Monday, September 28, 2009

Sending Him Off with Love

My little boy is a homebody through and through. Yes, he loves to play with the boys in our neighborhood and is always asking for play-dates, and yes, once we arrive somewhere he usually has a pretty great time. But his tendency is, and has been for the 5 1/2 years of his life, to stay home and play, create, read, and generally just BE at home. I've grown to appreciate this part of Christopher's personality: he can occupy himself and become absorbed in creative play, he is happy to sit on the couch and read stories all morning, and he loves it when our family has a "special breakfast" on mom and dad's bed. Yes, it can be hard to get out the door for activities, but these transitions have become somewhat easier with time.

One transition that has been somewhat difficult recently is getting Christopher off to school in the morning. Now that Christopher is in Kindergarten, the school bus picks him up at 7:43 a.m. and drops him back home at 3:23 p.m., quite a long day for a 5 year-old! His preference would be to wake up, play in his room for half an hour, eat a leisurely breakfast, and watch a show on PBS Kids. Then, I think he might be ready to head to school :) The reality is that my mornings are often spent trying to move my little guy along from one task to the next: making his bed, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, not to mention the dreaded task of putting on his socks and shoes. The idea is that C would do all of these tasks by himself, and if he moves quickly enough he should have enough time to play for a little while before the bus arrives. However, because he is reluctant to head out the door in the first place, C often drags through each task and we're usually rushing out the door just in time to meet the bus.

As a mother, I would like to send my child off to school with lovely, positive thoughts, and some days I've been more successful than others. I've found that it helps to stick to a morning routine and to be organized and cheerful myself. On the mornings when C still says, "Mommy, I don't want to go to school today, it's such a long day," I've learned to say "That's okay, buddy, some days we all just wish that we could stay home. But I hope you have a good time once you're at school, and I hope you'll tell me about it when you get home."

How have you wonderful mothers dealt with sending a reluctant child off to school? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Thanks, and God bless on this Monday!

18 comments:

Kathy said...

The way I've dealt with this is by homeschooling. Everything you've written cries out to keep this boy home. I disagree that a 5 year old can be expected to understand that he should just accept being away from his home and family for nearly 8 hours a day and that he should find some solace in the words "we all just wish we could stay home." This is a 5 year old little boy, not an adult.

Your little son is telling you what he needs. Please listen to him with all your mother's heart.

Of course, I don't know what your circumstances are and why you have chosen to send him away to school, and maybe you think homeschooling is impossible for you. There is a lot of territory between homeschooling and 8 hours away at school. If you truly cannot homeschool, I hope you will find something that is at least much, much less than 8 hours away.

The other thing that really tugs at my heart is I remember my 3 sons so clearly as 5 year olds (now 19, 13 and 11--and oh, how I wish for a little return to that lovely age of 5!). This is the most precious, tender age for boys. They are in love with their mothers at this point in their lives, at least mine were and I know many other mothers who attest to this as well. Your poor little guy must miss you terribly.

Right Said Red said...

Argh, so tough Kat! I think 5 is such a young age to be away from mom for so long. Unfortunately, the trend in our area is for a full-day kindergarten program, and it is really difficult to find schools that offer a half-day program. I'm not sure that I have much advice. If I were you I would probably just let him stay home on the days when he doesn't want to go! Not the best advice, right!

Maybe an even earlier bedtime would help? Would taking him to school yourself give you more time in the mornings for him to relax and warm-up to the day at home? Is it an option to pick him up early on certain days during the week?

I think A LOT of parents with children in full-day kindergarten programs struggle with this same issue. Gianna is C's age, and we are teaching her at home this year, partly for this reason (I was only able to find one 1/2 day program and I still had to pay as though she was attending full-day). Gianna is playing soccer in town this year, and at her afternoon practices there are ALWAYS children crying. Their moms will all tell me that their children are crying because they are so tired from being in school all day. I know some of these kids, and they normally do not act like this, so I agree with their moms that the day is just too long for them. Unfortunately I think full-day kindergarten has become the norm more for day-care purposes than for "academic" reasons. I'm not sure of the solution, but prayers for all you moms out there struggling with this!

Melinda said...

Hi Kat,

We are making the same adjustment, and here is what is working for us: a very early bedtime, a story in the morning after her uniform is on, and we all walk to school together. I leave really early so she doesn't have to run to keep up, and we look for birds and stuff on the way. On Mondays she has a violin lesson, and I arranged for her to be picked up early so we have time for a muffin and book on cd in the car. I signed up for "lunch duty" one day a week and she really looks forward to that.

