Friday, September 7, 2012

A Reprieve From Elementary School

Many of my coworkers and friends have a child the Pumpkin's age, and they are all going to kindergarten in the nearby elementary schools this year. They are feeling the pangs of their children growing up. They've been worried about school buses. They've been concerned about how their children will handle the true school environment. They've been nervous about teachers and classrooms and the right educational level for their children. They've been preparing their children for the new place, with new kids their age and older kids in the school, with no toys and more possibly more sitting than they are used to.

I feel like I've gotten a stay of execution. My daughter is staying at her Montessori school for her kindergarten year.

The Montessori school has a three year program for pre-schoolers through kindergarteners that they attend for ages 3, 4 and 5. The returning 5 year olds, including the Pumpkin, participate in "Kindergarten Club" and learn everything they need to move on to first grade next year. But she is in the same classroom as she has been with most of the same kids. I am still dropping off her and her brother in the mornings, and my husband is still picking them up from After Care.  Our routine doesn't change, and her overall environment doesn't change.

About half of the kids her age from her class last year are going to kindergarten in the elementary schools instead of returning for the third year at the Montessori school. In fact, her best friend at the school is going to public school, and she's been pretty upset that he won't be back at school this year. His family lives in another neighborhood so they wouldn't be going to the same school if she went to elementary school, but I know it will be hard for the Pumpkin without him at her school. I did set up a playdate with him soon, so she will get to hang out with him outside of school.

Fortunately, many of the same kids her age and the year younger are still there. There is continuity with the change, comfort with the new experiences. And this year, the Pookie is in the big kid class across the hall, and they are in After Care together. They've played so much together all summer long, that I know they will love being with each other in After Care.

The Pumpkin's mornings will be the same as always. She goes to the same class with the same teachers. Since she is older now, she is going to be learning new, bigger kid "work," which is what the Montessori method calls the learning activities in class. But after lunch, the big change is that all the kindergarteners get together in one room to have their kindergarten class. This class is actually being taught by the Pookie's teachers while he and the younger children are taking naps in another room.

At back to school night for the parents, I asked the main kindergarten class teacher what exactly did they do in kindergarten, how was it different from the regular Montessori work. She explained by giving an analogy about how they can teach in more detail, go a level deeper with the older kids. If you want to describe a fish's body to kids, you can break it down in to 6 parts to make it easier for them to get. With older kids, you can break the fish down in to 10 parts, showing more details of the fish. They will do the equivalent in kindergarten, explain things in more details so the older kids can go a level deeper in their learning. I felt very comfortable with the analogy and the teachers.

So even though my 5 year old will be in kindergarten, I have not felt the cutting-of-apron-strings or the letting-my-heart-walk-outside-my-body feelings that I see a lot of other parents going through. There is no bus to worry about, no older and unknown kids, no new classrooms or routines for my kindergartener.

Those I will have to worry about next year, when she goes to elementary school for 1st grade. Maybe by then she won't seem like my little baby girl so much anymore. Maybe she will seem older, hopefully making me feel more able to let her go off to big kid school. Maybe I'll won't feel like her younger years are over, won't be upset that she's in a new phase of childhood.

Maybe.

What I do know is that the Pookie has moved into the bigger kid classrooms, the ones for 3, 4 and 5 year olds. He's out of the toddler classroom and starting to learn the Montessori work. He's not a toddler anymore. He really is a pre-schooler now. He's transitioned into his next phase of childhood, and he has made the developmental leaps to support this transition.

And that means he's not my baby anymore!

I think I'm dealing with it fine. Though a little heart wrenching, I find it pretty cool to watch him grow and be a big kid. (And I don't miss diapers at all.) But it's still a tough transition for me. Based on my feelings about second-born child moving into pre-school class (which I already went through with my first), I just am not sure how I would have handled my oldest going to elementary school this year!

Thankfully, I have this reprieve. This year, I don't really have to worry about the next phase of childhood, one that we haven't been through before, one that is even less within my parental sphere. I can hang onto my daughter in this phase for one more year. And she can enjoying being the big kid in her class, being a leader and helper in her class, roles that she loves to have. She can finish the third year of the Montessori program, where the kids put together all the things they've learned in the previous years.
Next year, we'll deal with first grade and elementary school. Next year.