Recently we received a homeschool manifesto from our daughter.
But, first… the backstory.
If I ran the world (and believe me, I am happy that I don’t), kindergarten would be… different. Let’s be honest here, folks: Kindergarten needs an overhaul, a complete and thorough revamping.
My kindergarten would be filled with heaps of fantastic books and we would read aloud with wild abandon. When we weren’t reading, we’d be playing. And as long as it wasn’t freezing rain (the only weather that keeps this girl inside), we’d do most of that play outside.
Alas, my kindergarten is a stark contrast to the kindergarten of today. Today’s kindergarten feels more like the first or maybe even the second grade of my youth. Today’s kindergarten feels wrong to me. The 6-year-old in me feels suffocated by it.
We worried about how our oldest would handle today’s kindergarten before he even set foot in that door. We knew it would be a bit of a culture shock for him, coming from a play-based preschool.
And then, when it came time to register our daughter for kindergarten, I worried once more. I wrote an entire post about my kindergarten registration reservations. In that post I wrote:
I remember that misunderstood and downtrodden little kindergartener who would climb in my car every afternoon last year. And I feel guilty that we didn’t pull him from that situation earlier. I keep telling myself that this time we know better. We can always leave. We can always opt out. The minute she doesn’t enjoy it, the second she is not understood or valued, we can pull her and do it better.
We sent our daughter off to kindergarten in September because she wanted to go, knowing that we had a plan B. And, do you know what? September went beautifully. She loved it and blossomed. She climbed into my car each afternoon animated, smiling and bubbling over the top with stories from her day. She loved the playground. She adored the books. She gushed about the play kitchen and play office in her classroom. She treasured the class visits to the library.
I relaxed. Despite my feelings about today’s kindergarten, she was happy. That’s what we all want for our children, isn’t it? We want them to come home from school with a smile.
October started off on a high note, but after Columbus Day weekend the complaints started rolling in. At first, they were few and far between. With time, they grew more frequent.
They don’t let us play as much as they did at the beginning of the year.
They don’t read as much as we do here.
As soon as we think of a fun thing to play outside, we have to go back in.
And then came this one:
All we do is talk about numbers and letters and practice writing them, but we don’t do anything with them.
My kindergarten and today’s kindergarten are two very different beasts. The kindergarten of today places a strong emphasis on academics whereas mine would place a strong emphasis on hands-on exploration and play and nature and dirt and books (not necessarily knowing how to read, mind you, but enjoying great books).
Here’s the thing that really bugs me:
If you* are going to place such a strong emphasis on academics in kindergarten, you’re going to have to meet those kids where they are at, whether that means they enter your kindergarten classroom having never held a pencil or they walk in toting the third book of Harry Potter under their little arms. Otherwise, those children are at risk of losing their natural curiosity and love of learning.
*Please note that this you is a collective you, which is meant to refer to our public education system as a whole and does not, at any point in this post, refer to specific teachers. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher is wonderful. I understand that, sadly, our nation’s teachers’ hands are tied in these situations. They must adhere to administrative policies, even if those policies fail to incorporate research-supported best practice and fail students in the process.
That means if a kid enters your kindergarten and she knows how to read and write, you’re not going to make her sit on a carpet and go over letter sounds. And you aren’t going to have her practice writing individual letters when, at home, she strings those letters together to write books for fun. And you aren’t going to have her roll dice and practice writing individual numbers when she teaches her doll how to add and subtract during play.
And when her mom comes to you and voices these concerns and explains that her daughter is growing increasingly dissatisfied with school, you don’t reply that there is “no one” that she can be grouped with for reading because that is simply not true. Perhaps there aren’t children reading on her level in that classroom or in the other kindergarten classroom, but there are certainly children in the building who are reading at her level. She could go to a first-grade classroom for reading, or she could be paired with a second-grader who needs some extra practice, or she could have an adult mentor in the building to serve as a reading buddy. The list goes on and on and on. These solutions have been around for decades. They are not difficult to execute, nor do they cost a dime.
But instead of thinking outside of that box, or even- Heaven forbid- reading the research, so many schools today stall. They placate.
“The team will come up with a plan soon,” they promise. “The team will be meeting the second week of November. We’ll know more then.”
In the interim, that poor kid is still sitting there not playing and not spending time outside and yet she is also not doing a whole heck of a lot academically. And so, naturally, that kid doesn’t want to go to school.
When November rolled around, our daughter didn’t want to go to school at all. When she wasn’t asking if she could stay home, she was doing everything in her power to drag those little feet – she had a stall of her own going on.
That second week of November came and went. We heard nothing from the school, not that we had expected to. We’ve been down this road before and not long ago.
Plan B was looking better with each passing day.
By Thanksgiving, our daughter was asking if she could homeschool and we were listening. My husband and I talked about it many nights after the kids were asleep. Sure, she wasn’t as overtly unhappy as our son had been, but she certainly wasn’t smiling when she got in that car at the end of the school day. When you know better, you do better and we weren’t about to keep her there until June if she wasn’t happy. Together, we decided that waiting until winter break made the most sense closure-wise since it was less than two weeks away.
And so we shared this plan with our daughter.
Not twenty-four hours later, she shared something with us. I call it her Homeschool Manifesto:
This Homeschool Manifesto detailed all of the things she would like to learn at home. She didn’t want to wait until winter break. She was done. She had been done for a while and used her manifesto to drive the point home. When she presented it, she was beaming.
“I’m not learning any of these things at school,” she said, with a huge smile on her proud little face.
Folks, you can’t argue with a manifesto like that.
It’s funny to me that not twenty-four hours after we received the manifesto and a month later than promised, we got a call from the school. They had a plan:
Our daughter’s school day would remain exactly the same, but they were willing to offer an afterschool “book club” to meet her needs.
They could not meet her needs during school, but they would like to extend her day and attempt to meet them after school.
When the phone call ended, I felt frustrated with our school once again. And I felt angry because our entire public education system is broken in so many different ways. And I felt sad for all the kids sitting in our nation’s schools who aren’t smiling. There are so many families that don’t have the ability, or the confidence, or the support, to have a Plan B.
And so we are homeschooling once more. It isn’t as sudden or unexpected this time, and it isn’t nearly as scary. In fact, to be perfectly honest, we are all smiling.