I haven't written for a while on the subject of Kindergarten and Josh's transition. We had a really awful week the second week of school that just didn't ever feel right for him or for me. Was it the specific school? Was it too long away from me too many days a week? Was it just a transition? It all felt so uncertain and unsettled. I talked to many of my wise friends who encouraged me to listen to my intuition on this one- that I knew what he needed. We are connected to each other and my discomfort with this transition went beyond the feelings of a mother who was separating from her "baby." This means that action is needed.
One week ago today, after Josh had a brief illness and missed the days of school right after Labor Day, I pulled him out of school officially. It didn't go the way that I wanted it to go because I wasn't able to talk to his teacher face-to-face to let her know of my reasons for taking him out. We had had a conversation about the lack of play at the beginning and I had told her that I would do what was in his best interests, even if that meant pulling him out of school. It was interesting for me to stand back and look at the collective communications of my son's behaviors. He stopped eating at school during the day. He was refusing to eat breakfast before he went. This meant that when I picked him up from school, he ate all the contents of his lunch box as soon as he got out of school. He would then eat for the next 2 or 3 hours. When he would finally start playing again, it seemed forced and erratic- not at all like his usual play. Then at night, he had a very difficult time settling down to go to sleep. Then he got sick. And then there was the complaining about going to school. He just didn't want to go. A year of this seemed like torture for everyone. I told him that we were taking him out of school and asked if he wanted to go for the last day. Without hesitation, he said, "No. I'm not going." "Don't you want to say goodbye to your friends?" "No."
We started looking at other schools, since he really seemed to want to be with other children and play more than anything else. Monday, we went and visited another private school nearby with a focus on the arts. While they are different than public school in many ways, it seemed like the same general structure to the day: reading time, math time... lots of time in their seats. Josh wouldn't let me leave the entire day, which was at least alright with the teachers and the administration. It was a fun day for me just to see how other schools do things.
We set up a visit with a local Waldorf school on Wednesday. I was prepared to sit with him for the day again, knowing what it had been like for him in public school and even what it was like on Monday.
We arrived at the school and there were children playing outside everywhere. His eyes grew very large with excitement. He had already chosen the tree he wanted to climb when I had to redirect him to the Kindergarten playground. The children were going inside at the time we arrived after their beginning of the day play time and transitioning into the classroom. Josh decided after a few minutes that he wanted to just go join the other children, even though the teacher had told us to take our time and come in when we're ready.
We entered the classroom and it was quiet. We took off our shoes and joined the children in the middle of the room for a circle time. After a verse, a short song, and the lighting and extinguishing of the candle, the children were dismissed for inside play time. Josh stood there as if he hadn't heard, so I bent over to him and whispered that he was now allowed to play. He looked up at me with the happiest eyes, conveying his surprise that it was already play time. Within 30 seconds, he had joined a group of boys on the floor who were playing with little wooden people and a house. He was completely engaged, completely unaware that I was even there.
I stood and watched him playing with the happiness sparkling in his eyes and knew that we were in the right place. The stars had aligned for him and he was truly where he was meant to be. I talked with the teacher who also commented on how engaged he was in his play and with the other boys. After about 5 minutes, we interrupted him to show him around the room and where the bathroom was, especially after his long car ride. After he had gone to the bathroom, I was worried that he would now want me to stay. But he returned immediately to his play and didn't seem to care about whether I was there or not! After another minute, I told him that I was going to go to fill out some papers in the office. I got a half nod of acknowledgment and headed towards the door. Once outside, I stood and waited for a moment to make sure he was OK. But I knew in my heart that he was home, too.
Today was his second day and the drop off was easy again. He came to the door after he had started playing to tell me goodbye and offer me a hug and kiss before I left. Effortless. Transition into Kindergarten should be just like this for all children.
If you haven't read Crisis in the Kindergarten, please take a few minutes and look at it. Published by the Alliance for Childhood, these folks are taking a good hard look at what we're doing in education and what research shows our Kindergarten-age students really need. Something to consider.