Eeeek! Kindergarten!

Research on what to do come kindergarten time is freaking me out. I’m appalled at how aggressive kindergarten is, both academically and socially.

Research shows kids shouldn’t be forced to read until second grade, and that countries who begin reading instruction at age eight have a 100% literacy rate. Could be correlation, but it could be that waiting helps more children learn. That homework and formal instruction in kindergarten are counter-productive. But public schools aren’t listening. Maybe they can’t, given how many layers of legislation governments pile on the how, why, what, and when of teaching.

I want play-based kindergarten. I don’t want formal reading education until second grade (that’s what public school was when I was a kid) or homework until middle school.

I want choices.

But paying a high price for the kind of schools we went to as children versus public subsidized pressure cookers for small children isn’t really a choice. A five-year-old who is struck by fits of noise, movement, and lack of focus isn’t disordered. They’re normal.

Why isn’t there an option for elementary school that honors a child’s developmental needs? Why doesn’t my area have charter schools that are trying out ideas based on research rather than legislation? Why is there no play-based option for kindergarten? Why am I not thinking seriously about homeschooling or unschooling when that makes more sense than cramming 20 five-year-olds into small chairs and insisting that they sit still for hours on end? How can I disagree with the way government runs schools without sounding like I believe science is a theory?

Open Letter to Alfie Kohn

Dear Mr. Kohn,

I finally read Unconditional Parenting, which was recommended more than a year ago by a mom I really dig. At the time I was too busy to read it, and we were doing pretty dang well with the whole “respect kids don’t dictate to them; give them choices and empathy” stuff. I prioritized other work because I didn’t need your book at that moment.

Except that I did, because pretty soon after I put your book in my online shopping cart as a reminder to eventually read it, he turned Three.

All our parenting techniques went out the window as we fought to figure out how to get through each day. We started listening to those voices from family and friends who told us to take a harder line; as he got more out of control, we tried harder to control him. We tore out our hair and bookmarked the gypsies’ “going rates” page, and I cried almost every night in exhaustion and rage and terror at the creature who replaced the child we had parented so carefully. We drew the boundaries more tightly and he acted, predictably, as though the walls were closing in on him.

We barely made it out of Three alive. It took everything we could muster to survive. But unfortunately it meant we went from working with to doing to our son. And now that we’re coming out we know we’ve lost our way.

So thank you for the reminder that kids who are given firm rules and punished into following them misbehave just as often as children who are given respect and choices. And that those children who are treated as decent humans turn out to be just that.

Thank you, too, for the reminder that focusing on our long-term goals means both boys need to make as many decisions as possible now so they’re practiced in making good decisions later. That if we want to learn to influence them, we can’t coerce them. Not just because it’s demoralizing but because it doesn’t work.

Thank you for making me write down what I value so I’d remember that if I want these young humans to grow up and stand up for what’s right—to question repressive rules and fight for what’s important—they have to do it now. Gulp. With our structures (which are now more reasonable, generally created with his participation, imposed only when necessary, and flexible).

I feel more in control now that I’m not controlling. My son feels less caged and cornered and is a lot nicer to be around.

And we’ve redoubled our efforts to find an elementary school that refuses to create an environment where punishment and reward teaches kids only to obey, to do things for what their actions will get them rather than how their actions affect others.

Thank you for getting us back on track toward unconditional love and respectful, flexible, mindful parenting.

—The Calmer, Gentler NaptimeWriting Family

P.S. Dearest readers: don’t worry. The snark doled out weekly for most of the residents of this planet remains in all its bloggy goodness. There are only two mushy little dudes who get the aforementioned awesome me. The rest of you get the worn little nubbin that’s left after all the patient, respectful, engaged, long-term-focused defaulting to yes stuff.

Bad, bad, bad

I knew this would happen, and I knew it would happen once Peanut got to school. He now knows the word “bad.”

We avoided that word for the first four years of his life, because he doesn’t need it. There are few really “bad” things in this world, and those are so off-the-charts horrible that he doesn’t need to know about them. We’ll spare the discussions about terrorism, homicide, and even theft and greed until later. Most people are basically good, but some can make better choices. When we say it that way, everyone has a chance, you know? Someone at school who has a grumpy day and takes toys or hits needs to know there are better ways to be angry. But she’s not bad. Most cats expressing themselves with feces are frustrated and need understanding and training. They are not bad. Their actions are frustrating and disgusting and won’t be tolerated, but the cat, himself, is not bad. In our house, fruit rots; it’s not bad. We feel ill or crummy; not bad. I’m not saying that this approach is right; I’m just explaining why it was weird to hear my child use the word “bad.”

Just as I tried hard to teach P that I love him and I don’t like hitting, so he knew that the person and the action are not the same thing, we tried to teach him that some things were good choices and some were not good choices. We never needed the word “bad” and we liked it that way.

So when he came home last week and asked what “bad” meant, I said it can mean a lot of things; where did he hear it and I could tell him what the person meant. “Big bad wolf tried to get in some pig houses.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I know that story, and I guess, in that case, they mean bad because the wolf ruins the pig houses and scares them and doesn’t listen to their words. So in that case, bad is kind of like ‘not being nice’.”

So, predictably, for the next few days, he tried out his new condemnation on a variety of subjects. The cat is bad, Mom is bad, Dad is bad, this macaroni is bad…I’m going out of my mind. Because I want to let him try it, and not call attention to it for all the reasons parents *know* not to call attention to behaviors they don’t like, but that word KILLS me. It’s like a 1950s black and white world where we judge people and count them out because of one poor choice.

Spouse and I don’t say “good boy” because it makes him seek praise for any action, laudable or otherwise. Labeling a child good makes them second guess their every move to see if someone else will tell them they are good, instead of finding their own sense of self worth and justice. And being a “good boy” or a “bad boy” implies a permanence. There are no all good or all bad children. There are people who need better parenting and time to learn and help finding better choices. Even those people don’t have “bad” parents. They have parents who don’t know better or who don’t try hard enough.

Anyway. I’m miffed about the “bad.” Other parents freak when their kid comes home spewing four-letter words and I’m thrown at just three.