While I have a lot of respect for homeschooling, I don't think difficulty with a new routine in the first month is necessarily a sign that school is all bad. You may come to that conclusion over time, or you may not, but don't feel guilty for giving it some time.

Kat said...

Kathy, I appreciate your thoughts on homeschooling and it sounds like it's worked great for your family! In our case and for C's personality, I don't think that it is the right decision. And he is actually very emotionally mature, so for me to say to him "all of us feel this way sometimes" does strike a cord with him and helps him to feel like I understand his feelings. Yes, he is reluctant to head out the door in the morning for school, but he's also reluctant to head out the door for trips to the playground, soccer practice, church, etc. etc. This is just how he has always been since the time that he was very small. What I'm trying to say is that this isn't just related to school - when he comes home, he has actually had a good day and enjoys telling us about all of the things that he had the chance to do! All in all, Kindergarten has been a positive experience, and we've had less days of "Mom, can I stay home today?"

Red, thanks for the suggestions. C actually goes to bed at 7 or 7:30 (we're completely done with stories and lights are out), so there's truly no way to get him into bed any earlier! He wakes up on his own, many mornings before we even do, but the issue is just that he takes his time in the morning :)

Kat said...

Melinda, our school also allows parents to have "lunch duty" once in a while, and I think that C would love to have me be a part of his day in this way - thank you for the reminder! I also like that you are able to pick your daughter up early one day a week - these are the times that little kids treasure with their parents, the little breaks from routine that make their day feel extra-special.

Juris Mater said...

Kat, some of your many greatest virtues are your tenderness, your compassion, your mercy, your empathy. The fact that you're so sensitive to C's disposition is a huge tribute to you and gift to him. With intense prayer and discernment, you lean toward school, not homeschool, and I believe your sensitivity and gentleness are precisely the gifts that will allow you to identify and smooth the bumps that come along--bumps that are there with any school or homeschool decision.

At least you have the fact that you're a morning person working for you. When we're getting Bella ready for her 3 mornings a week, I'm totally on grumpy autopilot until long after she's begun her schoolday. You, morning angel, will have your wits enough to actually make it a meaningful time of preparation for the day!

Here are some thoughts:
(1) regularly discuss with him the fact that he is a strong, extraordinary child with a lovely heart who is a light wherever he goes; you miss him every minute he's away, but you know what a great gift he is to his classmates and teachers; encourage him to shine Jesus' light and to be assured of how much your family believes in him; I believe that 5 year olds can understand this (if put gently, in your characteristic style, not brusquely or bible-thumpingly); if he sees it as a blessing and even a mission to spread love, rather than something he just has to do, it might encourage his bravery, and also his excitement, and he can connect it to Jesus and to your family when he feels tired and lonely

(2)could he keep a special something in his pockets, or could you slip a surprise there every day (a special small souvenir from a family trip, a cross, a little note), that he can be excited to discover and that can bring him comfort when he misses home

(3)reserve a lot of extra care and time for him when he's home--but of course, always doing only the best you can, which is all God asks! Bella is hyper sensitive and emotional when I first pick her up at 12:15 after a 4 hour morning (and she's good at transitions normally), she needs to ease back in and have 20 or so minutes of total quality time. That's also when she opens up about her day if she's going to--then or when she's trying to postpone bedtime of course : )

Toddler Angelina just woke up, I'll continue thinking. Bless you and C, Kat!

Melinda said...

Wow, JM, so much good stuff in there, thanks!

Is there a special "soundtrack" you could put on in the mornings while you are getting ready... maybe some upbeat music or something? I like to clean house to Simon and Garfunkel, maybe C has a CD that makes his feet tap instead of drag? :-)

Concerned said...

7:43 to 3:23.
That is a very long day for a 5 year old child. Your son has said this himself, "it's such a long day."
He is only awake for 12 hours, and 8 of those hours he is someone else's care.

I hope you have a lot of trust in your Catholic school choice because almost all of his waking and alert hours are spent in their care.

The advice of Juris Mater is excellent, but hard for a 5 year old to believe if he spends 75% of his day outside of your care.

Kat said...

Concerned, yes, it is a long day, but this is just how long a typical school day is, 8-3. Even if I he was only doing a half-day for Kindergarten, he would be doing a full day starting in 1st grade. Unless I homeschooled, which you seem to suggest I should be doing, this is a normal school day.

Mary said...

