I called the city yesterday to let them know we were planning to homeschool Rio next year, when in the normal course of things she would attend kindergarten. As it turns out, they are required to offer kindergarten, but I am not required to take them up on the offer. There’s no paperwork or district curriculum requirements until 1st grade.
The funny thing was that Rio overheard this conversation. She asked me who I’d been talking to and what about. In explaining it, I said something like, “The man from the city schools says it’s our choice if we want to do kindergarten or not, so we don’t have to do any homeschooling paperwork.”
And Rio said, “Tell me about kindergarten. Maybe I would like to go.”
I told her that every city has schools that anyone who lives in the city can attend, and that these schools start with kindergarten at age 5. She asked if I went to kindergarten and I said I had. She wanted to know what it was like. I told her about walking to the end of our long dirt road to where it met the pavement and getting on the big scary bus.
She stopped me, looking very intensely into my eyes. “Mama. I do not want to know how you got to kindergarten. I want to know what you did when you were there.”
I filled her in on the basics – circle time, pretend play, beginning math – and wandered off, hoping she’d forget about it. A few minutes later, she called me back. She had not moved from the spot she was sitting in when she first overheard my phone call. “Mama, tell me more about kindergarten. Do you remember anything else?”
Now I racked my brain for specifics – we learned about what different size coins were worth. we set off bottle rockets. I had to go to the bathroom by myself with no teacher to help, and it was scary out in the corridor alone. There was recess on a big playground with a colony of prairie dogs living under the swings. Some bigger kids told me I would get in trouble for eating lunch under my favorite tree. There was a wonderful tree.
Rio had a lot of follow-up questions, along the lines of: “So…learning about coins. This happened when you were, what, six?” “No, when I was five.” “Oh.”
We talked about how kindergarten has probably changed a lot since I was five. We talked about the kindergartens in Somerville. There are three she could apply to, and a lottery determines which one she might attend. Before I could even describe all three, she jumped in shouting to say she liked the CHOICE program; which is the child-led alternative grade school. We talked about buses and she was very clear that she wanted to walk or bike if she went to kindergarten.
At the end of the Q&A, Rio said, “Can we visit a kindergarten?”
I said we could, and she wanted to know when. She thought ahead about our schedule and tried to nail me down to a time when we do not have homeschool activities. Could we go Friday morning? No. How about Monday morning? Probably not that soon, but sometime in the next few months.
“I think I would like to visit a kindergarten one day while I am still four,” said Rio. “If I like it, I will go try it for one day after I turn five. And if I like that, I think I’d like to try it for a month. Just to see what they are doing there, and if what they do there works for me, with what I am doing on my own. If it does, I will keep going. But if what they do doesn’t work for me, I’d like to continue homeschooling.”
How do you argue with that?
Throughout the whole conversation, I felt I was speaking with the adult inside, not the winsome four-year-old who wants to go fly to Colorado one minute and dig a hole through the earth to Fairy the next. She was calm. She was clear. She was centered. She made eye contact and used big vocab words. She asked serious questions, listened to the answers and never repeated herself needlessly, nor asked me to. She took long pauses and clearly thought before she spoke. Her plan made a great deal of sense.
The whole issue of public school vs private school vs homeschool seemed to melt away. There was just me and my awesome kid sitting together talking. I saw kindergarten through her eyes, as just one more interesting thing we might do on the joint venture of her education, akin to yoga class or storytime.
After all my hours of panic and introspection and planning about my kids’ education, here we were at the precipice. Kindergarten vs. Homeschooling. And there was no hypothetical child to protect or decide for. There was Rio, a person I’ve helped grow for the past four-and-a-half years into an ally both smart and wise. It felt as if she took my hand in this talk and said, “Don’t mind the cliff, Mom, we can fly.”
I’ll take her to the kindergarten open house. If she likes it, and and I like it, we’ll try it out. I was Very Clear with her that it’s not her choice, it’s a family choice. I’m also clear with myself that she has a real stake and a valuable voice in making this decision.
As said, “Congratulations! Your work here is done. She doesn’t need you to help run her life anymore.”
Sitting in a public school classroom all day is not how I would choose to have Rio spend her childhood, but if its what she chooses, I won’t stand in her way.