Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The First Day

On the first day of school, I was thinking about the last day of school.

The last day, when I forgot we needed food for a class picnic, the kids were stressed, and Ethan wanted nothing to do with playing with a bunch of kids who to me weren't even acting like kids with autism. (You can read about this here.)

And then I thought about the encouragement I received from a fellow autism blogger. The autism blogs I've discovered online these past few years have been a treasure trove...of information, encouragement, humor, spiritual insights, and darned good writing. These fellow autism mammas
get it. And that day, one in particular, Mamma Be Good, picked up my spirits with this comment:

You know what struck me? Why do we expect kids to socialize at all in a group that large with that much going on? Isn't that odd? We seem to expect our kids to do so because schools are based on an outdated idea: that people will have to work together in large-group organizations and have a lot of activity going on around (think factories). It's unreal. It's also unreal that our children aren't given individual instruction and individual attention for their strengths.

Mama (a.k.a. Brenda) was fired up, and that day I caught a little bit of her fire. My eyes were opened to this this (I'm going to say it) FACT:

In the past few decades, schools have increasingly expected more (and too much) of our kids too early.

There are myriad reasons. I think much of this links to so many children being in daycare. They start out early in a peer group. Then it's preschool, which was never a "given" before the 90s. Generation X-ers like me never heard our parents worry about "socializing us." Kindergarten was half-day. Finally, in first grade, when most of us reached about 6, schools buckled down and became like, well, real school. Before that, it was all about the play.

This is what I remember about kindergarten, circa 1980: Songs, games, nap time, recess, and learning our letters.

This is what kids in Ethan's school are doing for kindergarten: full day (starting next year), reading, memorizing sight words, and recess times that are mere blinks and you miss them.

I was contemplating all of this when we approached the school and Ethan was nervous, going in. "It's the first day of school!" his aide exclaimed. "You're not supposed to be nervous!"


I started kindergarten at 4 years and 9 months. I was almost held back because I was so shy. It took me a good year to get into my groove and settle in to the whole school thing. Anna started two mornings a week when she was 3 and it wasn't until about halfway through her kindergarten year that she felt comfortable in her school skin. And this girl is a gregarious one who doesn't have a lot of social "issues." I have friends worrying about their more introverted kids who are Ethan's age and wondering when they will kind of get on the ball with all of this social stuff.

More and more, I am thinking we have to give them
time. They are individuals. Kids didn't use to be expected to start school at 3 and be comfortable with a large group of peers. Most of these children aren't behind. They're still growing.

And for those who DO have delays, particularly on the autism spectrum -- how much more valuable is this play time that is increasingly being sucked out of our classrooms? Most kids (Ethan's superstar class aside) with autism DO have problems with spontaneous play. Honest-to-goodness, individualized-to-their-strengths play, should be not just encouraged, but a priority. Instead, play for Ethan has been boiled down to schemes that must be worked on in an academic fashion, sprinkled in between circle time, crafts, and never mind three different therapies.

I'm not putting the honus back on the school. These are different times. But what I am doing is 1) making sure Ethan has plenty of this type of play at home and 2) making a conscious effort to filter the reports I hear back from school. Yes, Ethan is not a typical kid when it comes to interacting with his peers. But he's also not even 4. He just had a wonderful summer with his family in which he wanted to spend most of his waking hours with us, just hanging out. If he's not ready to bond with a bunch of kids over the water table just yet, I am going to cut him some slack. When I was his age I was home with my mom. He doesn't need a backpack full of my unreasonable expectations.


1 comment:

Brenda Rothman (Mama Be Good) said...

Yes, yes, and YES! Exactly the problem. We expect so much more from kids these days. We put so much pressure to grow up quickly. We think the important part is academics. We don't realize or we diminish what they're learning from play. We also don't realize how much they learn from the small unit called family.
LOVE this post. And not just 'cause you mentioned me. *laughing*