October 5, 2011
Opening a Can of Worms...and not for Fishing
There is a family joke about me when I began Kindergarten. My teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who had taught Kindergarten to, I believe, all of my five older siblings, took my mother aside after the first day. "Mrs. Lamb, you did very well with all of your other children in preparing them for Kindergarten. They were independant and capable, but you've missed the boat with this one." Apparently, although I arrived at Kindergarten already knowing how to read, when it was time to go outside I had stood with my coat in one hand and my shoes in the other, waiting for the servants to put them on me. I think my mother was aghast, and I was taught to tie my shoes post-haste, or at least buckle them by myself.
After school, I would meet my mother down at the corner of Ward and Baker streets where the buses were waiting. She often wore her beautiful red coat with the black frog buttons, her long, dark hair pulled back in a barette and I could always spot her from far away. Sometimes we rode the bus home together, and sometimes she took me for a treat at the Woolworth counter. Other times she would take me to visit the nuns up the hill at the convent - they always had good cookies, or to visit one of her interesting artist friends. Sometimes she had her bicycle with her and would 'race' the bus home. I only had to go to school for half the day, but truly, I think it was enough for me. I don't remember making a fuss about going to Kindergarten where we acted out The Three Billy Goats Gruff and spent 'quiet time' on bits of carpet samples, but I treasured the afternoon time alone with my mother too much not to look forward to it. My wonderful, noisy crowd of siblings would be home soon enough, and often my parents were out in the evenings at play rehearsals or choir practise. Those evenings I would be put to bed by one of my sisters or one of the university students who boarded with us in our large rented house by the lakeshore.
These memories came to the surface the other day when I had walked with my youngest daughter, who is turning ten soon, to school. This fall, for the first time in this corner of Canada, five-year olds must go to school for the full day. It is mandatory and legislated by the government. The official reason for all-day Kindergarten is that too many children are arriving at Kindergarten without even the basics of numeracy or literacy, not to mention the social skills necessary to function in a crowd of eighteen children. The unofficial reason seems to me to be an answer to the inconvenience that half days give for working parents, which is fair enough in this day and age, I suppose. Somehow, though, the idea of full day Kindergarten for all these tiny little urchins makes me sad.
My youngest child was the first of my children to go to Kindergarten in a public school. The others were taught by me at home. She went for the mornings, and a couple of days per week, when I picked her up, I brought home her friend Simon with us. Simon's mother is a teacher at our school and his father is a farmer who needed some regular afternoons to get his chores done without a five year old 'helper'. Simon and Katie would eat their lunch at our table and then spend the afternoon playing games together, which often invoved both our collection of small plastic dinosaurs and our doll house, reading with me, and if the weather was fine, going to the park. Simon's parents paid me to look after him, but sometimes I thought I should pay them for supplying Katie with such a fine playmate. That being said, about once a week, Katie would ask, "Mommy, when can we have a you-and-me day?" and then she and I would hatch a plan for an outing or an activity together one afternoon when her brothers and sister were at school and Simon was at home helping his dad with the vacuuming.
I do realize that children are incredibly adaptive creatures. Is full day Kindergarten really the end of the world? Probably not, and some will handle the days packed with prescribed learning outcomes very well, but I can think of two of my own children who would have found the long days very hard. My second son would have come home completly tied in knots after a full day of trying to 'get along well with others', and Katie, who is incredibly sensitive and finds it hard to keep up with the energy of the class even now, would have missed me too much. She and Simon may have been happy enough ignoring me as they played, but they both knew I was there and were content in the knowledge that I would basically leave them be, until they needed a snack or asked for 'book time' as we called it, while they got on with the business of being children.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that children grow up so fast as it is. Perhaps, rather than farming children out into the school system full time in Kindergarten, we should be supporting parents to stay at home, read to them, let them play, take them outside, and build a stronger parent-child bond. The numeracy and literacy will come soon enough if the schools are allowed to do their job properly. If this nineteenth day of the March on Wall Street proves anything, it is that our society needs to do a much better job of prioritizing what really matters in life. This endless drive toward owning and consuming, which then causing a domino effect, creates an economic environment in which it is expected that both parents will work outside the home or that single parents will hold down two or more jobs, leaves the schools to deal with the fallout. My heart goes out to all the people camping on Wall Street, and those who are going to gather at the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 15, as well as in other locations around North America. They say 'enough is enough' and for the sake of our children, I say 'hear hear'.