Love this piece. “The children that I get off of the bus are exhausted. They are frustrated. They are over worked. They are burned out. I feel as if I should make them a weak whiskey on the rocks, hand them their pipe and slippers, and leave them alone for an hour to decompress.”
When I put my children on the bus in the morning, the wish I call out to them after kissing their heads, is, “Have a good day!” Pure and simple.
Now, I know that not every day can be a birthday party, and not all things in life should be made into a fun activity. My wish is not overly naïve or idealistic, it is simply that they enjoy their day at school. It is my hope that even if there are moments of the day when things don’t go well, or times when they are frustrated, or they find something to be particularly challenging, the overall feeling when they return home is not negative.
I want them to have had enough positive experiences, enough moments of engagement, enough creativity and fun built into their day that “good” is the predominant mood descriptor.
The big announcement . . . (drum roll, please) . . .
Welcome to the first ever book in The Magic Forest series. The Magic Forest Alphabet: Introducing Letter Sounds focuses on correct individual letter sounds. Yes, yes, I know alphabet books are everywhere, but sit down with a few preschool and kindergarten teachers, and ask them what their pet peeves are. I guarantee you one of them will be a child whom comes into their classroom at the beginning of the year, parent proudly announcing he/she knows all their letter sounds, and then a bunch of them are incorrect. (Yes, I hear what’s in your head. . .) How can one possibly get these sounds wrong? Because very often, us well-meaning parents don’t isolate the letter sound. Even when we think we are isolating a letter sound, most times we don’t. Go on – how do you pronounce the sound of the letter r? It’s not ‘ruh’ or ‘re’ or ‘er’. I know because I’ve made these very same mistakes too. After you talk to a teacher, you realize that not only do they have to teach their classroom the basics, they have to undo what the parents have created.
So I felt it was appropriate to begin at the beginning. Here, I focus entirely on individual letter sounds and putting the basic sounds together. I know it sounds silly, but my goal is to teach a parent as much as a child. The reason being, as I navigate preschool and 1st grade with my own two children, I am confronted with these obstacles daily. It was quite staggering what I didn’t know and in order to support my kids through their school learning, I needed to get up to speed. I’ve got a note at the beginning of the book to show parents how to work through it.
Kindergarten ended and we didn’t have a chance to be bored as two days later, I took the kids back to the motherland for a month. I rented a car and we went all over the country (at least the lower half). It was an experience that I am so so so happy they had. It was such a cultural difference from their norm. They got to meet so much family and made new friends. They survived roaming multi-hour car rides without the DVD player or iPad in sight. They watched out the window for different flowers, far reaching mountains, wild sheep, cows, and horses scattered all over the land. We climbed to the top of (little) mountains – OK, mere hikes, but to a four-year-old, it was a mountain. We hopped over streams. We stared at beautiful landscapes. We ran barefoot over the softest, greenest grass ever. They played hide & seek in forests. We made daisy & dandelion chains that then turned into flower crowns. Things that I remember doing as a child that neither of mine have ever experienced before. It made me very grateful that I could bring them there, open up their world to such new joys. Before one trip to Kerry, I stopped at the local shop, picked up a loaf of bread, some sliced ham, water, cheese, and a few snacks. Hours later, when hungry, we just pulled up a boreen, climbed some rocks, and had a picnic in the Irish countryside wilderness.
It dawned on me several times that little things I take for granted that they would know about are completely foreign to them. My 6-year-old former mental patient (she’s been upgraded from paroled mental patient) was rendered speechless on our drive to Dublin when she spotted something on the road, attached to the back of a car, with a horse’s ass visible from the back. It was then I had to explain what a horse box was and how horses are moved long distances. I could practically see her brain whirring. I brought them to Mitchelstown caves where her brain again exploded because she was walking underground and looking at the shapes made by thousands of years of nature. It was the same cave tour I took when I was a young child on a field trip from school. She learned new phrases. The look on her face was priceless when a cousin asked her if she was telling “porkie pies.”