Let's remember that homeschooling isn't for everyone and from someone who knows C pretty well, I think K is definitely making the right choice for him. It wouldn't matter if K was planning to take him to Disney World, he would still drag his feet-that's just his personality. This isn't a kid who is sitting in the corner crying and missing Mom-once he gets to school, he's happy to be there-it's just the getting ready part that's the problem. K-I have managed to squeeze in a small amount of tv on school mornings. It's a big incentive for Diana to get ready quickly, make her bed, eat breakfast, etc.-then she might get to watch 15 min. or so of tv before we leave for school. It has helped with moving her along. Just an idea that might help. Thank goodness our kids are early risers-I don't know how people do it if their kids can't get up early!

Julie said...

Kat,

My heart goes out to you. My oldest (now 8) was very much like your son. when she started pre-k she cried everyday for 2 weeks and then was reluctant to go to school the entire year after that and it was only a 3 day/half a day program...

When it came time for her to start Kindergarten i knew that i could not send her to school at our parish because it offered only a full day program. i searched and prayed that God would show me His Will for my daughter and it became very evident that He wanted me to homeschool her. I can only explain it as i felt i was being called, like a vocation, i felt it in the very depth of my soul...i fought it, believe me i did...i had doubts, but when God speaks...you just gotta listen and by His Almighty Grace, i am happy to say that we are a thriving homeschooling family, this is my daughters 4th year of homeschooling and she absolutely loves it.
you know your child best, so i would say pray and ask God to lead you in His Holy Will for the child he has blessed you with. He will not let you down, but be prepared for his answer, sometimes it is not what we expect :)

Mary Alice said...

Timers are a big motivator for my kids. If there was a "treat" waiting for him at the breakfast table, as small as a gummy vitamin, and he had a game to beat the clock, perhaps that would get him moving? Or 5 minutes of Lego time which he loses if he has to spend it still getting dressed?

Music is a great idea, too, but depends on the kid -- I have one who can get lost in the music, it is just an added source of distraction. It is quite typical for boys this age to just sort of space out.

As a homeschooler, I think it is quite important that all school issues not be met with a response that the child would be better off at home. My children, who are home all day, are still required to get dressed each morning, comb hair, etc. We do have the luxury of taking days off from this, I call them pajama days, from time to time. However, I frankly think that this is a life skill to be built and that homeschoolers need to learn it just as much as those in school.

The point here was not that the child does not like school or is not successful in school, but that he struggles with transitions. Indeed, it is a long school day, but the vast majority of kids, in my experience, can handle it by the spring. Kindergarten is, in many ways, a year of transitioning to school, this is a time for both of you to learn what works for C.

Red sees kids crying because they are too tired at soccer -- perhaps the school day should be shorter, but as it is not, perhaps these kids should not be in soccer yet. It depends a lot on the kid, but some kids just should come home after kindergarten, have a bath, hang out with mom, and that is fine. Soccer will be there when they are older. Other kids would be bouncing off the walls, they need tons of sport, and for some it is how they wind down after school, for others it is added stress. In some cases, you might not be able to tell for a few weeks, but if a child is routinely crying at an activity, I would probably take them out of it.

Now that I have an 8 year old, a 6 year old and two young 5 year olds, I can see that they are growing and developing month by month. At 8, P has asked for an alarm clock for his birthday and can mostly do his own thing and be ready on time, but he still often forgets to brush the back of his hair. This is a process, you have from now until they are 18 to work on it!

Mary Alice said...

Back to little C, though. If you haven't already, I would also make "getting ready for tomorrow" part of the bedtime routine. Lay out his clothes, untie and loosen his shoes, get his backpack ready. Take a few moments to talk about what is on the school schedule for tomorrow -- and they go to bed looking forward to art day or ballet or what have you.

All that said, it became clear over the course of a year that the parochial school we chose was NOT a good environment for our child. For other children, the school bus is not a good choice, and Dad driving them to school is a helpful transition. If, at a certain point, you get the sense that this is more than just a morning fog, you will have a teachers conference in November and have a chance to begin to talk it over then. It is better not to jump to conclusions. My son complained about going to school on Wednesdays, because he was scared of the art teachter. We learned, for example, at the conference, that many kindergarten kids were scared of the Art teacher in the beginning of the year, (he was a large man with a beard), but that by the spring most children listed Art as a favorite subject. This held true for our son. I was all ready to call the principal about the art teacher being "mean" until I realized that the kids were just scared of his beard and low voice!

One last thought -- I love the idea of slipping something in his pocket on the way out the door -- perhaps a knock knock joke to share with friends on the bus, my kids LOVE jokes and riddles, and it is also a good ice breaker, which, as a homebody myself, I often need to get going in social situations.

Oh, and September is a huge transitional time for all of us -- let's face it, I don't really want to be wearing shoes yet, either, after a whole summer of flip flops!

