Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kindergarten, 3 months in

I've been meaning to share my thoughts on how kindergarten is going. I spent so much time in this space fretting about it, I certainly owe you some follow-up.

My observations are based on being present for drop off and pick everyday - and we pick up at the (outside) classroom door. I have also been volunteering in the classroom twice a month, so I have a handful of days in the room. Some things are surprising to me - most are positive.

- On half day vs. full day: first - I'd like to submit that half of 6.5 hours is not 2.5 hours. I understand this is busing and lunch and recess, but it's somewhat shocking how short their half day is. In this day of academic standards, I now believe that this is a disservice. They don't have time to do ANYTHING other than academics, because they have to accomplish the same standards as full day programs. They've had recess only a few times, they have 2 or 3 specials each week for 30 minutes, no snack or playtime. It's very structured from the moment they walk in until they leave. As a result, I worry that kids (especially ones how don't enjoy academics as much as Katy) might decide in the first year that school isn't fun. Which would be a shame.

- And speaking of academics, this has been my next surprise. I thought going in that Katy was pretty strong academically, so I was even wondering if she'd be challenged. (And a couple of people had told me their kids didn't learn anything in kindergarten? Oh my GOSH. They must have been way ahead.) She's challenged plenty - I feel that it's very strong academically. She has made SO much progress in reading. At the beginning of the year she could sound out short-vowel three letter words. Now she can read most of the level 1 early readers. And math, too. She really likes math - she asks Brian to write math problems out for her for fun. (Yep, she's a dork like her mom.)

- I'm also impressed at all the ways that they learn this stuff - it's minimal "table work" - they are moving around the room working in various sub groups and stations. Using music and dancing, etc. (I did raise my eyebrows three weeks into school when Katy said, "Mommy, why did they have us buy scissors? We haven't used them yet." But now they have.)

- I'm surprised that the teacher has a full time assistant in the room with her? That was not the case in the district where I worked. I'm pretty sure this is only kindergarten. I really like both the teacher and the assistant. They are kind and positive and exuberant. But also firm when they need to be. I was impressed that the teacher kept all 24 of them sitting on the floor quietly for 15 minutes while she gave verbal instructions.

- The second day of school, Katy came home and said, "I don't like my table. The other kids don't do good things. They do bad things and get us in trouble. The other tables don't get in trouble." I asked what kinds of bad things, and she said, "talking, scooting their chairs in and out, not doing their work." I panicked a bit for a couple days, just wanting so desperately for her to have a good experience. But once I got into the classroom, I got to see for myself what was going on. It's true that she's at the most rowdy table in the room. The assistant admitted to me that they put Katy there to encourage the rowdy ones. But in September, a new student was placed at the table, and Katy has seemed much happier since then. And in fact, the other kids have calmed down a bit and seem to be doing better. It's an adjustment for all of them. They don't spend that much time at the table anyway, so it's really fine. I'm glad I didn't overreact back in August.

- Because they don't have recess or much playtime, I think the social development is slower (they don't have time to form great friendships yet). This can be good and bad. I have a friend whose daughter in full day has had some social drama on the playground already, so we've delayed that. But that was also partly why I was motivated to do Girl Scouts. I want her to get to know the kids at school.

- I've enjoyed getting to know the families in the class. I think half-day supports this, because we drop off at 12:50 when no one else is outside, and we pick up at the classroom door so it's only kindergarten parents, there, too.

- Homework: Each Friday they receive a packet of homework that includes a poetry project (takes 20 minutes) and 3 worksheets (10 minutes total). Poetry is due Monday, the rest is due the following Friday, but we do it all over the weekend. Then for reading group they have early readers and a ring full of sight words that they are supposed to do every night. This takes anywhere from 3-10 minutes, depending on whether she writes her sight words or not. The homework feels like a good amount - not too much. But I can see how having three in school will start to get complicated, keeping track of it all.
- I LOVE walking to school. This fall we've been lucky with weather - it's mid-November and I am still walking everyday unless it's raining. It benefits all of us to be outside for a few minutes, it gives us some time to prep or debrief from the school day, and we often end up having conversations with neighbors along the way.

- Public school isn't perfect. We don't know what will happen next year because of the levy. And they are limited in what they can do because of state standards and class sizes and funding, etc. Of course there are kids whose families don't share the same values that we do, or the same cultural or socioeconomic background that we have. But for now, I see it as an opportunity to teach my kids that people are valuable and that God wants us to love them. All people. (They don't notice the differences as much as I do, anyway). And Katy enjoys school and she's learning and making friends. So it's working for us this year.

We'll see about next year.


Kelsey said...

Wow! There's so much in this post Em!

I'm glad school is going well overall. I agree about 1/2 day, I think it is a huge challenge to fit in all the curricular goals in that amount of time, especially when a typical kindergarten class has kids who are all over the map in terms of their skills.

It sounds like Katy is doing awesome, which is not really a surprise, but I'm sure is still something of a relief to you. :-)

I love that you are having a good experience with your neighborhood school and I'm looking forward to hearing more about it as the year goes on.

bluedaisy said...

I wish we could walk to our school! It just isn't possible given the distance (not to mention the route). Michael either rides the bus or I drop him off on preschool days. I am glad to hear you perspective on half day kinder. We have a full day program & I don't think it was a difficult adjustment for Michael overall. It definitely limits what I want to do in terms of afterschool stuff- I feel like it's just TOO much to add anything right now. Hmmm, I think I might do a post like this after our first teacher conference (which is Monday). Thanks for sharing thia & so glad that Katy is off to a great start :)