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.