An open letter to my soon-to-be-kindergartener

Hi Love,

I read this Washington Post blog today about kindergarten “standards,” and skills testing that determines students’ ¬†placement on a continuum of readiness for public school. It made me sad and concerned me.

Your Daddy and I have debated on-and-off for almost a year whether to let you start kindergarten early (this Fall) or to wait until you are officially 5. You’ve always been small… and starting you early may make this an issue, when it has never been one in the past for you. You are very intelligent (even taking into account my presumed bias) and you’ve always demonstrated a distinct preference for interaction with older kids, if given the choice. You are already reading some words, and not quite 4 years old. You share well, take turns, and tolerate frustration (but not failure) pretty well. I know you could do it, and you might really love it.

For me, the decision was made when I toured a private pre-school/Elementary school in our area. It was a highly structured program, and the director proudly told me that the children there are reading and writing independently by kindergarten. Gulp. Was this a reality-check? Maybe you aren’t the genius I think you are. Maybe you’re just a little bit bright. Then I asked how they accomplished this lofty goal. He proudly spoke of the school’s nationally recognized curriculum, and that many of their kindergartners have been learning in their programmed environment since ages three or four. We then talked about the programs for the three- and four-year-olds. I asked about free play, and was told that free play was allowed during the transitional times from 7:30-9:00 am, and then after 3:30 pm for the kids with parents who were unable to pick them up after the curricular class time.

I just left that school feeling… heavy.

Your Daddy and I have deliberately chosen child-care settings that offered preschool curricula-based programming. You have thrived and excelled in these settings. Where you are, you practice writing letters and tracing things on a daily basis, but you are also given tremendous free time to play with your friends. And you are happy, well-mannered, and socially-adept.

That did it for me. No school for you! Well… not yet, anyway. I want you to have as long to just be a kid as you can. I want to shield you from arbitrary standards and the competition that is inherent in applying those standards. I want you to remain blissfully unaware of the “otherness” that flows from ratings and scores. I am confident that you are ready and would succeed in kindergarten if you began this Fall. But Daddy and I agree that you will not suffer for having one last year to play.

The above blog was a nail in the coffin for your early entrance into big school. You see… you will be graded, rated, tested and placed for (presumably) 13 years (at least). Currently, you are not mindful of your own successes or failures on a regular (much less daily or hourly) basis. You just are. You just do. You just play and learn by default. Let’s keep it that way.

When I was in kindergarten, the biggest concern I had was developing my next scheme for trying to get moved to Emily’s (Yes, Auntie Emily’s) class. The only distinct memory I have of that year is getting in trouble once, because I told my teacher I didn’t want to be in her class. In my defense, I had known Emily for 5 years, and Ms. Sanders (not her real name) was new to me! I had no loyalty to her. And this is as (I think) it should be. Play and learning valuable social skills of frustration management and how to make new friends. (“Hey Mom, I have a new best friend!”)

Daddy seemed most passionate about advocating for your regular (not early) entrance into kindergarten. And no wonder. You see, Kiddo, Mommy grew up quickly–forgetting all too early how to play. By the time I finished college play was a foreign matter altogether. And it took years of therapy (thank you Jewelanne, Trapper, Kindra and Andrew) and retraining (thank you Daddy) for me to dare enjoy it again. I still struggle to play, as evidenced by my antsy-ness after 10 minutes of playing cars, but I’m working on it. And I don’t want you to have to work this hard at it.¬†I want you to play with reckless abandon.