Volume 16, Number 26 | Nov. 25 - Dec. 1, 2003


Kindergarten pressures on parents and children

By Jane Flanagan
And I thought the toddler stage was tough.
When my husband and I decided to look for a school with small class sizes for our son Rusty, 5, we had no idea what we were in for.
Be it private or a special public school, the process is quite something.
First, the essays. When the applications began arriving in the mail, I discovered, to my horror, that each one included multiple essay questions. You would think that since I’m a writer this wouldn’t be that hard. But it is. There is just no easy way to write about your child for a panel of experts who must judge him.
Then there are the school tours. My husband is now getting up at 4:45 in the morning so that he can get in a few hours at the office before heading to a school for a two or three-hour visit. I’m staying late at the office until 8 or 9 p.m., barely seeing the child for whom I am applying to these schools.
During the school tours someone inevitably asks the question on everyone’s mind. Just how many spots are open? Often, the answer is fewer places than there are families in the room. And that is just one roomful of touring parents. Schools conduct about thirty for any given year.
Those kinds of odds have me acting a little nutty. Take the application forms. I have a terrible handwriting and was afraid to handwrite them. I feared they might deduct points off an application written by a mother, a former Catholic schooler no less, who flunked handwriting. (Many applications ask what elementary school I went to.) But since the last time I’d come across a typewriter was circa 1988, I knew I had to handwrite them.
So I practiced. I made two Xerox copies of each application and began writing in a manner I haven’t attempted since grade school. Lower case and upper case letters printed correctly.
Then there are the interviews. Ours and Rusty’s. We are trying to prepare him now. Many schools require he have a half hour interview with a staff member. Since he only just started greeting adults, this should be interesting. At his preschool, he spent last year rebuffing the advances of his teacher the year before. She believes that the entire year may have gone by without him actually saying “hello.”
Then there is the test. The elementary school college boards, as my husband calls them. We had him take it last year when we were just considering applying to schools. After paying $300 it was 50/50 whether he would even go off with the woman administering it. Fortunately, he did, but only after burying his head in my lap for awhile, an action later noted in the test results.
I’ve also been intimidated by the advanced nature of some of the kindergartens I’ve been seeing. At one school we were told that 5-year-olds write in journals. It gave me pause, thinking how excited we got when Rusty scribbled his name on a birthday card.
Going back to elementary school is unnerving me, too. I can’t believe how much I’ve forgotten. One day I was in a fourth grade science class where students were describing layers of rocks in terms that I had never heard. I’m not even sure I knew rocks had layers. In a math class, I couldn’t solve the equations the fifth graders were easily mastering.
Meanwhile, I am trying to keep my anxiety from Rusty. I don’t know how well I’m succeeding, but I see why it’s worth trying. Kids this age don’t really understand the concept of “next year.” When I mentioned we were looking at new schools for first grade he said, “Do I have to go next week? I don’t want to go.”
Through it all I can’t help but think that if this is what it takes to get into elementary school, what will college be like? But then something occurs to me and I cheer up a little. At least I won’t have to write the essays.



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