Friday, June 5, 2009

Hot topic: How did this year go?

An SF K Files asked me to start the following thread:
If you've had a child in school this past year, take a moment to tell the (excited, eager, frantic, depressed, hysteria or just plain exhausted) folks waiting to start Kindergarten how it went. What did your child learn? What surprised you in a good way? What surprised you in a bad way? What do you wish you knew then that you know now? And if the school your child got into wasn't the school of your dreams, are you okay with it now or still mourning?


  1. It was a long road to get into public school but it was so worth the stress and wait. I'm so impressed by my daughter's school.

  2. This year at Starr King my daughter learned:
    to read English
    to add
    to subtract
    to tie her shoes
    to play tether ball
    to not be so bossy
    to open Tupperware
    to understand Mandarin (speaking, well, I expect she'll get to that in first grade.)

  3. i can't even explain how much my daughter's growth this year exceeded my expectations. something about the alchemy of big kid school -- kindergarten -- just pulled all these different areas of herself together and she became, well, the beginning of the person she's going to be forever. i love it! it seemed to speed up the process by which she faced her fears and challenges, so that positive changes happened very quickly.

    (lulu attended K at clarendon jbbp, but is transferring to spanish immersion at fairmount this coming year.)

    what lulu learned in K:
    - how to play with/like boys (i can't tell you what a departure this is -- she has always favored other girls, almost to a nutty extent. well, now she's more balanced that way.)
    - how to express her wants and needs in a more mature manner (less bossy, whiny, shy and all the other stuff).
    - how to discriminate between promising and not-so-promising friendships/relationships.
    - how to let someone else express their vision for something, and compromise (a little).
    - to count well into the multiple hundreds
    - simple multiplication
    - the beginning of telling time
    - how to read simple sentences, and dozens of high-frequency words (in english)
    - how to write her name in japanese
    - simple greetings and songs in japanese (however, i'm not sure she knows what they mean).
    - greater confidence with physical pursuits (she played for the clarendon soccer team, and after many weeks of "i want to quit," she scored a triumphant goal and now wants to play again!).
    - how to work with others to create playground games, be in a school performance, etc.
    - how to accept gentle criticism (just a little...starting to, anyway. the first parent/teacher conference, i made the mistake of answering her something truthfully when she asked me what we talked about with her teacher. everything was a-okay, although one area she could work on was listening to others' inputs. lulu got very upset at the mild critique and cried, "she (the teacher) doesn't understand! she doesn't understand me!" but then she started to grok that accepting feedback is part of life, that her teacher can critique her actions and still like her, that she is not the sum of her accomplishments or peformance -- and that has entered into her worldview in a very positive way.)

    still working on CLOSING the tupperware, which is why we'll be investing in a new lunch bag this year ;- ) .

    i just asked lulu what SHE thinks she learned, and here's what she said:
    - i learned about snails; they're not that slow after all.
    - i learned about plants.
    - i learned about wood a little and how to make paper and not all woods come from trees.
    - the names of animals in japanese.

    i will say, as someone who was assigned to a school not of our choice (albeit a great one): it is much harder to get through the year if you don't give your whole heart to a place -- give it the old college try. once i got deep into volunteering and such, i did not feel so ambivalent about the place itself (though we still did pursue our original intent, and it has panned out).

  4. "This year at Starr King my daughter learned:
    ... to tie her shoes"

    Could I borrow her to teach my 5th grade son?!!!

  5. Things my son learned this year (he goes to Rosa Parks JBBP):

    --to read English (actually, he went from not reading at all to reading books meant for 2nd and 3rd graders on his own, anywhere and anytime he can! They taught him the basics at school and then he just seemed to take off on his own, like a natural unfolding of something inside him... lovely to watch!)

    --to read Japanese (hiragana), he pretty much knows all of the letters/sounds now and can sound words out when he sees them.

    --a lot of Japanese vocabulary (some set phrases, a lot of groups of nouns: animals, colors, fruits, life-cycle of the tadpole etc.). No verbs or pronouns, though, so he can't put together a sentence yet.

    --all about Japanese holidays (oshogatsu, Undokai, Hina Matsuri, Sakura matsuri, children's day) and all of the associated songs

    -- a tremendous love of Japanese food of all kinds and a deep affinity for all things Japanese.

