Highly Effective Kindergartner

Summer break. Finally. Kindergarten was hard. Not for reasons that I expected. We were prepared for navigating the frustrations that go with learning to read and write, we handled the transition to a school schedule, and grew into this routine. It wasn’t that.

So many school shootings it hard to even keep up. Watching as teachers strike as they protest this broken system. An alarming and increasing number of adolescent suicides.

And so much more that I wasn’t expecting. Just like every other parenting stage.

These were not on the list of worries I had at the beginning of this school year for my kindergartner. But all of these things impacted her first year of school. These scary parts I don’t even want her to know about.  It’s impossible to ignore the scary parts. And you shouldn’t. We can no longer do nothing and blissfully send our children off to school each day. We need to do more to protect student’s mental health in this fast paced world. From our experiences this year, I know that it starts in Kindergarten. I know this through my own mental health battles, and the toll it takes. I learned that I must take my child’s mental health seriously.

For 39 hours every week my daughter is learning, growing, and in the care of her dedicated teachers and the school’s caring staff. I am beyond grateful for the teachers that my daughter spends so much time with. Knowing that these people are there to not only educate, but guide her feelings (and 21 other children’s at the same time), make it easier knowing she is safe at school. 

People are struggling to live in our country, risking everything, just so their children can have an opportunity at our education. This is a privilege that our family takes very seriously. Seeing what teachers are expected to overcome just to provide a safe and functioning  classroom is beyond frustrating. Watching as our government put their personal agendas and pocketbooks before our failing education system is unfair to schools and our children. I want better than this broken system for her, but will never take the sacrifices of her teachers  for granted.

Since the moment she made me a mother, I have been the one to teach the lessons. To focus on examples of empathy, kindness, and to encourage her to run wild and free. I have known everyone who she has played with. I have been there to help her navigate her huge feelings. Watching her go off everyday where she has been bullied, embarrassed, or left out. Knowing that she has been unkind to others. Worrying if  she gets “clipped down” in front of her peers for behaviors that she isn’t in control of yet. The anxiety she faces of being more concerned about being number one, then taking her time and writing neat letters. The pressure of fitting in, being the best, and never falling out of line has taken a toll on her spirit.

Be prepared for the behavioral chart. I wasn’t. 

One of the hardest things this year has been the effects this chart has had on my daughter. Our specific chart used is from the Leader in Me program. (Which “teaches 21st century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader”) Each day she is given a color for her behavior that day. This color coordinates with on the the 7 Habits of a Happy Kid. Each day when she steps off of the bus I can tell from her demeanor and expression which color she got. Each day the first words out of her mouth are “I got a….. (insert color)”.

If it’s anything less than pink (best) color she is frantically explaining herself. When she gets to jump into her dad’s arms and he asks about her day, it’s always color first. Not about the awesome activities and lessons her teacher has put so much work behind developing.

I don’t care about colors. I care about her.

What did she learn? What was the recess game? Was she was kind to everyone?
If she made healthy choices. If she had fun. If she spoke her mind.  If she was happy.
Her main priority is pink. And her fear is not getting a pink.

These 7 Habits that she is judged on daily are quite impressive. I understand why its founder, Stephen Covey, is a celebrated motivational genius and why his very marketable leadership empire has earned millions.  I definitely agree that these habits are all very important to very effective people. These are habits that I strive for. I, an adult, have a hard time reaching these goals on a daily basis.

From all the people I’ve met, experiences I’ve lived, parenting styles I have gotten to better understand, lessons I’ve learned,  I know that these are all habits we strive for on some level. I would love to be able to Syenerigze®, but I do not expect my 5 year old to understand these learned skills, or to abide by them daily. This particular program is quite questionable, but using behavioral charts as a classroom management technique should be better researched and implemented better.

These behavioral charts are so damaging to developing mental health.  Already pressuring to be the best, to shame/exclude the “bad kids.” Teaching that they are constantly judged, and their color earned is more important than what they are feeling, or what they know is right. I’ve watched her self esteem plummet. Her fearing irrational punishment for not getting the best. I saw that she was more concerned over her color, than her feelings of empathy. I saw her react to kid stuff, the way a kid should, and clipped down for. 

I also see the correlation between grooming them to fit in their first year, and the choices they make their last year. Managing a group of 20 plus kids in today’s classroom has got to be one of the most difficult jobs. Teachers deserve so much more, just for their levels of patience, but we can do better than behavioral charts. We need to enable our children with skills they need to cope with the mental health issues that plague our fast paced world. If we want to really do something about the scary stuff, we need to make sure we are doing our best from day 1.

I am so excited to spend the summer with my girl. We’ve been counting down the days to sleeping in, hikes, swimming, testing out recipes, art projects, road trips, marshmallows, and all the extra snuggles we can get. I am so glad she enjoyed Kindergarten. Her education is such a gift. The doors are open to her because of the knowledge she gained this year. It was amazing to see her learn to read, add, subtract, write stories, recall facts, explore art and science. To see her passions ignite, to know where she struggles. To witness her speak her mind, stand up for others, and do what she thinks is right, even if that resulted in a blue day.  I am going to soak up every  second of this summer. While we will both be prepare for whatever 1st grade has in store for us.


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