Kindergarten Adventures

I volunteer to help in Smurf’s Kindergarten classroom for about 45 min per week, on most weeks. Usually, I walk around and help the kids as they try to trace their letters or read their little books. Sometimes I read a more complicated text to a small group of 3-4 kids.

Today one kid came up to me as I was reading to Smurf and another boy and point-blank asked if God were real. I was taken by surprise and responded, “Well, that depends on what you believe.” To which the kid responded, “No, that’s not about believing. My parents say that God is real.” Then Smurf chimed in, “My mom doesn’t believe in God, and neither do my brothers. Our whole family doesn’t believe in God.”  I said, “Different families believe different things. Some families believe in God and some don’t, and that’s okay.” Another girl spoke up. “My family believes in God.” Mercifully, the teacher came by. “Yes, different families believe different things, and that’s all okay.” Somebody added, “My dad says I am too little to talk about God!” which I think might be the best contribution to the conversation.

I am now honestly a bit worried that the teacher will get in trouble for having me in her classroom when some kid goes home and tells their parent that Smurf’s mom doesn’t believe in God and says that different families believe different things.

***

I never know how much of a physical boundary I’m supposed to have with the kids.

One little boy came today and started touching my hair and asked what it was; I said it was hair (he is African American, so I am guessing my hair is different from his mom’s). He slowly pulled two strands on the two sides of my head, lifted them up, then let them fall, then picked them up and brought them together on the top of my head and said, “You look silly!” “Yes, I bet I do!” I laughed. But then another kid came and tried to pull my hair, and Smurf got upset. “Leave her alone!”

Some kids will come and want to climb onto my lap or give me a hug. I am not the teacher, so I honestly don’t know if that’s okay. One kid came up to me today and asked for a hug; I gave him a half hug and said I didn’t think I was supposed to give hugs to kids who are not my kid. I feel bad denying the kid a hug, but I’m not sure what the proper response would have been. I need to talk with the teacher.

***

Smurf goes to a public school. His classmates are all unbelievably cute.

I see that some kids come to school with just a cup of apple sauce for lunch (which my kid has for dessert, after an actual lunch). Some come reeking of cigarettes. About a quarter of the class has serious issues sitting still, and I wonder how much of it has to do with not getting enough sleep or not eating well.

One friend who is an elementary school teacher says that, for some of these kids, age 5 is already late. Their lives have been so stressful and so chaotic since they were born, that the brains didn’t get wired the way they would have in a more stable situation… And they face lifelong behavioral issues, inability to concentrate, poor academic achievement, the inability to soothe themselves, to manage their anger or frustration… It breaks my heart that some of them never really had a chance.

4 comments

  1. My heart breaks for these kids. Whenever I worry that I’m traumatizing my kid (by, for example, taking my first overnight trip away from him tonight), hearing stories like this help me to put it in perspective and realize that he is immensely privileged and I’m not going to break him. It’s wonderful that you volunteer in Smurf’s classroom — it must be great to get to know the kids so you know who he’s talking about when he tells you stories about his day and so you can ask him better questions about what he’s doing in kindergarten. My husband is always asking me how I know so much about the kids and the teachers at my son’s daycare, and it’s seriously just because I like to hang out and play with the kids and chat with the teachers for like 15 minutes several times a week at dropoff (whenever it’s not too hectic) — that time makes a big difference in how much I know about the social landscape of the class (at this age, who’s finally mobile, who got teeth last week, the fact that this kid is crying because his grandparents dropped him off today instead of his parents) and how well I can interpret things the teachers tell us. My husband is so businesslike — he’s always in and out. That little bit of time investment is huge and I’m sure it must pay off for you.

    I’m curious, have all your kids gone through public school all the way? I know your region of the country is better at public schools than my region of the country, but it’s so hard for us to figure out what to do about the extremely mediocre public schools in our town. We are all in for kindergarten (at that age the benefits of being part of a socioeconomically diverse classroom clearly outweigh any downsides), but worried about when these social deficits start to pay off in behavioral issues down the line and eventually the drugs and violence that happen at the huge local high school. It’s the crappy choice faced by parents in this country who are wealthy enough to have a choice: since we can’t fix the public school system on our own, do we keep our kid in on principle as long as he seems to be doing OK, or do we bail and become part of the problem? It sucks.

  2. It is so heartbreaking realizing how rough some kids have it. For a lot of those kids, school is the only safe place they have. I would think it would be ok to hug, but definitely talk with the teacher.

  3. I totally think it’s okay to hug kindergartners/let them sit on your lap/cuddle unless you’ve been told otherwise. (I’m an early childhood researcher and there’s a lot of work on how physical affection reduces stress). I think if they seek out the affection and it isn’t disruptive or inappropriate, I’d accommodate it. If it’s inappropriate because cluelessness, then I’d redirect it. If it’s inappropriate for other reasons, report.

    Your friend is right about early intervention though — anything before age 5 is better. And chaos/stress definitely leads to differently wired neural circuits.

    http://www.radiolab.org/story/261176-the-great-mother-switcheroo/

    https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/unequal-stress-how-poverty-toxic-children%E2%80%99s-brains

    And it sounds like you handled the God question perfectly too.

  4. I would be seriously surprised if there is any blow back on the God question.

    My Mom was a public school teacher. She had some really heartbreaking stories about some of her kids. But she also had some really heartwarming ones, where a kid she was worried about dropped by years later and was doing great. We could do so much better by the kids in our country. No child should be hungry at school, for one thing, I don’t care if the parents are broke, too screwed up to remember to send lunch, or just flakes. Don’t take it out on the kid.

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