We hit more tourist spots, such as Blarney Castle where she climbed all the way to the top only to be denied the opportunity to kiss the stone because I wasn’t with her (her older cousin was) and they needed parental consent at the top!! We took a boat to Garnish Island in Kerry and watched baby seals resting on the rocks. We caught up with family and were so busy having fun that we didn’t even get to do a Pajama Day (which they really, really needed) until week 3. We spent a weekend in Dublin where we explored Dublin zoo (it’s awesome, btw). At a dear friend’s house, my girl was introduced to a Jack Russell terrier puppy and thus began the love affair with terriers.
I hope to be able to take them on this trip every year. I want consistency in cultural exposure. It wasn’t until three days before leaving that we didn’t have anything to do. Nothing planned. I had wracked up 2,000km on the road over the month and we were all exhausted. It was right about this time that my four-year-old mental patient turned into the exorcist. I think it was a combination of tiredness and my grave mistake of telling him we were leaving Ireland in a few days. Such a horror was he that I’m surprised my Dad even slowed the car down when he was dropping us at the airport to leave.
We made the long trek back across the Atlantic and I marvelled at the exorcist’s tiny little voice asking me if we were in space yet. Upon discussion with my husband about the little dog she met, we decided that we would casually look for a terrier dog, but I had strict directives on what was and was not acceptable. It needed to be a rescue dog. I didn’t want a puppy. It needed to be house trained. Last year, we had to say goodbye to our little chihuahua of 10 years, Alfie, and my daughter has been talking about a replacement ever since. Our other dog, Trillian, is in heart failure and it’s amazing she’s lasted this long. She’s on three different medications to keep her going but even so, I don’t think the time will be much longer to when we’ll have to say another goodbye.
Less than 24hr hours after landing back in the United States, I see a listing for a little terrier/chihuahua mix. Because she’s a rescue, time is of the essence and we ended up bringing Katie home less than 48 hours after we had returned. It turns out that the house training we were assured of isn’t as solid as we had hoped, but she’s a super loving dog, very patient and loves cuddling. My daughter finally gets a dog to snuggle with her in bed. I have to confess, I love the little thing already.
So six weeks into summer, I’ve only now had the time to sit down and say hello to you! Next week, I take my 6-year-old on our annual “girls with girls” weekend, where it’s just the two of us and the boys stay home. School starts in 5 weeks (eeekkk!!!) and the exorcist will begin preschool. For three hours every day, I’ll be on my own in the house. This. Is. Huge!!!! I’m delving into a new career adventure which I’ll talk about another time so I’m excited to get some alone time to work uninterrupted on it. Fingers crossed.
My oh my! How did that happen? Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to be rid of the early-morning wake-up. The constant alert as to whether lunch is made or the uniform is ready. The homework battles. Oh God, those killed me.
I blearily dressed myself this morning. We hopped in the car, discussing why some birds have a bracelet on one foot. As we walked from the car to the school door, she hopped and skipped in her rainbow outfit (no uniform today), holding my hand, excited for the fun day they have planned ahead. No school work, just fun times to be had. I kneeled down to give her the usual kisses and hugs goodbye. Even a passing teacher happily commented “boy, that’s some hug there,” because we do the kind of hug that lifts her off the ground. It is unlikely that she’ll be the same in even just a couple years. Unlikely she’ll be holding my hand, skipping her way inside wearing unicorn t-shirts and rainbow skirts. I am again struck down by the milestone she has just leaped over.
I watched her little “graduation” last Friday where the kids performed two songs and it took everything in me not to burst into tears, watching her shyly perform, trying to remember the words and actions together, along with every other kid. What stood out most is that she stared at me the whole time. Making sure I was seeing her, watching her, and that let me know how important it was to her. I smiled at her, I blew kisses, I waved. I looked like an idiot. But when it’s your little girl . . . all decorum flies out the window. I remember last year when she did the end-of-year performance for VPK and I couldn’t hold it together. I sobbed practically through the whole thing. I was better this year, but again I was slapped across the face by time. That time is going by, that in only two months, my 4-year-old escaped mental patient will begin VPK. It’ll only be three hours every morning, but it’s the beginning.
