As the school year winds to a close, it is natural to look back and consider how much your child has learned and how he has grown during the school year. This year has been especially educational. For me. This year, Maggie started kindergarten and Caleb started middle school. Levi was placed in a full time gifted class where he had to actually put forth an effort at school. Each child's school experience has taught me a great deal this year. Here are the highlights of my lessons.
Our oldest child has always been an over-achiever. I have said many times that Caleb would rather be set on fire than break a rule. I said that often because it was true. Until middle school. Middle school offers kids their first small taste of freedom. Middle school teachers are typically less involved than teachers in lower grades. It seems that Caleb quit doing homework around Christmas. Every day he told me that he didn't have any homework. I trusted him, to a point. I finally had a conference with each of his teachers and was stunned to learn that the boy was not doing his work. Had I trusted my instincts instead of his "no homework" claims, I would still be able to refer to him as a straight-A student.
The lesson here: Trust, but verify.
Levi has hated school since day one. He has begged me to home-school him since kindergarten, but what he really wants is to be left alone to read all day, every day. I was a little worried about Levi this year because we moved and he had to start a new school. Levi made new friends easily and has adjusted remarkably well. Because he is in a self-contained gifted program, he is given more academic freedom at school. He really seems to thrive in an environment that allows him some choice about what he learns. Allowing him to chose which country to study or which president to write an essay about has empowered him. All this time, I thought that he needed more structure. It turns out that he needed more freedom to explore his unique interests.
The lesson here: Sometimes less (structure) really does lead to more (learning)
To say that Maggie was ready to start kindergarten may be the understatement of the year. Kindergarten is a magical year for most children. They are trying to make sense of the world without Mommy there to explain everything. There is a new sense of independence in Maggie that both delights and scares me. Today, kindergarten is very different than it was when I was a child. There is a lot more work and not much play. I hate that 5 year-olds are now forced to sit at a desk and write four sentence paragraphs and then expected to complete homework daily. I wish kindergarten was still about cute little songs and learning how to get along with others in the "house-keeping" center. With that off my chest, I must admit that I am wildly impressed by how much Maggie has learned this year. She can read and write things today that I would have never imagined possible in August. The kicker is, she doesn't seem to mind the work.
The lesson here: Children will rise to meet your expectations, so set the bar high.
The year our oldest child starts high school will be the year our baby starts kindergarten (are we idiots or what?!!?). That means that our education will continue for many years as our children make their way through school. I'm not sure what the future holds for our children or for us, but I know it will be a learning experience for us all.
Jeri Nowlin Shaffer is a Shine Parenting Guru and freelance writer living in Pensacola, Florida. Keep up with the education her children provide by following her blog www.mothering4.com.