What do you remember about kindergarten? I remember Meadowbrook Elementary School and my sweet gray-haired kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten was a place of exploration, a place where I played in wooden make-believe kitchens. I drank milk out of red and white milk cartons, painted with finger paints and put my head down on the desk for nap time. Kindergarten was exciting! I learned to be a big girl, was eager to learn and I can remember being excited at the newness of it all.
When my son Ryan went to kindergarten he was told that a green fish meant he was well-behaved. If he received a yellow fish he was on warning and a red fish was so bad that his parents would be contacted. In October, in kindergarten, the teacher wanted me to get him a tutor. Let me repeat that; the teacher wanted me to get Ryan a tutor for kindergarten. Apparently he passed his PALS assessment but he did not pass with a test score his teacher had become known for. She actually said those words to me. Ryan and I learned the power of negative reinforcement and we learned that kindergarten was a place of restriction. Kindergarten was a place where children were told that they were not normal unless they were perfect little angels that knew how to be perfect little test takers.
Ryan finished out the year and he and I celebrated with an amazing summer before he went on to first grade.
Two weeks into the new school year the first grade teacher requested a meeting with me. Ryan needed a tutor. I became highly suspicious, was there some kind of notation in my child’s file? How could a teacher make this kind of leap again? I had always thought that Ryan was highly intelligent and the feedback from school was challenging my own thoughts about my child. I was confused and doubted my own insight into my son. Being told over and over again that he was a slow learner, didn’t complete his work and was not scoring well was difficult to hear. However, what was even more impossible was getting this feedback without any productive solutions except for red fishes and big red marks on papers. Ryan, at eight years old, was struggling with his self-esteem and confidence. His papers would be marked in red “INCOMPLETE” “TAKES TOO MUCH TIME,” and “NEEDS TO FOCUS.” He was being told he was a failure and even though I was trying to do everything I could to help him, I felt like a failure as well.
I decided to have more faith in my son and my gut intuition and made a big decision. I took him out of public school. I knew other parents who had decided to home school their children, and others who sent their child to private schools that rivaled the cost of a college education, but I had always thought that was a bit much. Like many parents we had previously paid thousands of dollars for daycare, and I could remember feeling so liberated when that cost was no longer in the equation. To consciously sign up for that cost again for something that should be included in my tax dollars was a hard pill to swallow.
My husband and I pulled him out of the public school system and put him in a Montessori school. Ryan went from reading 15 words a minute to reading 115 words a minute in only one month. The Montessori school was the right environment for him. It allowed him to learn at his own pace, and together with the teachers and Director, I started to rebuild my son’s confidence in himself. In addition, I was truly supported with identifying some of Ryan’s personal challenges and was able to take the necessary steps to actually help my son. This true acceptance and celebration of the differences in all children was critical for Ryan’s confidence and education during those foundational years.
After third grade we left the Montessori environment and Ryan went back to the public school system. He adjusted quickly and made the honor roll. Next year he starts middle school and will be taking all honors classes. Mind you, this does not mean he rocks the standardized tests. We have learned that he does not have to measure himself against these tests, he only needs to compete against himself. It’s a philosophy that is working well for us.
Ryan was lucky in that he was taken out of an environment that did not support his learning style at an early stage of development. In trying to improve the educational model in the United States we have lost the hearts and minds of our children. Teachers have such pressure to teach towards standardized tests, to such a high extent that creativity and tolerance is left by the wayside. Why do we allow these negative reinforcement models in our schools? Why do we allow problems but no solutions? Being your child’s advocate is critical in this day and age.
You may be a new mother or you may have children in elementary school at this very moment. Chances are you have had parent teacher’s conferences about your child. Take the input, read the scores, get involved with your child’s progress and then do your best for your child. Education is important and so is your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
It’s dangerous when we allow ourselves or our children to be labeled. I rejected those labels and taught Ryan to do so as well. Be careful with the labels put on your child; troublemaker, smarty pants, inattentive, sensitive, leader, sporty, brainy, shy, the list goes on and on. Trust your intuition and don’t let other people’s measurement sticks impede the right way for your son or daughter.
All my son really needed to know in kindergarten was that he was interesting, intelligent and funny. All my son really needed to know in kindergarten was that learning is a true gift and can be an exciting journey.
All my son really needed to know in kindergarten, he learned from me.