    --All about Star Wars Clone Wars (hasn't seen it yet, though) and Bakugan

    -- to do all kinds of math in his head (we often turn over math puzzles of his invention during the long morning ride to school)

    About mourning not getting a school of our choice last year: yes, still mourning, still in the lottery for this year. We're thrilled about the Japanese he's learned (and amount of deep exposure to and appreciation of different cultures he's gotten) at Rosa Parks. And he had a great transition to kindergarten with a warm teacher and cohesive class. But in other ways we feel mixed about the school and are still hoping for a change next year or beyond.

  6. This is our fourth year at my second tier school. Not much is changing (and my eldest's fourth grade class is going to 30 kids, ugh!), but I'm oddly comforted by the terrible posts I read in here about people not even able to get into my second tier school that finally, finally next year's crop of K parents will:

    1) push aside the principal and prevent her from, once again, undermining every parental attempt to run successful fundraisers or otherwise make positive changes;

    2) bring some diversity. Please ANY diversity would be helpful. I'd be happy if each K class had four kids in them who were not of the same ethnic background as the other 16 (OK -- I'm thinking of the old 20 max, but you get the point!)

  7. Our son has learned addition, subtraction and some multiplication. He can memorize spelling words for tests, but we've accepted that real reading and writing will come more slowly for him. He's met a NASA astronaut and dissected an owl pellet. He can name state birds and animals and plants. He's conscious of the need to care for the earth and share with people who have less. He takes pride in his work. He's become more discerning about choosing friends. He can tell whether a singer is breathing properly and he's sung Warren & Dubin and Gilbert & Sullivan. He's started to smile instead of making that weird grimace when you point a camera at him. He can't tie his shoes, but he's met the girl he wants to marry. He helps me make up extra versus for "Swinging on a Star": ". . . or would you rather be a dog? A dog is an animal that sits by the fire. He can't bake a cake or change a tire. Although he brings his family sweetness and light, it must be conceded he's not terribly bright. But if you lose your brain out in the fog, you could grow up to be a dog."

  8. 5:32--

    What school does your son go to--it sounds terrific!

  9. with one year of mandarin immersion under our daughter's belt (at SK), i can only say to parents who are considering a language immersion program to GO FOR IT!

    do not be intimidated or skeptical. their brains are wired to learn languages at this age and it's such a wonderful and valuable gift.

  10. It was a long road to get my son into the private school of our choice. We did it and then held our breath to see if it was worth it! It was!
    This year my son found he could:
    take risks
    make friends
    recycle and reuse
    read books
    write stories
    enjoy math
    and be a good friend.

    For us, we had the privilege of watching our son grow a year older, develop self-esteem and become an individual within a wonderful and supportive learning community. We couldn't be happier or prouder!

  11. congratulations, Kim, for getting Lulu into Fairmount!!! Glad you had a good year at Clarendon JBBP, too, and didn't give up on Sp immersion! So how did you manage for her to learn/keep her Spanish this year for 1st grade standards next year? [sorry to change the subject a little]

  12. On the occasion of my firstborn's high school graduation, I blogged a tribute to the teachers, arts educators and nonprofits who have educated, influenced and inspired him. - Caroline Grannan

  13. This year at Monroe my daughter learned:
    to make new friends and navigate much more complex social environments
    to use words to express her feelings
    to speak, understand, read and write Spanish
    to help build a cob bench as an outdoor classroom
    what wood is; how to tell different kinds of wood apart; how to plant an apple tree
    all about life in the oceans, plus field trips to a farm and the zoo
    to sing and dance in front of an audience

    Her teachers are imaginative planners of project-based learning. Her principal is tireless. Her library is literally the center of the school.

    Monroe was our third choice (Flynn and Fairmount are closer) but I can't imagine my kid having had a happier, more challenging or more rewarding kinder year.

  14. We didn't get anything for our younger daughter, hence she spent her Kindergarten in private school. We are still on the waiting list for our neighborhood school to see what might happen for 1st grade sigh...

    Our middle school daughter on the other hand had a great 6th grade year at Presidio Middle School. Participated in sports, an awesome Orchestra, and was very challenged academically in Honors classes. Very little "pre-teen" drama that some middle school girls experience because she was so busy and kept herself surrounded by academic and well rounded kids.

  15. Oh, 4:23, sounds you just missed sibling preference. Bummer!

    Good luck with finding this year for your younger daughter, and congrats on a great year at Presidio. My 6th grade daughter had a similarly great year (at Aptos). She actually said last night that she is sad that school is out for the year.

