excited to see what this kindergarten was all about, so it was fine.
I thought that perhaps our trip to the East Coast that we had just returned from five days prior would help out with the early morning wakeup time, but….no. Wow, what a change. After a lazy summer and afternoon preschool for the past year, we are NOT used to early rising, much less early getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting out the door. School begins at 8:03am (such weird times!) and we scooter or walk there, so…(carry the 1…) we have to leave at 7:25am to get there on time. 7:25. Wow. That's early.
Of course, Miss Me Too (3-year-old Ava) thinks she is in kindergarten too. She insists on me packing her a lunchbox too and follows the kids on the playground to put her hands on her head and stop playing when the bell rings to go line up. Funny. (She is also doing nightly homework…more on that below.)
I'm not going to lie. It has been a mixed bag. It is GREAT to be going to our neighborhood school. I love scootering to and from school (the kids have learned to balance and ride their bikes sans training wheels with all this practice!) and seeing all the kids in our neighborhood heading in that direction, playing at the park with our new school/neighborhood friends, being able to do easy playdates, and just being close to home. On the other hand, I DESPISE how overly structured, pressured, and academic kindergarten is proving to be (I knew it would be, but didn't know how much) and I disagree with the negative discipline tactics that are often employed (e.g., take away recess or free choice time if you don't get through your work…these kids NEED to play!). For my kids, who NEVER once had a "bad" day at Explorer Preschool and have a true love of learning, this whole thing has been a bit of a shock to the system.
Ben has had an especially hard time. Ben was labeled as an "emerging leader" at Explorer, which is frowned upon by academic, negative discipline types. At times, I DO want him to sort of…join the rest of society and not have it be "his choice" ALL the time. But I also don't want his spirit to be squashed. I am a big fan of thinking outside the box and believe that churning out students who can take tests, but not THINK is and will not be good for our future.
For Lily, well, she's a pleaser. She LOVES kindergarten. On her first day, she said it was the BEST DAY EVER! And it has only gotten better (she has her times when she wants to stay home and relax, but mostly it is all rosy). Her teacher hasn't given homework yet really, but we give her optional stuff because she just wants to. She is excited that her teacher LETS her do homework. Joy! (I'm so glad I separated them for kindergarten, by the way.) I sometimes feel guilty that I am spending so much time making sure Ben is ok…I hope I can remember to focus on Lily too.
We ARE making progress. Jeff and I have both made some major changes in our lives over the past few weeks. I
am taking a leave from my law practice (maybe a month, maybe more) and Jeff has committed to: 1) take Ben and Lily to school every Monday to show them he views it as important and 2) be home at 6pm (instead of 7 or 7:30 or…) so that we can all do homework together (this one is tough for him with his commute from work and his high-pressure job right now, but he's trying). We are staying in contact with Ben and Lily's teachers and doing a lot of the other things that are supposed to help. I am volunteering in both of their classrooms on Fridays – they are very different, their teachers could not be more opposite – and the kids are excited about that and it seems very comfortable for them and for me, coming from a coop preschool background.
Homework, like making lunches and getting up early, is becoming a bit more routine. I was and remain philosophically against homework in kindergarten (apart from reading 20 minutes or more a day), but I am actually realizing that if you have to get these academic standards met, you really have to do the homework. And, for Ben, it is actually proving to be a confidence builder. Ben has always been a kid who is cautious and wants to be 150% sure that he can do something perfectly before he tries and this stalls him. So we baby step it at home with the homework and he's getting it.
As much as I dislike this, I find myself doing a sticker chart for "good days" and homework, with a reward. I guess I feel like we need this as a temporary motivational tool and…it is working. Ben is pretty motivated to do well at school because of it and hopefully we can help him see the other reasons to do well over time.
I am AMAZED at how much Ben and Lily are learning in kindergarten. They seem so much older and more capable after just one month. I am not celebrating the academics though – it saddens me how much they are expected to do at age five. I am SO glad that we did Explorer and let them "just play" and learn things that were age-appropriate. They actually did learn a ton at Explorer – both conventional and unconventional things. And I am thankful for that unique experience. I guess I just hope we can continue to give them the opportunities to think outside the box at home, even if they don't get those opportunities much at school.
In some ways, I wish I could send them all to a private school (which would probably have to be a little bit hippie) to get what I feel is best. But at the same time, I don't want to work full-time at a boring job in order to be able to afford private school for all three of my kids AND I feel like there are things that can be done to improve the California public school system. I only hope the pendulum hasn't swung too far in the wrong direction.
Note: I'm late in getting this August topic published for Back to School as a part of the Yahoo! Mothers Board, but, as you can see, we've been busy! You can read other Yahoo! Mothers Board members posts about Back to School by Kim, Donna, April, Joanne, and Julie.
Some resources from Yahoo! for Back to School:
- For great tips and opinions on a number of back-to-school issues visit Shine and get the low down on a variety of topics.
- Sittercity.com has some great tips on saving money on your back to school shopping
- Need tips for a better brown bag lunch?
- A bit of history and background on year-around education
- The story about 700 teachers in New York that are getting paid to do nothing has caused some real controversy
- Not familiar with some of the pros and cons of school uniforms? Read up here
- Looking to buy the latest in back to school fashion or gadgets? Do a little retail therapy on Yahoo! Shopping
- Learning doesn't stop after 3:15 and 6 other things teachers wish parents knew
- EcoGeek's guide to going back to school in green style
- 8 after-school snack ideas from around the world.