In a week my firstborn will be done with Kindergarten and ready to start what he calls, “the number grades.” He had a great year in Kindergarten and never once did I wonder if maybe we should have held him back because he still isn’t even six yet.
Nope. Eddie was ready for absolutely everything–even homework.
As a teacher, I am not the biggest fan of assigning homework, but Eddie’s teacher didn’t give the kids more than was appropriate for their age. Eddie brought home five books from their Just Right Library each week which he read to us nightly. In the beginning of the year, they would bring a writing packet home on Mondays and it wasn’t due back until the following Monday. And occasionally he would need to bring in things like seeds or leaves. He also had one large project that they started at school and had to complete at home by the end of spring break (it was assigned two weeks before spring break, thus giving us plenty of time to prepare).
Everything about this school year felt to me like we were setting precedents: what we expected of our children as far as getting homework done, the quality of their in school and out of school work, their behavior, their effort. This school year we discussed kindness to others and when to walk away from an argument. We talked about being respectful to adults and peers. We discussed when you need to get help from an adult.
And we also set a precedent for parent-involvement in homework.
Obviously we prize reading in our house. Most of the time getting the Just Right Library books read was not a big deal and didn’t cause too many struggles. Writing packets started out rough, though, and in the end I told Eddie if he did one page a night he wouldn’t find himself crying on Sunday afternoon. I also told him I was not going to make him do them. That if he really didn’t want to, he could bring it back undone and tell his teacher about why he chose not to do it.
He never left his homework undone. He didn’t want to disappoint his teacher.
By the middle of the school year, Eddie was more and more excited about things they were doing in school. Just before spring break each student chose an animal they would like to make out of clay in class. Then, at home, they needed to create the animal’s habitat using a box (diorama-style). The habitats with animals would be displayed above each student’s locker.
We decided to do ours over spring break since Alice had just been born, and spend the couple weeks before then brainstorming and planning. Cortney did all the morning drop-offs and most pick-ups and reported that habitats were already starting to come in and be displayed–and you could totally tell the level of parental involvement in each one.
I had to tread lightly.
As a perfectionist, I wanted to tell Eddie exactly how to create a rabbit (his chosen animal) habitat, and then maybe take over when he didn’t do it how I wanted. But as a teacher, I knew I needed him to do all of the thinking and as much of the execution as possible. I just had to help him get there.
So first we talked about it. I asked a lot of questions: where do rabbits live? What do they eat? Where do they sleep? When he wasn’t sure about something, we Googled it and read the information together.
He started telling me what he wanted in his habitat: trees, a burrow, berry bushes, and a sky. So we thought about what we could use to make those things and he started a list of what we would need with check boxes. Then we went to the craft store. He brought a pencil and checked things off as we went.
I was very proud of him that he was taking such ownership of this project and that he seemed to want to get it just right. Not once did I have to prod and say, “come on, you need to do this.” In fact, he sort of pestered me about it. Once we had the supplies every day he asked, “are we going to put it together today, mom???”
Finally spring break arrived and one day during Charlie’s nap, I actually got Alice to sleep at the same time. We hurried to get some of the painting portions done so they could dry before we attached them. All I did was get the paint out for him. He did the rest. The next day, he worked during nap again to get it all together.
He asked my advice, and I sat by him holding things for him here and cutting things for him there. I never told him how to do any of it other than once saying, “I don’t think you can glue that rock there and have it hold. But if you want to try, you can.”
Once he had it all done, it was all he could do to be patient until Cortney came home so he could show daddy his finished product. He had trees (because rabbits live in a forest), a log with fluff and feathers (because that is the burrow the rabbit put her nest in), and berries (because rabbits like to eat berries for dessert). It was his idea to gather real leaves and grass. It was his idea to collect TP rolls for tree trunks.
It was also his idea to cover the diaper box in blue paper because he didn’t want his friends to see he used a baby diaper box. Apparently your baby brother and sister’s diapers are embarrassing in Kindergarten. Whatever.
This year we have watched Eddie grow and learn so much.
When he went in he could read a handful of sight words, now he is reading like crazy. He even reads bedtime stories now instead of me doing it.
When he went in he thought toots and buns were funny, but now he thinks farts and butts are funny. And poop. And he says “Oh my gosh!” and “I’m just thinking out loud here…”
He is sassier and bolder with his talking back to us, but he is also a better playmate and role model for Charlie.
And he is like three inches taller or something crazy like that.
I’m excited for him to start First Grade in the fall. I’m pleased with the high expectations we have set both for him and his siblings.
As fellow oldest children, Cortney and I know what it’s like to have to “go first” with everything in life. To have to be the ones that are the precedent setters for the younger siblings. To be the “Guinea pigs” for strategies to deal with behavior.
We don’t want to go “easy” on Eddie because we empathize, rather we want him to know we are all a team getting through this whole thing called parenting and school and life together.