I was at a birthday party with Number 7 for a girl in her class on Saturday, and I was sitting next to a mom I’ve never really spoken to.
Since it’s the beginning of the school year, she asked me, as people often do in September, how Number 7 was liking school.
I told her the truth.
Number 7 is struggling a bit.
Actually, Number 7 is struggling A LOT.
The second week of school was especially difficult.
I don’t know how it is in other school districts, but in ours, the transition from kindergarten to first grade can be hard. For some of the kids in my family, anyway.
We have full day kindergarten here, so the length of the school day is the same from kindergarten to first.
But there is a decent amount of play time in kindergarten. I think most of the afternoon is devoted to what Number 7 would consider “fun stuff.”
In first grade though, it’s a different story. The demands of the curriculum are (in my opinion) unbelievable for five and six-year-olds.
Other than lunch and recess, there is little down time or free time.
It is content, content, content.
It’s too much.
Number 3 struggled with it, Number 6 struggled with it, and Number 7 is very much struggling with it.
So I’m not surprised.
But it’s hard. It is so hard to send your five or six-year-old kid off to school when you know they are unhappy.
Every day in the second week of school, Number 7 came home crying. She cried herself to sleep. She came down the stairs crying as soon as she woke up in the morning. One morning she cried nonstop for 90 minutes. I couldn’t get her on the bus, and I had to drive her to school. She didn’t want to get out of the car, she tried to climb back in my driver’s window, and she cried the entire way into her classroom.
She was sobbing. “IT’S TOO LONG, MOMMY! I CAN’T DO IT! IT’S TOO HARD! CAN YOU PLEASE COME WITH ME? CAN YOU BE MY TEACHER? I WANT YOU TO BE MY TEACHER!!! PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME GO, MOMMY!”
I was devastated on that morning driving home.
Even thinking about it now, I feel horrible.
I questioned almost every decision I’ve made as a parent that day. I was sure I should have waited another year to start Number 7 in school.
I shared all this with the other mom at the birthday party.
And she looked at me and said,
Thank God it’s not just me.
If your kid is seriously struggling with first grade (or any grade), it is not just you.
I promise you. So hang in there.
Things are slowly getting better here at our house.
Number 7 is building up stamina. She’s not crying anymore.
But I did some things to help our situation. I am fortunate to be in the position to have flexibility with my schedule.
I told Number 7 I’d let her sleep in one day a week and I’d drive her to school instead of taking the bus on that day. And I told her she could take one day off of school a month.
Yep. One mental health day a month.
I still have lots of fundamental issues with the first grade curriculum, the expectations placed on these kids, and the intensity and pace of instruction.
If I could afford it, I’d send her to a Montessori school or a Waldorf school.
I’d do that for all my kids.
But I can’t. So I’m modifying my daughter’s curriculum on my own. Because I’m her mother, and I know what she needs.
It’s not the teacher’s fault.
It’s the district’s fault. It’s the fault of parents who aren’t involved enough (myself included) with the decisions made regarding the schools in their town, and it’s the fault of parents who (in my opinion) are either ignorant or misinformed regarding what their children “should” or “need to” be doing in school at this level.
Number 7’s teacher emailed me the day Number 7 came into the classroom crying. She was concerned.
I was honest with her.
I told her I don’t really care about academics at this level.
Actually, I don’t care ONE BIT about academics at this level.
I mean, if Number 7 couldn’t name any colors or recognize any letters at all, then I might feel differently.
But Number 7 can read. She can write entire paragraphs. She can do stuff that I don’t think a five-year-old needs to be able to do yet.
She is exposed to books. She has them at home everywhere. We go to the library on a regular basis. My husband or I read to her every night before she goes to bed.
THAT IS ENOUGH.
I will not do homework with her. I will not make her sit down and “learn” or anything once she gets home. I will not practice sight words or handwriting or math facts or anything else. I will not force her to read independently for a specific amount of time once she gets home.
When Number 7 gets home from school, I will expect her to put her backpack where it belongs. I will teach her to empty it out. To give me any important papers. To take her lunch box out of her backpack, empty the containers out of it, and put the ice pack back in the freezer.
I’ll help her practice the “responsibility stuff” that we all need to learn as human beings.
But after that, she will do the “fun stuff.” She will play soccer or swim or go outside or play “baby” or “school” or “store” or whatever else she likes to do with her siblings.
Or maybe she will do nothing.
She will either let off steam or she will decompress; she will do whatever her body and brain need to do.
She WILL be a kid.
She WON’T do homework.
So that’s what I’m doing here with my struggling first grader (who is not struggling nearly as much now).
And if your kid is still struggling, too, I just want to let you know, that it is definitely not just you.
Becky Martin says
I totally agree with you 1000%… We live in a school district is driven by test scores, which totally sickens me. My son’s second week of school they had standardized testing. He is in 5th grade. It is so crazy to me. What happened to going to school to learn. I agree about letting them be kids when they come home. It is so important for them to chill and relax too. Kids are having to grow up to fast as it is, us as parents need to help them be kids. Thank you for sharing this.
I agree. I just spent over an hour getting my son to do his homework for third grade. I think too that I should have kept him back a year sometimes, he is a Dec. birthday. He also struggles with adhd. It’s nice to hear that other parents advocate for what they think is right for their kid, not what some curriculum says they should be doing. Who’s making up these curriculums anyways? Maybe I’ll not push so much for him to do his homework. I just feel like he’s in 3rd grade and needs to start getting his work done. It’s not gonna get any easier as he gets older. I wish I could send him to an outdoor school where he could climb trees all day, I know he would be happy. I used to teach at a Montessori school so I know their are other ways to teach kids where they enjoy learning, especially for those who don’t fit the mainstream public school mold and do well with it.
Natalie Rearick says
I have a first grader too, and she had homework EVERY night! She is an over achiever and rule-follower. She told me really dislikes having to read her “black and white book” (a leveled reader) every Thursday. I told her, “That’s fine. You don’t have to read it.” She looked at me like I was a little crazy, but also like a huge weight got lifted off her shoulders. Then, she has dance class every Monday night. She’s at school from 8:30-4, then dance from 5:30-6:30 and has a 7/7:30 bedtime. She barely has time to eat! I emailed her teacher and told her she won’t be doing Monday homework anymore either. Plus, when she plays whatever she wants, she plays school and teaches her imaginary class (and little siblings) whatever she learned (only she gets to be in charge!)…how is that not better learning reinforcement than any assignment anyway!!
seema sikka says
You are right. Homework and elaborate curriculum are a menace worldwide. But to enroll in schools with easy curriculum you have to shell out huge money. So only option becomes to curse and continue with a sigh…
Thank you, thank you for this post!
I decided to have my son repeat first grade for many reasons both academic and behavior/emotional and he is struggling terribly. All my kids are super needy now but his distress is hacking at my heart and sanity. I have to remember “it’s progress not perfection” and that we are in middle of the journey. It’s important for me to hear that I am not the only one.
Dena jackson says
My daughter is struggling with the transition from middle school to high school. The same child also went through a very difficult time transitioning from kindergarten to first grade. She is also on the young side. I would often beat myself up thinking I should have held her back a year, but she was so ready socially, & went to preschool for two years prior to kindergarten. I agree that states need to let these young kids play & interact with each other more. The focus should be on social skills more than academics in kindergarten & first grade.
Good job mom. Love your honesty with the teacher.