  16. My daughter learned about plants' parts and what plants need to grow in part by painting an old shoe and planting a flower in it (this was for mother's day) and filling an old stocking with soil and seeds, decorating it as a face, and watching grass grow into hair; she learned how to observe with all of her senses and to describe what she'd observed; she learned (or practiced) noticing how she feels and describing that too; she learned the concepts of addition and subtraction and how to do simple problems; she learned stroke order and how to write simple sentences in Chinese (and English); she learned to tie her shoes, hula hoop on her leg while running, leap over a gymnastics horse; she learned to say, "that hurts my feelings." All of the above she learned in Chinese. She also learned to sound out and write words in English and to sing happy birthday in Chinese, Spanish and Samoan.

    We're MI at Starr King. Our first choices were Synergy for private and Rooftop for public. I am thrilled to have landed instead at SK.

    ---Bernal Single mom

  17. Having just completed his Kindergarten year in the JOES Mandarin immersion, our son has learned to:
    - recognize when he has done something he shouldn't
    - and then say he's sorry;
    - that it's OK to lose a board game or race
    - that you can hurt someone with words as much as your hands.

    The personal development has been a wonder and much credit due to the great after school program (where the kids are immersed projects and activities rather than Mandarin,)

    I think what surprises us most about this first year is... how utterly cool all the other parents are and how great they are to hang with -- very important for those birthday parties.

  18. This last year has been great! My son is starting K in Aug 2009.

    - He learned his phonics well

    - simple spelling (cat, dog, bug... etc)

    - read The Cat in the Hat level books on his own (of course, we've read many of them to him countless times)

    - can do simple additions (we accidently found this out). But since he hates doing it, we stopped. But it was great knowing that is is capable of it.

    We are so looking forward to formal schooling for him.

  19. The year went fine, except for the time that Caroline put sugar in my gas tank. The engine still doesn't work right.

  20. My child's first year at Grattan was everything we wanted for kindergarten and more.
    He has grown so much as an individual and absolutely loved his teacher, friends and the school community. Almost reading with no help - which I feel is pushed way too early these days as they all level out by 2nd grade. Super star at math problems. Learned to work out issues with others. If interested in something like planets - will request more info from books at library or computer with help from me. Made some amazing friendships that will continue. He is ok with the fact that kindergarten is done - so ready and ok with moving on to 1st grade.

  21. This year... hmmm. seems it went by so fast. We ended up at #3 on our list, and I was thrilled. There are things I love about the school, but I do see problems as well.

    For our son, he's learned many things like - how to add and subtract, about feelings, respecting others, sticking up for himself and saying no, making decisions for himself. He can read and is doing better with this every day. He's learned songs, stories, speaks simple Russian and loves it.

    Things I've learned: I love many of the parents at my son's school, and I have found many of the teachers to be hard-working, dedicated, and inspired. I have spent many hours at the school, and I've gotten a good look at how things work. Some of the teachers are old and tired. They need to be replaced and create setbacks for the children.

    I am surprised at how many parents drop their kids off and pick them up but never volunteer for any parties, field trips, activities, anything. There are opportunities even for working parents, but many parents just drop their kids off and that's it.

    I could go on, but this is getting long. Overall, I am pleased with the school, have met wonderful parents and teachers, and adore the children. Could his teacher have done more? Yes, definitely. Did my son learn and have fun? Yes, definitely.

    Now... on to first grade!

  22. Thanks for all the stories (good and not so good). Lovely to hear the leaps that the kids have made in kindergarten this year at so many different schools.

    I just want to say something about the parents that do drop off and pick ups and seemingly not much else.

    I was once the parent that volunteered at least once a week, or twice, or more, and went on all the field trips and showed up for craft day and special assemblies. That was until the kids' dad walked out on 17 years of marriage for another relationship and another state, leaving me as the effectively single mom who suddenly had to work much more than part-time, take care of the house, and in general pick up the pieces with the kids.

    I am lucky that I got a good job in my field (library science) with benefits and a pension--need that because all the retirement savings disappeared in the divorce--but it is not one with flexible hours and it requires a commute out of town. I can't lose this job in this economy, so I do not cut corners. We are finally stabilizing emotionally as a family, but this has required a lot of work and presence and some outside help.

    I have been very, very tired these last few years.

    I do realize that some volunteering can happen outside of school hours, and that our PTA offers childcare during meetings. People tell me that a lot when they ask where I've been.

