Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kindergarten Readiness: A rant.

Kai is scheduled to start real Kindergarten next month. And I've got all of the usual mommy worries about Kindergarten. Add into that the fact that we suspect Kai is dyslexic (not just me, but our pediatrician as well & there is a family history of it) and I've been really nervous about the whole thing.

But, my girl is super smart. Okay, I know every mom thinks their kids are smart. So, whatever. But she is. For real.

Still she had to take the Gesell Assessment before Kindergarten enrollment. And I was freaking out. In my mind I built it up to be more like a test of my parenting of her. Did she learn enough from me? Did I do a good job raising her? This test would give me the answers.

What it gave me was even more questions. About education. About childhood development. About whether or not I could even hack being a parent of an elementary school kid.

Kai was ecstatic about the test. She loved the teacher (who was awesome!) and the questions she got to answer. I felt at ease about the whole thing. I just knew Kai had "aced" the test. The test that meant I was a wonderful, outstanding perfect parent of this precious 5 year (and 2 months) old girl.

(I should mention that I do know that this was a developmental test. That there was no way to "ace" it. I'm just being honest about that scary competitive streak that lies deep within me.)

Then we got the results. Kai, despite being 5 years 2 months old, supposedly had the developmental age of a 4 1/2 year-old.

No. Way.

Because she can tell me how many continents there are. And name them all on a map. She converses with adults better than she does with kids sometimes. And she uses words like marvelous and glorious and conundrum (and she knows what they mean). She asks big huge questions about God, the universe and everything in between. She can remember the most minute details from trips we took 2 years ago. And she never forgets a face. She's a creative problem solver. A brilliant (and persuasive) debater. She is unwavering when she sets her mind to something.


She has only just now picked which hand she writes with. She can write her name but not as well as her 5-year-old counterparts. And sometimes she writes it as a mirror image. Not backwards, but a complete mirror image. She is clumsy with a pencil and unsure of herself when writing letters. And this, it seems, makes her developmentally 4 1/2 years old.

I was told to enroll her in Kindergarten "with caution." If I listened to the test I'd have to wait until she's almost 6 1/2 years old. And, folks, that just isn't happening.

Here's the list of skills required for a Kindegarten student:

* Listen to stories without interrupting
* Recognize rhyming sounds
* Pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks
* Understand actions have both causes and effects
* Show understanding of general times of day
* Cut with scissors
* Trace basic shapes
* Begin to share with others
* Start to follow rules
* Be able to recognize authority
* Manage bathroom needs
* Button shirts, pants, coats, and zip up zippers
* Begin to control oneself
* Separate from parents without being upset
* Speak understandably
* Talk in complete sentences of five to six words
* Look at pictures and then tell stories
* Identify rhyming words
* Identify the beginning sound of some words
* Identify some alphabet letters
* Recognize some common sight words like "stop"
* Sort similar objects by color, size, and shape
* Recognize groups of one, two, three, four, and five objects
* Count to ten
* Bounce a ball

I can give her a big fat check mark beside each of those. And yet the "problems" she had with the test were that she couldn't write her last name for the teacher, had trouble writing some of her numbers, and held her pencil clumsily. I mean, since when did kids need to be writing academic papers to get into Kindergarten?

I know Kindergarten now isn't the way it used to be. It isn't about playing and learning how the world works through fun. To use one friend's description of it, Kindergarten today is "intense." Seven hour school days. Homework four nights a week. Five sentence paragraphs by the end of the year. Intense.

But I can't help but wonder if much of this is an attempt to beef up the test scores in an educational system that fails many of its students? And if forcing kids to fit into narrow guidelines contributes to that failure? I wonder if Einstein would have been able to fit so neatly into a box? I'm not saying my girl is Einstein (and I'm definitely not saying she couldn't be), but I am saying that defining a child's ability to learn with such narrow testing leaves out some very intelligent kids.

This whole experience totally reinforced my belief that homeschool was going to be the best fit for Kai. By schooling her at home we'll have the chance to work at her pace. She can do Kindergarten reading and writing and Second grade science if that is what she needs. She'll have the chance to participate in subjects to the extent that she is ready and capable while being challenged in a way that encourages confidence and security in her own abilities.

So she's enrolling in a local homeschool academy one day a week despite the warnings that she may not be ready for the big bad world of Kindergarten. Because I know she is ready. And I know that if I wait a year and enroll her at the age of 6 1/2 she'll be bored out of her mind.

But I've learned something very important here. That I am my daughter's strongest and best advocate. That I know her capabilities better than any test ever can. And that I'm going to have to be vigilant in fighting that she get what she needs from others because no one else will.

(Updated to add: I thought I might need to clarify that on the test she scored in the 5 1/2 - 6 year range on everything BUT the writing portions. Her verbal, social, & categorizing/matching skills all placed her in the older range. But, since the test was so heavily influenced by the writing they averaged her age out to be 4 1/2 years.)

I guess that's just one more thing that goes along with being a mom. Now, let's just hope I'm as right as I think I am.

In the meantime, I'd love to know about how others handle similar situations. Have you had to fight on your child's behalf for the treatment they deserved? Any tips for the rest of us?


eryn erickson said...

I'm so proud of Kai! I love her dearly.

Crayl said...

When I first started reading today's blog I thought,"WAIT!, She said she was going to homeschool, oh NO!!"

I was very relieved by the end. I am so happy you went through this so you can see that she will be allowed to fully blossom in your care, not simply fit into a specific expectation.

Adam Shields said...

Children learn at different paces and although I am very supportive of public school, home school is a good choice for many children. But your description seems like there should be some other options. GA says that 5 year olds have mandatory kindergarten (which means that they have to accept Kai). She might be placed in an EIP (Early Intervention Program) classroom, but that just means more individualized attention and smaller classrooms.

Kim N said...

I think when done right home school is an excellent option. The whole testing thing for kindergarten really disturbs me. I understand that they want to know where the kids are at so they can balance the classrooms, but at that age kids are so so different and develop at such different rates that I don't see how they can make any long term decisions for children based on the testing. Good for you for doing what works best for you and your daughter!

Jen said...

I gotta say it ... that sounds like a bunch of crap. I mean, come on here ... aren't those the things kids LEARN in kindergarten?? My 4-year-old interupts me with endless questions when we read books. He is a questioner. Those aren't skills so much as learned behaviors and personality traits. And grasping a pencil? That's something we teach kids. It's not really a development.
My belief is that kingergarten should be a time of exploration ... learning about our world, how they fit in it, how to socialize, basic skills. I'm just headed down this path myself ... K$ begins this year. And you can bet that I'll be right behind you arguing the necessity of such tests and pigeon-holing. This is going to be fun ...

Tiffany @ Lattes And Life said...

And yet another reason I'll be homeschooling. I get so aggravated by the standardization of our children! And the overemphasis on testing! Gah!!!! Good for you for stepping in and realizing she's not an "average" age of anything. She's a multi-faceted little girl, with strengths and weaknesses, just like all of us.

Juli said...

I can't believe that Jenna! That's crazy! On the other hand, homeschool is wonderful. I was homeschooled along with my brothers and sister K-3rd grade, and I loved it. I think it's a good opportunity during those early days to learn at your own pace, as well as make memories with your mom and siblings. Good luck!

another good thing said...

A very wise and well thought out choice. I applaud you. I also do not agree with the kindergarten "test" my children never had one- not in PA or GA?