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'.


  1. I read this in my reader but when I tried to comment you had pulled it. This shouldn't make any difference except it's now 6:30 in the AM and I've decided that last night one was altogether too girly.:-)and could be summed so, awwwwwwww cute.
    This morning, I think I'll play devils advocate.
    One of the biggest issues across the English speaking world is education; rather the lack of it. You can see it with my writing sometimes when a degree in Arts wars with a dismal primary and secondary schooling. It is now considered that to best intrinsic disadvantage at home, kids are immersed within the educational environment.
    Home schooling is not like feeding a child that can ask for the breast using well formed and grammatically correct language, aka over two years. And if ever I have kids I will think long before I send them off to educational hell that is the primary school in Ireland. But no matter how you slice it, nowadays, gentle toe-dipping for kids into education is the preserve of the wealthy, the self indulgent and the romantic rustic nuts like myself.

    P.S. I thought there was boarding schools established for those from out in the boondocks. And how the hell did you ever get 'me' time with three kids. Still you've got to pay for your fun, I suppose. Seems a tad harsh though.

  2. Vince: I accidentally hit the 'publish' button yesterday before I had finished this post, so that's why I pulled it. Anyway, I suppose I could also be described as a 'romantic rustic nut', 'cause I certainly ain't wealthy and generally not self-indulgent :) Boarding schools are few and far between over here. They are really the preserve of the well-to-do unless of course the school is a seminary.
    As for me time, when the kids were little? Afternoons they all went to their rooms for an hour and read to themselves, and then they were all in bed by 8 pm. Also, I went for lots of runs by myself and my husband had the kids by himself, then. Yes, being a parent is intense, but I love it, so I don't mind.
    btw, the toe-dipping now happens for most children in pre-school. A lot of children now attend pre-school from age two and a half. They go for a couple of mornings a week.

  3. I completely agree with you, Rebecca. Full day kindergarten does not suit every child or every family. Perhaps it should have been offered at some schools as a choice. As I understand it, there is not much more "education" taking place during those extra hours that they are at school.

  4. i am hear hear as well on this...we have created some sick expectations for ourselves in our need to consume and its result is the break down of the family...we sacrificed to keep T home until the kids went to school...her job is flexible enough now that she can take off and i am home during the day as well...

    what burns me up is the government bailed out the banks (with our tax money) so that the banks can turn around and gouge us with new fees....ugh...i know it is much more than that but when i have to pay to get my own money out of the bank it makes me sick..

    i could rant all day...i will stop...have a great day today!

  5. Well said Rebecca. However I feel you missed the global factor. We are playing catch-up. Several countries already have all day kindergarten.

    Limited space at quality post secondary schools creates a competitive response. How does Canada continue to keep our society and social value system if we lose our ability to compete internationally?

    A friend’s son applied last year at a leading university to complete an engineering degree. The applicants required a 97% plus on the entrance exams just to be considered. Competition on an international scale.

    What does our country become if we are not raising engineers, doctors, etc...... A lot of pressure for a five year old.

    My two cents.

  6. Hi Kim (are you one of the Kims I know?),
    I would not argue with you on the point you make, but I suppose what I am trying to say, is there is a lot to a child's well-rounded education that doesn't involve a classroom setting. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

  7. thank you for the well wishes...my appt with the doc is tomorrow so should know something soon enough...

  8. I consider it a privilege to home school my kids. I see them learning and blossoming here at home. For now, at least.

    I suppose mine is an all day kindergarten too. But it is full of all kinds of kids stuff.

    (I'm back now, and I am trying to catch up.)

  9. My bug bear isn't so much the all-day nursery, it's the lack of 'play' time when the kids are at the nursery. I'm so pleased that my kids are way past that stage now. When they were little, they attended our village playgroup where they, well, played. Nowadays, our village playgroup is all about a more structured learning environment. I think it's desperately sad.

  10. It makes me very sad to see the babies at an all day nursery next to the hall where I do an exercise class. They really are babies and are put to sleep in rows of cots quite early in the morning after what must be a very early start to their parents' day.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!