Junior Kindergarten Dis-Orientation

“This is not going to be exciting.” These were A.’s words to me as we got out of the car to attend a Junior Kindergarten orientation last night. He must have had some kind of premonition because, from the moment we stepped into the gym, he started acting weird. My normally rational child refused to listen or do the activities provided by the organizers. With my hand firmly clamped on his shoulder, he’d sit down at a table, glance at the items on it, and proceed to cause as much damage as possible by squirting out an entire bottle of blue onto a single sheet of paper, then smearing both hands in it, or sucking the water out of a medicine dropper that he was supposed to be using to fill an ice cube.

Something was definitely wrong because he rarely acts this way unless he’s upset. He morphed into a wild child who wanted me to chase him in circles around the gym while laughing hysterically. I refused to give chase, though I briefly panicked that I might have to. I could further read his discomfort with the situation by the way he kept looking for me in the crowd of parents, needing eye contact, a hand squeeze, some form of reassurance. It was a real challenge trying to keep him in line for an hour and a half. When the orientation finished after an hour and a half, I left feeling totally discouraged. As I tucked him into bed, he whispered, “I don’t want to go to school. I don’t like it.”

Is this the future? (Photo: edtosavetheworld.wordpress.com)
Is this his future? (Photo: edtosavetheworld.wordpress.com)

I wonder what set him off. Despite the serious misgivings I have about the public education system in Ontario, I certainly don’t voice them in front of him. He only sees my enthusiasm about his impending adventure at school, so he’d have no reason to respond so negatively to a gym full of kids he knows and ‘fun’ activities to do with me by his side. But perhaps that’s where the problem lies — those particular activities weren’t fun for him. The first group assignment was for all the kids to draw their self-portrait. A. never draws people, so didn’t even try; he just scribbled madly on both sides of the paper.  Afterwards, when the teachers talked about all the necessary, basic body parts that make up a self-portrait, he didn’t have a single one on his paper. So, even if it was completely subconscious, maybe he felt that he’d failed at that first school ‘test’ of sorts. He’s not used to mass conformism. His attitude went downhill from there.

School is a big adjustment for everyone, and I know he’ll figure it out, just as I did once upon a time. But it’s a bad time for me to have an experience like that because I’m in the midst of reading Geez magazine’s newest issue Redoing Schooling (to which I’m a proud contributor again this month!). The issue is all about the apparent evils of standardized compulsory education and the style in which it’s imposed nowadays, kind of like a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). OK, that’s my own choice of simile, but you get the point. Of course, that’s rather extreme, but it doesn’t help having those fresh thoughts in my head while the JK teacher tells me there will be 27 four-year-olds in a single classroom the size of my dining + living rooms for 6.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s a brain assembly line. Eek.

I’m not interested in homeschooling. I keep repeating it over to myself. (Bad sign?) No, really, I’m not going to homeschool my kids. I’m craving my own time, space, silence, and the opportunity to do some *serious* writing. I just hope I can hold my disillusionment at bay.

You might also like:
Why I’ve got the junior kindergarten jitters
Dollars and Sense: I want my kids to be financially literate
my alternative musical education


14 thoughts on “Junior Kindergarten Dis-Orientation

  1. Hello Katherine,

    I do not think you should worry too much as for Alex it is the first time he knows that he will be lots of hours away from you in an unfamiliar place. He feels that things are about to change – someting that 4 years olds hate. He attends Kids’ street but for very short time – couple of hours – and it is in a small setting – less kids. I assume that this was his reaction instead for other kids crying, refusing to leave the hand of their mother etc. Plus, the orientation was late in the day that he is already tired and not in his best mood. Other kids go to day care and learn there how to draw people on the paper. My son learnt to draw at the daycare. It will certainly take some time for him to adjust in September – for my son was a month – but he will soon enough understand how the system works at school and he will feel comfortable and part of the group. For your information, at the Catholic school each class has 20 kids – KJ1 and KJ2 combined.

    1. We’ve talked about it briefly. I do believe that Montessori is a wonderful program, but the only school in the area is a brand new one with only 1 student registered last I heard. I think we’d look into more seriously if it were a larger, more established program. My son is in need of a bigger social setting for now. But who knows, maybe in a couple of years that will be a good option for our younger child.

  2. I hate to be judgmental towards hard-working, well-meaning teachers—I think anyone who teaches kindergarten is a saint. BUT, giving an “art assignment” to children so young—especially a self-portrait, which is one of the most unsettling tasks any artist undertakes—is a sure way to convince them they are not good at art, a lesson that is really hard to un-learn. Children are natural artists, and need to be encouraged to do whatever it is that gives them joy with paint and paper. I’m glad to hear that is what he gets to do at home! I think lots of “Real Art” at home will be an antidote to the scary “School Art” projects.
    Sorry for the rant. I just really want all kids to love art!

    1. Denise – I just wanted to share that myself an a co-worker hosted our first annual Art Show (at school!). It was so well-received and the feedback was great! The kiddos were so proud of their work and are totally passionate about art.

      Students chose which art they wanted showcased. Some work was following a set of criteria, and others were collaborative pieces, and others were original creations (not following any “lesson” at all) – which is how my art classes are usually run.

      I thought that would ease your fear of “scary school art” projects a bit 🙂

  3. My young man is just finishing a very challenging year of JK. My husband and I had more than one serious conversation about homeschooling because of some of the issues. Alas the year is nearly over. We all made it in one piece. It was not easy. My biggest school/teacher beef was that the expectation seemed to be that 4 yr olds would quietly sit all day and meekly follow each instruction to the letter. I just don’t think it’s realistic.

    My kids are balls of energy. They enjoy breaking every rule, exploring, and pushing every boundary to the limit. Ironically, the behaviours discouraged in JK are those same behaviours “valued” by our society by adults – passion, drive, ingenuity, independent thinking, and so on.

    1. That’s a very interesting point, Kim. That’s precisely what terrifies me about school, and you’ve worded it perfectly. It strives to subdue and conform kids into a particular standard of behaviour that’s simply unrealistic for little ones. Actually, this morning we went to check out St Joe’s and it felt much better than SC. I think that’s the route we’re going to take.

  4. at my SK interview the teacher asked me what I liked to watch on TV. When my mom explained that we didn’t have a TV, the teacher insisted so I made something up. Then, about two months later, the teacher seemed shocked that I could read things and speak. I couldn’t cut a straight line or draw anything recognizable, but I could be shy and bookish… It turned out ok. I hope you and A will be ok too.

    1. Funny, because I have a similar memory. All kids in the class had to list a favourite TV show on a questionnaire and, because I didn’t know any, I copied “The Simpsons” from the person beside me. The teacher said, “Really? No, you don’t seem like the Simpsons type, so how about figure skating?” “Sure,” I said, so I wrote that down, never having seen a single figure skating show in my entire life! It’s so strange how quick she was to categorize me. It seemed that writing “n/a” wasn’t an option!

  5. My first reaction is “that sounds about right.” Little kids’ animal instincts run just below the surface. I think in a highly charged environment like that (where he was absorbing the newness, the change in the wind, the anxieties/energy of other parents and children), all behavior bets are off. I don’t know if your kid is an introvert, but I wish I’d discovered Susan Cain’s book Quiet earlier. I think it will make me a better advocate for Son’s needs in the sometimes-frenetic traditional schooling environment. Overall, though, I have been amazed at the individuality and personalization the occures, even in Son’s class of 26 kids.

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