    Honestly though, school volunteering has been the "one too many things" that our family couldn't sustain. It would be the proverbial straw. We have needed to be home most nights, keeping our schedule of dinner, chores, family time, and bed (followed by me doing even more chores, and finishing up work, since by arrangement with my boss I leave a little early to pick up the kids on time and I take home the small parts of my job that I can do at home, that don't involve interactions with library "customers" on-site, likely planning themed book displays and preparing book groups).

    I do tell the kids that I will chaperone one field trip a year--their choice. I use up two sick days to do that. I send a donation to the school fundraising drive and I respond to the teachers' requests for boxes of tissues and colored markers. I read to my kids every night and check their backpacks for papers to sign. They show up for school on time every day, bathed, with hair combed, and clean clothes.

    But I am the mom who is never there at school. You may have wondered about me. On the few occasions you have seen me I probably looked like I had it together in dress and demeanor. I hold it together for the kids (mostly). But the truth is that I have barely had it together. The teachers know all this (yes, I attend parent-teacher conferences and I email with one of them regularly about some behavior / depression issues with one of my children), and they understand. The principal and school resource specialist are also aware. My friends know, and thank God for them, without whom I would not have made it. But the rest of you parents may not know.

    Maybe in a year or two I'll be able to put time back in at school. I hope so.

    My biggest lesson in all this: It's been humbling to walk in the shoes of others that I used to judge, on any number of issues ranging from marital failure to not showing up at school to volunteer. You just don't always know from the outside what is going on, so please, be slow to judge.

  23. "You just don't always know from the outside what is going on, so please, be slow to judge."

    That is always good advice, and thanks for reminding us. You should feel nothing but pride in how well you have coped with this unanticipated and extremely difficult situation.

  24. Thanks for giving us a perspective 12:08.

  25. I'm relieved to hear that someone else's kid also can't close tupperware yet. (Thanks for the chuckle, Kim.)

    We have also completely worn out 3 pairs of brand new shoes on the playground. They are literally, unwearable.

    The upside is that she is starting to read, can add, subtract and count to one thousand, is able to write simple stories and has learned all about the life cycles of birds and butterflies. She loves to be at school every day which is a huge departure from preschool.

  26. 12:08
    I wanted to thank you for the post. I too was a hardly ever there parent. Shortly before my oldest started kindergarten my husband left town. I started life as a single mom with a fulltime job, a new house, a kindergartner, a kid still in diapers, both attending schools in different parts of the city. Without any family nearby, dealing with the logistics, as well as the emotional toil on all of us, was all that I could handle. It constantly amazed me how little people knew or cared to know about my situation. I was "required" to do shifts that required me to get babysitters on weekday nights. The requesters were clueless to the fact that what they were asking was completely different for a single mom (and if I told them I was whining). And there were calls at night asking me to bring something in for the class the next day. This is close to impossible when you have a sleeping toddler. I had to plan out my weekly shopping excursions carefully- I couldn't just do little errands. Like 12:08, after taking care of my job and my kids I just wasn't able to do much else. I actually volunteered as much as I could and tried to help out, but I received much attitude because it wasn't enough.

    Really, everyone seems to assume that everyone is just like them, but that's just not the case. Because these are public schools they have to welcome all comers, including those who can't help out. And please, without the attitude.

  27. I am the mom who posted at 8:48 about being surprised about how few parents helped out. I truly feel for anyone who is going through hardship, and I know lots of people do. I never gave any attitude and was always kind, even taking pictures on field trips and emailing them from my phone to parents at work. I had the opportunity to spend time in the classroom this year, and I did. Next year will be different. Everyone has a story, nothing is ever the way it may seem. All I said what that I was surprised - it turned out that out of 21 kids, it was the same 5 kids parents who helped out for everything.

  28. 1:55
    it is always like that, the same five parents helping out ...
    and not all have good excuses why they can't.

  29. But don't forget, those who do help out a lot have their own reasons for doing so. Everyone does what they can and everyone has different motivations.

  30. I think most people are well-intentioned and do what they are able to. As a freelancer, my work tends to be feast or famine, so I have periods when I can help out in the classroom vs. other times when I can barely leave my home office for even 5 minutes. We all have different situations and I think most of us are pretty understanding.

  31. I'd also like to add that in our class of 20 kids there are quite a few single and/or divorced parents.
    I think it's important to try to accomodate families that can use help. Offering to watch their kids for a few hours or give them a ride home, etc goes a lot way towards creating a tight knit class and a strong bond between families. I think lots more parents are able to help out when you make it easier for them to do so. (at least that's been my experience)