I know. I hear myself and realize how ridiculous it is to be lamenting the end of kindergarten. But that’s how it starts. It creeps up on you, and I need to be sure to live in the present and be aware of what I’ve got right now. Especially after the year we’ve had in 2015 so far, living for now is important. I can’t promise that I won’t cry when I pick her up this afternoon though. That’s just taking it too far.
While the “Opt-Out” movement is growing and education reform is slowly taking place, it’s my turn to stand up (see here for why). The FSA’s are almost done. Now it’s time for the EOC (End Of Course) exams. This is the first year that they have been required and implemented for kids as young as 5. Little kindergartners having to sit through over 1.5hrs of testing on Math, then over another 1.5 hrs of testing on English.
I’m fully behind opting out of the FSA. Now the discussion starts on opting out of EOC and I must admit to getting nervous. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my kids’ spot in her school. We love her school. She loves her school. But this testing nonsense is ridiculous. Teachers are not allowed to have any visual aids available to the children, so many teachers have to cover the entire walls of their classrooms to prohibit any “cheating.” I believe that each subject has around 150-180 questions (again, for a FIVE YEAR OLD!!). Earlier this year, the kids were supposed to have EOC’s for 7 subjects but it was dropped down by the state to just two. Thank goodness. But even just the two is pressure.
“What’s wrong with a test?” you ask?
Don’t believe for a second that the kids aren’t getting tested every week throughout the year. My daughter has spelling tests every week, she has homework, she has online assignments that are automatically graded. So we can see exactly how she is performing throughout the whole year. In fact, the EOC has absolutely nothing to do with the child’s grade. It is administered solely to determine an evaluation of the teacher. I, for one, am not using my child as a guinea pig. In my eyes, the teacher’s value is already available in how my child does throughout the year. Not based on this one loooooong test per subject, in such a formal setting that children are often severely stressed out.
Just this week, John Oliver produced a segment on standardized testing which does a pretty good job of showing the ridiculousness of it all.
It’s worth looking at the whole thing.
However, the theory of all this rebellion is great. Now had come my time to stand up and I will admit to being nervous. I began emailing her wonderful teacher just yesterday. I didn’t want come off as all guns blazing, ready for battle. I simply asked her what does the EOC mean for my child’s grade and the response was that it doesn’t affect her grade whatsoever. I expressed my concern for the pressure and stress this puts on the little students, and her teacher, her wonderful, kick-ass teacher offered that my child not do the test, even though she believes my child would score very well on it. I confirmed that I would like my child to not take the test and she let me know that my daughter will be brought to an alternate location for the duration of the tests. Her school is not testing the kids in their normal classrooms. To save the teachers having to cover every bit of their walls, the kids are completing the tests in the cafeteria. I’m grateful that the administration is considerate enough to not put their teachers through the added crap of having to cover their walls. Man, I love our school.
I spoke to my daughter this morning. I told here there were some big tests coming up next week and without saying another word, she got teary-eyed. I immediately told her she wasn’t taking those tests, that her teacher and I had already talked to one another and her teacher cares for her, doesn’t want her to be put under any stress. Visibly, my child’s stature changed back to a relaxed little kid and she expressed how much she loves her teacher. Ditto from me, honey!
