Daily, with diligence if not enthusiasm, my children pledge allegiance to the Republic of Witchistan.
Mind you, they also pledge allegiance to the United States of America.
They do not seem to be bothered by--or even really to notice--the potential conflict of pledging allegiance to two nations simultaneously.
I would say that perhaps they've reconciled this in their own minds thanks to the whole "one nation, under God" bit. But I'm pretty sure that they haven't thought this through that thoroughly.
Or even really at all.
While it's funny to hear a five-year-old solemnly repeating this pledge over and over in your bed in the dark of the early morning (where "funny" = a better way to wake up than being poked in the ribs by the tiny-but-extraordinarily-pokey toes of the same five-year-old), it also makes you stop and think.
Actually, it made her stop and think. "What's justice?" she asked me this morning. I explained it meant fairness. "Oh," she said, murmuring her way through another rendition, "...with liverty and justice for all."
"Do you know what liBerty is?" I asked, emphasizing the B, so as to help remind her that we weren't talking about internal organs here.
"No," she replied, not really concerned at all.
"It means freedom," I said. "So, 'with liBerty and justice for all' means the country is supposed to have freedom and fairness for everyone."
She seemed unimpressed. Or at least, uninspired. I suppose it is difficult, at age five, growing up in a comfortable house and going to a good school where all the kids have their own desks and plenty of paper and the ones whose home breakfasts are scant or non-existent have a supplement from the school, to imagine a world in which freedom and fairness are NOT inalienable rights.
All the more reason, in my mind, for the teachers who are dutifully drumming this pledge into my kids' heads to do something to explain it to them. To give them a mini history lesson once a week. To explain why this pledge was written, why the flag is an important symbol.
At the very least, to explain to them that they do not, in fact, live in the Republic of Witchistan.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Daily, with diligence if not enthusiasm, my children pledge allegiance to the Republic of Witchistan.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Partway through the year in Mrs. Zawarski's first-grade class, I was already a pretty good reader. And I was bored. A lot. When we did worksheets, we sat quietly at our desks until everyone was done. I was usually among the first to finish, and so I spent a lot of time just sitting at my desk. Quietly. Doing not much of anything that I can recall.
...Thankfully, once I entered second grade, I was allowed to check out books from the library--and after that, I was never bored because I always had a book tucked into my desk. But that was still a year away...
At one point, I tore a little scrap of paper from the corner of something, and penciled a tiny note. "Please give me some homework," it read. I stood up, and silently delivered it to the teacher while other children were still finishing their worksheets.
Mrs. Zawarski looked at the note, smiled at me, and said, "We don't have homework in first grade." And then she dismissed me by looking away. There was nothing I could say in response to her definitive claim, and so I wandered back to my seat. That was that.
Fast forward thirty-plus years.
I have a kindergartner of my own.
Last week, this was her homework:
- 1 short, repetitive book to read aloud daily
- 2 handwriting pages
- a non-fiction book I was supposed to read aloud to her, and to which she is supposed to record her response in a journal
- 2 math pages done in class, to complete and/or correct the incorrect problems
- a set of number-recognition flash cards to quiz on (preferably daily)
- a set of sight-word flash cards to quiz on (preferably daily)
- "sharing" items to bring in, that start with the letter of the week
- an activities sheet to check off, indicating how many activities she did this week that start with the letter F
Actually, broken down over the course of a week, this is probably half-an-hour to forty-five minutes of work each day. That doesn't seem like much, I realize. And I am not complaining, exactly.
But I am wondering: is it better (i.e. more productive for her? more likely to result in her learning these concepts) for her to do this rote work or for me to read her three books every night before bed? Because since kindergarten started, we're lucky if there's one book before lights-out any more.
Is it more useful for her to drill numbers or to bake with me and count scoops of flour, measure, pour, and begin learning the basis of fractions as we do all these things? Because we don't have time for baking during the week now that we have this homework to do.
I'm sure we're not the only family in the school whose kids like to rake leaves and jump in them, bike around the cul-de-sac with their friends, take the dog for walks, dig in the garden, paint pictures, have a dance party in the kitchen, or play board games while eating popcorn.
But between the after-school care a few days a week, and the ONE day per week (I made sure all the activities were centralized this year) that we go to ballet, soccer and skating (not everyone does every activity), it's not possible both to do homework and to play on the same day after school. Really.
And I'm not quite sure that missing out on playing is a very good idea. Isn't it through play that we learn to invent stories? We build narratives about what our dolls are doing in the doll house. We create back-stories for the pictures we paint. We invent relationships between our puppets, our lego guys, ourselves ("You be the puppy, and I'll be the owner -- [tossing a ball] FETCH!") Through play with others, we learn to share, to compromise, to negotiate. Through play on our own, we learn to be self-sufficient, imaginative, capable of feeling happy in our selves.