Helen said...

I too have a five year old who started full-day kindergarten this year, and he is also exhausted at the end of the day (we only have a six hour day (8am-2pm), since we live within walking distance to school). Even so,it's stressful to watch him melt down after school; but he's my 6th child, so I've learned that this is a time of transition and that he will eventually "get into the groove."

This is what works for us: As Mary Alice suggested, we do all our preparation for school the night before, laying out clothes, making lunch and snacks, etc. We even set the table for breakfast and pick out our cereal! We talk about what's happening at school the next day and it gives him something to look forward to. By doing all the prep the night before, I can wait to wake him up 30 minutes before he has to leave. We also set timers and have "races" to get dressed. I like the idea of a special treat, I think I may try that too.

The second thing I do, on the back end of the school day, is we sit and have a snack, followed by a "mommy snuggle" on the couch. Often he will fall asleep, and I will let him rest for no more than 20-30 minutes. It's enough to refresh him, and make his one page of coloring homework go smoother, but not enough to interfere with bedtime. This works better for us than an early bedtime, because I'm pretty tired at the end of the day as well, which is a recipe for whining (from both of us!).

He's been in school about a month now, and he can pretty much make it through the day without a nap (except for Friday). And he loves school! He told me last week he wishes he could stay longer, because it's so "entertaining!"

My advice is, go with your gut in terms of schedule modifications and give him a little time to adjust. Try skipping the bus and driving to school on the tough days, or picking him up instead of taking the bus home. That 45 minutes of time not on the bus may make a big difference.

Lisa said...

Hi Kat,

I don't have a ton of advice to share, but I do want to give you my wholehearted support for your evaluating what is best for your family and pursuing it accordingly. I don't believe homeschooling is best for my family either, and while my position has earned criticism from some in my circle, it is my family, and I'm responsible for guiding my family as best I can. In case some of the comments have made you second guess your decision for your son's schooling this year, something a deacon at my church told me *years* ago still gives me comfort on so many occasions: "The grass is always greener on the other side, BUT IT STILL HAS TO BE MOWED!" Homeschooling can have many benefits for many families, but it is filled with its own challenges/issues as well. Not to suggest that once you can't evaluate/reconsider your schooling decision as time goes on, and act accordingly, but I think it's important to point out that homeschooling is *not* a perfect option. In particular, the issues you describe with C's morning routine would seem to hold whether he was homeschooled or in a "formal" school setting. Getting started with the day is difficult for all 5 year olds!

My only concrete piece of advice would be to try and see if there's a way for you to drive him to school in the mornings. I know Texas is the land of suburban sprawl, so it may be a hike for you each morning, but it may be worth it if you can make it happen. Just thinking from my own, adult experience, my husband and I have a single car. I'm far more willing to take the subway/bus than he is, so generally speaking that's my mode of transport, and I'm usually fine with it. That said, on the days that I know I can drive somewhere and get there much more quickly/directly than if I took the subway, it does give me a bit of pep in my step. Door to door service to start the day may entice your C as well! I imagine that the afternoon ride home will be fine, though. Thinking back to my own elementary school days, I never wanted to be the one to leave school first. I liked taking the bus home, continuing the fun of the day. If you can swing one-way transport in the morning, that may help C get moving in the morning!

Kathy said...

The answer to your dilemma that will bring you peace is stated in your title. What does LOVE require? Love is sacrifice, pure and simple. Love has no limits. It is not limited by "I can't" because "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

Sometimes God surprises us with prompts to do things we never thought we'd do in a million years, because love calls us. But we need to open to the inspirations of His Spirit. Our Blessed Mother only could give her "Yes" to God's "impossible" request because she knew God would ask nothing of her for which He would fail to provide the grace needed to accomplish it.

I would take this problem straight to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Then follow Our Lady's advice to the servants at Cana, "Do whatever He tells you."

One more thought about home schooling . . . I know many mothers, including myself, who took to this one semester at a time. It was at least 5 years into it before I was pretty well convinced I would do this for the duration of my children's school years. Homeschooling kindergarten is so easy, and so much fun!

Mary Alice said...

I would agree with concerned that making quality home time is tough when they have so much time spent at school and are so tired when they get home. For my child, there was an academic problem (handwriting) and I was advised to supplement at home. For us, there would have been no way to fit that in at the end of a long school day for a kid who needed (and still needs) some time alone each day as well.

Anonymous said...

This is for Kathy: I think that what you said was really rude. Homeschooling is not the answer for everyone. I was turned off of homeschooling because of comments like yours. Homeschoolers need to not judge people who decide to send their kids to school.