I used to picture my five-year-old son starting kindergarten as an experience that I expected would be full of nervous excitement, joy, laughter, and new friends. My son loved preschool. His experience with school prior to kindergarten led him to hold a strong image of what it means to go to school and to learn–an image that is filled with joy and love and openness and curiosity. I desperately want him to keep associating those things with school and learning. But as his kindergarten experience actually begins this year online, I am finding my biggest hopes for him bumping right into some of my biggest fears. I’m fearful of what this unexpected year of kindergarten is actually going to look like. I don’t want this school year to include developmentally inappropriate amounts of screen time, or isolation from his peers, or growing independence without growing collaboration, or power struggles with me over what he’s doing or not doing… I could go on and on here.
So, as he sat in front of the computer and logged in to his first live small group math meeting, I sat there (trying to do my own work but totally unable to not focus on him) full of hope and excitement for him AND full of my own fear and despair over this lost kindergarten experience that I had pictured for him.
And although I still felt myself holding my breath as I was “not” listening in, within just a few minutes I was admitting to myself that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There were introductions to new friends, singing, counting, games, active participation from every child, and even some laughter.
Toward the end of the meeting, his teacher said, “we’ll say good-bye one at a time and count how many kids are left in the meeting until everyone is logged off.” My son volunteered to log off first – but immediately wanted to log back on. As I realized what he was doing, I started to walk over to stop him and remind him of what his teacher had just said. I felt myself get frustrated, thinking “just do what your teacher asks.” I felt it was my responsibility to intervene. But before I could say anything, he figured out how to jump right back into the meeting. And when we did, he was greeted with a big smile and a, “Hi! You’re back! Now how many kids are in our meeting?”
I sat back down, realizing that I didn’t need to intervene at that moment. Then, my son shared with the group how he logged on and off and three more kids chimed in with, “I want to try that!” My anxiety over his choice, including what the teacher (and maybe even other parents listening in) might think about him (and me) caused my impulse to intervene to return – in a big way. I knew this logging off and right back on wasn’t what his teacher had planned. I was worried this was going to get out of control or frustrating to his teacher or that the meeting would never end. I thought I needed to just end the meeting for my son. But again, before I had the chance, I watched his teacher meet his attempt at playing with this new technology with warmth and laughter as she encouraged everyone who wanted to to give it a try. She stayed on the meeting counting kids as they logged on and off, laughing and sharing how many kids were there, and asking the other kids who had stayed in the meeting how many kids they counted.
Eventually, the teacher said, “OK, we’ve got to log off for real this time! New meetings are going to start soon so I have to go. I can’t wait to see you next time!” And everyone made a final log off. This small moment took only two or three minutes of time. The decision made by his teacher to just roll with it, to meet these kids with exactly what they were bringing in the moment, to prioritize play and laughter and connection over compliance, and to even make counting (her original intention) a part of it stopped me in my tracks.
This was such a tiny moment. But this tiny moment helped ease just a tiny bit of that fear that I am carrying with me. Maybe my son will have too much screen time this year, but maybe the screen will be the place where he gets to show up with his full, silly, playful self. Maybe it will be the place where he finds laughter and makes some new (virtual) friends. Maybe he’ll tinker around with new ideas and teach others what he discovers. Maybe it will be the place where he finds out what it feels like when others try out an idea he puts forward.
It might not.
And I’m sure a lot of it will feel hard.
But maybe I can remember to take a deep breath and take a step back so he can step forward with independence. And I witnessed one possible way that teachers might invite collaboration – by responding to an offer to play by saying “yes.”
Parents and Teachers:
How are your hopes for your childrens’ experiences lining up with this new school year?
What choices are you making to welcome what children are bringing to these challenging times?