After the debacle of my first child starting kindergarten last August, she was a shadow of her happy, bouncy self. She was exhausted and weary by mid-September. All this because she started kindergarten in the wrong school. What’s worse though is, while I know I won the lottery with her new school, her old school is only following orders from up high. The district school board and the state of Florida have their hands, pockets (and asses) deep in the system, a system that is crumbling while simultaneously shattering children’s self-esteem, burning out students of every grade, and materials being taught only to suit the answers on a specific test. Just those 5 weeks in her old school made me so sick to my stomach with stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What she was exposed to in her old public school is what every student has to face across the state and it’s unacceptable. Her first week of kindergarten, she came home with an hour of homework every night, photo copies of the PARCC test for her to fill out, and an ad nauseum regurgitation of letters that rendered homework a complete nightmare every single night. After three weeks of this, I timed her homework. It took one hour and fifteen minutes. I was done. DONE. The next morning, I told her teacher to expect her homework to routinely be returned incomplete. I was not going to subject my child to this at aged 5. The teacher, whose hands are tied thanks to the system, agreed wholeheartedly. Began talking about retiring after she warned me that the homework would only get worse after Christmas due to the EOC (End-of-Course) tests they’ll all face at the end of the year. What? The EOC for kindergarten is another set of tests – yes, I said ‘set’. The EOC for kindergarten comprises of 186 questions over the course of two weeks in May. So kindies all over the state in a public school are working solely towards this test. That’s just for math and english. Doesn’t include the tests for the other subjects!!!! Not only is this bad enough, but the tests counts for nothing for the students. It’s meant as a means of benchmarking the teachers. I happened to talk to my girl’s school principal early this week. He told me that he’s not even sure they’ll bother with the kindie EOC. He knows what his teachers are like. While the final decision hasn’t been made yet for her school (hers is a charter, so they are allowed more freedom than the standard public school), I’m going to have my ear to the ground just in case. Two weeks of testing is bad enough. Two weeks of testing that has zero merit for the child is downright ridiculous.
And this is just the beginning. Currently, all grades have EOC tests, and when you get to 3rd grade, you get to take the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment). Detailed info here. Initially, it doesn’t sound so bad. But then practice tests were sent home and the questions defy logic. For example, take a look at the clock. How are the hands positioned? Which is the hour and which is the minute hand?
Maybe this question is better? What’s the answer??? Anyone? Anyone? I’ll give you the answer below. When I say “answer,” I really mean I’m giving you the correct answer as designated by the test and by which the students are compared to. Expectations are that 70% of the students will fail this year. Who the hell approves and administers a testing system where 70% are expected to fail?? My hurricane is three years away from having to do the FSA but when the time comes, we know she’ll be opting out. We in no way wish to damage the school’s rating so we will follow very specific guidelines to achieve an NR2 score which will meet the minimum requirement of participation without any repercussions to the school from the district school board. There are so many examples of this test. It’s wrong. Just plainly wrong. So my obligation as a parent is to get involved. I am guilty of prior ignorance on this matter but now that I have a child in the education system, I’m listening. I really don’t like what I am hearing. No more. I am writing this post because others may also not know about it and the more informed we are, the more we can become active, let voices be heard and stand up for our children. School isn’t school anymore, it’s a testing prep factory. And it’s time for that to end. Oh, and the answer to the question above is B. Did you get it right?
My 6-year old hurricane has mentioned a boy in her class a few times. It’s always been in the context of how he was messing around in class and causing trouble. Last night, we were talking about the after-school clubs that her school has. Students can sign up for free to these activities (yoga, fit for fun, art, horticulture, music, reading, drama, poetry, science, lego, etc.) but since we were late to the school year, all the clubs were full. For some odd reason, I pulled up the club list last night and was asking her what she wanted to do next year. She calls out a bunch and when I get to one particular club, she says she wants to do that one because X is in it. I’m a little confused. He does sit at her team table in school (the students are grouped into teams of 4-5 in the classroom) and I’ve previously commented to my husband that of course she’s sitting with the troublemaker. She would be drawn to that excitement like a bee to honey.
I take the conversation last night in my stride. Nothing stands out since I know the students will be all mixed up next year. Then my husband drops the bombshell. Apparently, she told my husband while I was away that she kissed this boy. Whhhhhhhaaaaaat? Now when the f**k did this happen? And why didn’t I know about it immediately? Then he tells me that another time, he kissed her. I have no doubt that the kiss is probably equal to how she kisses our dog but still. STOP THIS!!!! I can’t say a word to her about it, because she’s exactly like me. I know if I make a big deal out of it, she’ll zone in on it faster than an interstellar comet. I’m already having a very hard time knowing that her next birthday means she’ll be 7. That just seems so . . . so . . . not a little girl. Six means she’s still little but for some reason, 7 isn’t that little at all. Now this!
I know I’m overreacting. This just threw me a curveball because she’s never,ever, ever been interested in boys before. I’m praying that’s still the case and that I’m just reading too much into it.
Yeah, that’s it. I’m just reading too much into it. Denial works well for me.