Thursday, September 2, 2010

School school school (Babble)

I can’t believe summer is over and all my kids are old enough to be in school.  Aden is in third grade, Mona is in first, and my little baby boy is a K3. 

They go to a public Montessori school, so the classes are mixed age (grades 1, 2 and 3 together, grades 4, 5, and 6 together, and kindergarten is a mix of K3, K4 there for half day and K5 for full day).  When Aden was in Head Start at age three, her teacher recommended that she would do well in a Montessori school, so we looked into it, and so far it’s worked out nicely. 

In Milwaukee you can apply to go to any school and there are so many choices it can be overwhelming.  There are charter schools and language immersion schools and schools that focus on art or science….  I even toured a traditional public school very close to home that offered ballet and it was so charming that if we hadn’t gotten our first choice I’m sure that would have worked out fine as well.  We’re fortunate that there are a few Montessori schools to choose from within the public system, and one of them is only a mile and a half from our house. 

When we applied to get Aden enrolled there as a K4 she was on a long waiting list and I agonized a great deal about exactly what to do.  It was hard, because Ian was on his first deployment, and I had to make the decisions about school alone, which didn’t feel right.  I was very conscious about setting into motion a path that would determine most of Aden’s friends and the people we would be involved with for many years to come.  Those kinds of long term consequences to choices tend to put me in a slightly panicked mode, but I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older not to be become paralyzed by them.  Experience has taught me that when faced with good choices it’s better to assume you can’t mess it up and just move on.

The nice thing now, is having made the choice years ago for Aden, we don’t have to agonize about schools again until she’s ready for ninth grade.  Sibling preference rules means Mona and Quinn had no trouble getting into the same school as their sister, and I haven’t had to repeat that same struggle. 

The thing I like about Montessori is that the kids are self-directed and the teacher teaches to the individual instead of the group, which means it doesn’t matter if, for example, other kids in Quinn’s class aren’t ready to start reading and he is, he’ll still get to learn what he’s ready to learn.  I remember being frustrated when Aden was in Head Start that her class spent the whole year learning the alphabet when she walked in knowing how to write that out on the first day.  We’d really only signed her up for the social experience anyway, since she wanted friends and Mona was too little at the time to make much of a playmate yet, so we figured it didn’t matter, but I’m glad for Mona and Quinn that they had a situation lined up that’s both fun and challenging from the start.

Aden loves her teacher and is glad to be back in her class again.  She was worried about whatever she thought the responsibilities of a third grader might be, but as soon as Aden was reunited with her friends she was very happy to be back in school.  I like the long term relationship we’ve had with her teacher.  She knows what to expect from Aden by now having had her in the classroom for the past two years, and on the first day had her working with a partner on a writing project and she’s excited about it.  I think Aden’s going to have a good year.

Mona spent the last three years in the same kindergarten room, so moving up to first grade is a big deal.  On the first day her old teacher called her over on the way to her new room to show her something.  The last day of school back in June, Mona gave her a picture of the two of them in a frame she’d decorated herself, and her kindergarten teacher has it on display above the fireplace.  I think Mona was pleased to see that she is a part of her old room even as she’s moving on to a new one.  She’s nervous, but her classroom this year is right next to her sister’s and I think that helps.  Her new teacher seems very nice and I’m sure Mona will do fine.  I can’t wait to see what she does this year!  Mona, however, becomes laconic when you ask her about school.  I don’t know why she doesn’t want to talk about any of the fun things she does there, but she simply doesn’t.  If I want to know anything aside from what she had for snack I usually have to get my information from other sources.

The big shock is having Quinn start school.  He’s my last baby, and I’m sure he will love half day kindergarten, but it’s hard for me to let him go.  He’s so smart and capable, and his teacher has been nice about emailing with me over the summer to get to know us a little bit.  She even let us come in and tour the classroom a week early with his sisters so it would be more familiar to Quinn on the first day. 

Academically he will be fine.  (He doesn’t get confused around 15 and 16 when counting to 20, and he spends a lot of time on his magnadoodle perfecting his letters and drawing what he calls ‘alphabet puzzles.’  He asked me the other day when working on his numbers why they don’t come in upper and lower case versions like letters do.  I’m still not sure why letters need upper and lower cases so I thought that was an interesting question.) 

I can’t picture yet what the social impact for Quinn will be.  Either having spent every day of his life with his sisters around will have prepared him well or it won’t.  We’ll find out soon enough.  He’s a very sweet little guy, and his classroom looks like an environment where his gentle nature will serve him well, so I’m hopeful that he will be happy there.  Now I have to keep myself from falling apart when I drop him off in the morning.

Luckily we have a sort of ‘breaking in’ period right now.  They stagger the start date for the different levels of kindergarteners so Quinn doesn’t really start attending class until after Labor Day, but he did get to go to an orientation for an hour on the first day.  He seemed reluctant initially to let me go when I dropped him off until I told him I’d be right back after a meeting for grown ups, and then he said, “Okay,” took his teacher’s hand, and went off to his new room. 

 It’s his first room that’s his and not mine, too.  He’ll have friends I don’t know and discoveries I won’t see….  Ugh this is hard.  But it’s good.  I still get to teach my kids whatever I want to teach them, but they deserve the right to be out in the world and learn things they wouldn’t learn from me or their dad, and to have relationships where I’m not involved.  I understand the appeal of homeschooling for those who do it, but I know for Mona in particular that having a classroom apart from her siblings and her parents has made an enormous difference for the positive in her life.

Anyway, Quinn told us more about that one hour he spent in school than Mona probably told me about everything all last year.  As we drove around as a little family of three doing errands while his sisters were still in class, Quinn told us he did a puzzle of a person and that it was easy, something else involving letters but that he couldn’t finish it because then the teacher told him to sit on the wooden part of the floor and they all had a snack, and that he ate a long carrot and some celery and that he really likes celery now and that another child near him didn’t like tomatoes. 

Seems like a good start to a new adventure.  I can’t wait to hear more when he starts for real next week, but in the meantime I’m glad I get to keep him to ourselves for a little longer.

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