The day I’ve dreaded for nearly five years is circled in black ink on the wall-calendar above my desk, digitally highlighted in red on the Google Calendar and boldly asterisked in erasable blue marker on the fridge-mounted whiteboard: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.
My son’s first day of kindergarten.
Like an early European explorer, he is about to sail into uncharted territory, a life-altering, 13-year journey of discovery that – ideally – will provide him with a greater understanding of the world. Without the need to colonize it.
But like those early expeditions, this one is fraught with peril: roiling, unpredictable seas; unpronounceable illnesses; hostile crew members, maybe even a mutiny or two. One thing’s for sure: He’ll be a changed man at the end of it.
So far, at least, he seems unconcerned. “More new friends!” he exclaimed when asked if he was looking forward to his upcoming adventure. Boy, does he have a lot to learn.
In his defence, he’s only got six months of preschool under his belt. Sure, his growing oeuvre of abstract art impresses, but that’s not going to help him navigate the cutthroat halls of public elementary school.
A cursory glance at his preschool’s daily “report cards” does little to assuage my anxiety. “London enjoyed working on his sunflower art today,” said one.
Sunflower? I thought it was a dandelion. This kid’s going to have to buckle down.
“You’re not placing him in private school?” asked a friend with two gifted children already enrolled in a school named after the Mother of God. Our Lady of Condescension, I think.
“Here’s a math problem for you,” I replied. “If my salary is x and tuition is y – WHY would I put him in private school?”
Thankfully, his wife intervened before I could be briefed on their pair’s piano lessons, no doubt taught by a relative of Rachmaninov. Saved by the belle, as it were.
You’d think that by now I’d have learned how to avoid these self-congratulatory classholes. After all, I went to private school. And even though I was only an average student, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Catholic elementary school in the 1970s was no place for delicate flowers. In art class, we made ashtrays.
Still, today’s kindergartners (at least where we live, in Vancouver) have it rough: A full day of school, for example. With no naps.
And what about the parents? Do you know how much it costs to fill up a Range Rover?
Recently, we took the bus to kindergarten orientation day at my son’s new school. Billed as an opportunity to meet teachers, parents and students, it also gave us a chance to inspect this year’s greenhorns, many of whom – unsurprisingly – didn’t know their class from their elbows.
We also found out more about the recently overhauled curriculum, which now takes its lead from the play-based learning model used successfully in Finland and other parts of Europe.
It favours self-regulation – or EQ over IQ – something experts say will produce healthy, happy, self-motivated learners who will ultimately be more successful than their predecessors.
To give us a better understanding of how it would work, the instructors set up a number of play stations and the kids rotated through them, sorting letters of the alphabet, making shapes out of Play-Doh, listening to and participating in stories, and cutting and pasting with construction paper.
My son was completely in his element, bouncing from station to station, rolling, painting, cutting, pasting.
Maybe I’d underestimated his preschool portfolio. Maybe it was, in fact, a colourfully paved path to educational enlightenment. Maybe my fears about him losing his way in an endless maze of lifeless, prison-like corridors were totally unfounded.
Maybe the kids are all right, after all.
After a couple of hours at the school, I left my son with his grandmother and headed to work. Later that afternoon my parents dropped him off at home. He was still wearing the green, construction-paper crown that he’d cut and pasted together with the help of one of the school’s older students. Someone had written his name in felt pen on the front: “Lon-don,” he said, proudly pointing to it, overemphasizing each syllable.
He was still wearing it at dinner, which His Highness clearly felt was taking too long to reach the table.
“The King is hungry,” he said.
Seriously – who is teaching him this stuff?
Original essay appeared in the Globe and Mail.