Through play, we flex our muscles and our minds.
There is something I fear we are losing through all this homework. I'm sure my daughter will be a good reader by the time she enters first grade. But I also want her to be a happy child, a creative spirit, able to entertain herself, willing to try new activities, able to invent activities to fill the stretches of time that inevitably crop up in our lives. Stretches that used be every single Monday-Friday afternoon from 3-6pm, and every weekend, and all summer, but now are shrinking to the point where they feel like precious stolen moments rather than daily life.
Yesterday, a friend came home from school with Son. They played football in the yard while Daughter painted. They came in and set up the iPod (volume: loud) to make a dance party in the kitchen. The friend saw Daughter painting at the kitchen table and wanted to paint too. So they all painted, while bobbing up and down to the music in their chairs. They took my challenge to create whole paintings using nothing but dots, which led us to look up examples of pointillism online.
It was an impulsive, active, completely delightful afternoon. They might have learned something in the process. But more importantly, they had such a good time that it was almost a shock when dinner-time was suddenly upon us.
I want days like that to be de rigeur. But I fear they will be the glittering highlights, the random special moments we manage to tuck between the trudging days of flashcards, like occasional brave stars shining through on a cloudy night.
Presumably, the homework only gets to be more intense as the grades progress. How to manage it while still enabling the kind of creative, open-ended free time I think is so important for children's development will surely grow to be a bigger conundrum. Any tips you have would be gratefully appreciated.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
"Stupid dog," I mutter under my breath. The shrill-barking beagle, the one who will not stay off the furniture, is still in his crate downstairs. He cannot hear my invective, though certainly we can hear his baying. And it is only day two of dog-sitting.
"What did you say?" my son asks.
"Oh, nothing," I reply, vaguely too ashamed to have to repeat my frustration in a louder, clearer voice.
"Because I thought you said he was a stupid dog," my son adds, snuggling deeper under the comforter in the chill of the fall morning. "He's not really a stupid dog," he says, speaking slowly, as if feeling his way into his idea, "it's probably really hard to stay in a place where all the rules are completely the opposite of the rules where you normally live."
He is seven, this sage of mine.
I hug him close, affirming how deeply correct he is. "Yes," I say. "I need to have more patience with him. You are absolutely right."
I can hardly believe that here, with his head pressed into the hollow of my shoulder, his feet are approaching my own. How many more of these pre-dawn conversations do I have left? How many months before he sleeps through this precious half-hour, this sliver of our day in which we can talk freely about his interests, his fears, his triumphs, the difficulties he faces at school? In which we can listen to, and really hear, each other?
I wrap my arms around his sinewy child self, breathing deeply the smell of his hair, where still lingers the scent of the baby he used to be. How quickly will this child, who has his own ideas now about how his hair should be cut, outgrow wanting to talk to his mama first thing in the morning?
This fall, he suddenly seems to me to be poised on the edge of older-child-hood. Recently, he is shy of telling me he loves me too as he walks out the door to meet the school bus, though he is also still child enough to look me full in the face, smiling, and tell me he won't tell me he loves me because that laughing defiance is our code for the start of a tickle retaliation. He is wise--wiser than I am sometimes about matters that require patience and empathy, as he innocently reminds me on this chill fall morning. And he is silly--silly enough to squabble with his sister about who gets which bowl of berries at snack time.
I marvel at the balance he maintains. Effortlessly standing on the mid-line between work and play, between the sunshine of sudden full-face smiles and the brooding moodiness of an older child, between observations whose insight stuns me and pouting petulance over having to eat the meat he has been served at dinner.
He is balanced. To perfection. Precisely in the spot between six-years-old and eight-years-old.
In my own efforts at balance, I have neglected this blog for the past four months. I have poured myself into exciting projects and unexpected opportunities that work has given me. I have read, and written, and thought, and read some more. In between that, I have been ice skating with my daughter, reading with my son, walking our new dog, laughing with my husband. I have helped a dear friend move away, and I have made a new friend in one who similarly felt the giant hole our Chicago-bound-girlfriend left behind. I have striven for a balance between work and play.
And while I have made great strides (yes, I can do a half-lutz! I am learning a scratch spin! my four-volume edited collection is nearly done! my daughter has started kindergarten! my son has started playing a new sport! my husband and I have had several real date nights!), I have missed writing here. And I have missed you, my online community. I've been reading your words, feeling somewhat bereft of my own. I have been keeping up with your lives as best I can, feeling my way towards that balance of living my own and not losing a sense of yours.
And so, I am back. I hope more regularly, though probably not every day. I need this kind of creative outlet. I need to write. And I need this sense of community.
Here I am then, trying to take a page from my son's book. Perfectly inhabiting his age, his present, his life, he is a better role model than many others I might identify right now. Balanced, almost effortlessly.
It feels a worthy goal, in this instance, to try to emulate a child.