My oldest recently turned 4 and I am freaking out that he’s going into Kindergarten next fall.
I’m not worried that he might not be academically prepared, which itself feels like a stupid thing to feel considering Kindergarten is supposed to be the starting place for receiving an education. I often find myself wondering why I bother checking to see if he’s ready to read considering I didn’t learn until 2nd or 3rd grade, but, apparently, kids going into Kindergarten need to be at least on the verge of learning to read. And school isn’t even compulsory in California until age 6! So, I don’t even need to send him to Kindergarten. But I am. Because that’s what I did and I think I turned out quite well. And he could benefit from being around his peers more often.
No, I’m worried because he will be out of my care for several hours 5 days a week. For hours a day, I will have no idea if he is okay, if he is happy, if he is hurt, if he is sad, if someone has hurt him. I worry because I am a control freak and he will not be under my care all day every day anymore. I won’t be the one making sure he eats lunch. I won’t be the one kissing his ouchies. I won’t be the one patiently and lovingly responding to him when he is sad.
But I trust him. I trust that I have actually taught him well enough about life, and trust that he and I can teach him about life over the next year.
My son was born at 34 weeks. I’ve spent his entire life wondering if he is okay, if he’s going to have any behavioral or learning problems when he starts school, if his brain is ready to receive letters and numbers and be able to manipulate them. While I read many other mom accounts of their 2 year old reciting the ABCs like a pro, I know my son didn’t do this until he was 3.5 years old. But that’s okay. Because he learned when his brain was ready.
My son knows the alphabet. He can count past 70 mostly on his own. He’s learning the sounds of the letters and is starting to show signs of interest in reading. He can do simple addition and subtraction. Learning simple math was his idea. It definitely wasn’t mine! He knows about the Earth and a bit about the continents and has some familiarity with different countries. He can pinpoint where he and various family members live on the globe. He is learning the months and days of the week. He knows his body parts and some internal organs. He has developed a love of science and everything space related completely on his own. He’s interested in machines and electronics and, most of all, robots. He’s trying to learn mixing which colors make which colors.
I’m so proud of everything he knows that will prepare him for school.
But, most of all, I’m proud of all the non-academic things he knows and does.
I am proud of my toddler because he can understand how his peers feel. He understands why someone is sad or upset or mad. He is learning to regulate his own emotional states on his own, learning to make himself feel better instead of relying on hugs and kisses from mom and dad. He is polite, saying please and thank you and asking in a nice voice. He does not demand anything (of anyone except mom and dad and sister). He is learning the art of trading, as he sometimes wants something his sister has and will then try to offer something appealing to her so they can trade. He knows when his sister is upset and when she is ready to be entertained by him.
There are so many things about life and people that my son understands. He can identify when he wants company and when he’s happiest being left alone. He understands himself as well as a 4 year old can. He can recognize how other people feel and how he can help make them better. He knows how to navigate playing with other children and is kind to them. He still needs to work at turn taking, but he knows to play nice. He will never be the kid on the playground who takes things from other kids (just his sister). He knows to ask when he wants something and to not throw a tantrum when he doesn’t get everything he wants. He is able to engage in someone else’s play scenario and add to it. He is thoughtful and kind, understanding and polite.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his absolutely silly moments where he acts like a complete nutcase. He does. He also has days where he acts up, throws tantrums, and is more than a handful to deal with. Of course there are the bad days mixed in with the ones of pure joy. But that’s what childhood is, and he learns from those days. He learns what is okay and what isn’t. He learns how to manage his negative emotions and that there are rewards and consequences for his actions. But, at the end of every day, he still needs a hug and kiss from mom and dad to help him fall asleep.
I am proud of my toddler not because he knows his ABCs and 123s, but because he is growing and nurturing a beautiful, loving soul. And while I’d like to think it’s because I’ve taught him well, I know it’s really because I’ve given him the tools and taken the time to explain things in ways he can understand so he can process and put things together on his own. He could have been a bratty, spoiled child (he was an only child who almost always got what he wanted, within reason, for almost 3 years). Instead, we’ve nurtured a kind, understanding soul and he has internalized many of the messages we have patiently repeated over the years. We may have had a hand, but he has chosen to be this beautiful child.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. And I would much rather nurture this soul than drill reading and math into his head so he is ready for novels and long division in Kindergarten.