The end of the academic year looms and we are faced once again with the breaking news that the Grape is the youngest kid in his class.
His teachers probe our opinions carefully, as if fishing for a splinter with a needle.
We sit around the tiny table in the tiny chairs. They lean across the thoughtfully curated spread of art projects and barely whisper: "Do we want to 'loop' him?"
The Grape is scheduled to enter first grade at age six years and three weeks.
There are no other Boys of Summer in his kindergarten class. In the kindergarten class across the hall, there is one. Perhaps two, but I think only one.
The kindergarten girls have more widely distributed birthday demographics than their male classmates, but they're all older than the Grape, too.
This data point interests me, because it's the girls with whom the Grape has forged deep friendships. One of his besties will actually celebrate her seventh birthday in June. So what we have is a young boy who plays best with older girls.
The Grape likes the "girl" games: elaborate, often drawn out, imaginative play scenarios and role plays. They build little worlds in their corner of the classroom or recess yard. He's got laser like focus and a marathon attention span for this type of play.
Whether at home or at school, he still lives very much inside his imagination—something I'm in terror of stifling with too much didactic learning.
I cringe when the handwriting sheets come home, and in fairness, our school doesn't do a lot of this.
Apparently I'm not alone.
The New York Times ran a brilliant piece yesterday by David Kohn, singing my song: Send children to school young. Very young. But don't make them do much in the academic sphere except learn through play and natural exploration until age seven or eight. Because it's going to backfire. Not for everyone, but for too many of them.
I firmly believe that if you crush the love of learning early, you will almost never be able to rekindle it, especially with the limited resources available to most public school teachers in this country.
I'm afraid that the national conversation about universal preschool (VERY GOOD) will lead to younger and younger children bent over desks, resigned to dull tasks, as if they're some sort of midget medieval scribes (VERY BAD), instead of socializing, playing, imagining, exploring, reading, running in circles like banshees outdoors, and resting.
The article didn't open the attention deficit can of worms, and I'm not a pediatrician.
But to me, it's common sense that if a significant number* of otherwise healthy kids need to be drugged to get through an elementary school day, the problem isn't with the kids, it's with the structure of the school day.
I, for better or worse, can't decide national education policy. I can only decide the Grape's plans for next year.
The Grape hangs in there with the older kids on the more academic side of kindergarten. He loves "making books" and he likes math. He likes exploring new subjects like nature and the solar system with his classmates. He loves music and art and going to the library. I'm certainly not against academics; I just believe they shouldn't make up the bulk of a young child's day.
The class hosted a sweet event this winter, where parents came in and everyone made a book with his/her child. The Grape came up with "The Dog Who Wanted to Ski." I admit I helped draw the dog's crossed skis, but the rest is all Grape:
|"They went to the green circle but the dog's skis got tangled."|
He got the thing done and turned in on time. From that I infer his attention span for a high-focus task is the creation of four pages plus a cover. Seems reasonable to me.
Most importantly, the Grape wants to go to first grade.
That's where his friends are headed, and we've explained that there's more writing and reading and less free play (though thankfully first graders go outdoors for recess twice a day).
He claims to understand, but I'm skeptical.
But not as skeptical as I am of keeping him back.
In my book, the only thing worse than more didactic learning is a re-run of the past year's didactic learning.
We aren't "looping" (or red-shirting) him this year.
I'm sure we'll have to field this question next year. I have no idea how we'll feel about the jump from first to second, but my thinking is that we keep him with his class as long as he's happy and keeping up.
If and when he asks to be kept back, or he cannot handle the material, we'll "loop" him then.
What I'd really love to see is all the little ones freed from their desks for most of the school day.
Unfortunately, the Let Them Play More trend has about as much chance of catching on as our dog has of learning to ski.
* The actual number of kids on drugs for "attention disorders" is hard to nail down. Various sources use various methods and yield various stats. But all sources agree the number of cases is trending steeply up.