Kindergarten Blues

Posted on: September 13th, 2013 by

Commencement ceremonies are often perceived as the end of a major accomplishment. This was the case when my daughter graduated from pre-school in June. But, like all commencements, this one actually signified the beginning toward a new life.

With the advent of kindergarten a month ago, Ari and I embraced that new life. We enjoyed the parent and child orientation, as well as meet-the-teacher night. After orientation, she played on the always-popular playground and felt she belonged at this school.

In many ways, Ari is thriving. After school, if there is time, I sit on the bench at the school’s park with so many other doting mothers. I watch my girl. She gleefully goes down the slide with a look of pride. She makes sure I’m always watching her. A year ago, she was afraid of slides of this caliber, yet she slides down them now as if she’s a pro.

She is also making friends at school and likes ALL her classmates. I see the look of joy on her face as her new girlfriends tumble out of school and run to her. And I see the look of complete, untainted, unruly happiness – perhaps a look reserved only for children’s faces – as the gaggle embrace and jump around in a group hug. Ari’s face sparks confidence.

It’s quite a different story at home. There’s work waiting for her there – to be more specific, homework. And there’s work waiting for her in the classroom. The teacher told us at meet-the-teacher night that there would be ample homework, so I was expecting that.

But no orientation could ever prepare me for the searing pain of watching my anguished child during her first month at kindergarten.

Ari is not lazy, but homework has been such an albatross for her. I tell her how proud I am of her and that she just needs to always do her best. She works so hard and tells me regularly, “Mom, I’m trying my best.” The problem: she is comparing herself to other students in her class who are more advanced than she is.

Ah, the comparison game. We learn it early, don’t we? Earlier than kindergarten, in fact, but for Ari, it’s ballooned in this time and place and space. I tell her she needs to forget what the other students are doing, that the only person she needs to be concerned about is herself. Her positive, wonderful teacher has told me that Ari, like some other kids in class, needs extra tutoring and one-on-one time with the teacher.

I could sugarcoat it, but I’ll say it straight: Ari is behind.

So behind that at least once each week she has a meltdown of the nuclear variety at school. So behind that her meltdowns include intense sobbing at school, as well as hiding in bathrooms and behind school furniture. So behind that when she got to school yesterday, she clung to me weeping bitterly. And when she let go and I tried to reason with her, she ran and accidentally smacked her head right into a cubby. The impact flattened her to the ground in one fell swoop. I bent to comfort my daughter, who was writhing in physical and emotional pain.

I scooped her crumpled spirit into my arms. Luckily, she was alright physically.

But not emotionally.

At that time, I wanted to just take my daughter home and cuddle her. I wanted to baby her. I wanted to give her everything she desired, which, in her words, was to “stay with me forever at our home.” Rather than painfully watch my daughter’s self-esteem derail, I wanted to do anything to make her happy.

Instead, I gently handed my crying child over to the teacher and tearfully left.

Character Building

Outside the school, sitting for 15 minutes in my parked car, I caught my elusive breath. Then I thought about The Rolling Stones’ song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That is the grand lesson of life, I thought with a smile, grateful Ari can’t get everything she wants.

As painful as it is to watch, kindergarten is teaching character building and strength in the face of adversity. And I’m not just referring to Ari’s character, but mine as well. We all tend to struggle when our comfort zone is challenged, but with persistence, we often achieve success and incredibly great things. All we have to do is hang on.


Hang on, Ari.


Each day she doesn’t give up propels her to progress from where she’s been. Just as she mastered the playground slides, she will eventually master the material. And she is already progressing. Ari today is more academically advanced than Ari a month ago. That should be all that counts. It should be enough.

It is enough.

I’m proud of her.

I must be a patient parent who remembers the successes, not just the hardships.

Success such as her first progress report that said she was kind and respectful to others and had a natural curiosity. Success such as just one week ago, when I offered to accompany her to her classroom, and she said with an air of confidence, “No, mom, I can do this myself.” And she walked down the hall to her classroom with her head held high.

Though she is sure of where her classroom is, Ari is still finding her way. And, for that matter, so am I.

Do you have any kindergarten stories?

Is there a time or times you encountered adversity? How did you cope?

Please feel free to share your stories.

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12 Responses to Kindergarten Blues

  1. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Beth, I really think it’s scandalous that kids in kindergarten even have homework. From what I hear, this is a universal complaint with many parents, that many kids, in all grades are gettiing too much homework. When do kids just get to be kids anymore? I’m glad she has you for a mom, but my heart aches that they have to start this competitive nonsense so early. How about letting kids find their own level so that they can enjoy learning what they want to learn? Oh, don’t get me started…we could be here all night talking about education theories. I hope her sense of fun & accomplishment far outweighs her struggles & feelings of frustration. xoxo, Kathi

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for saying so well what I’ve been feeling. “Scandalous” is a really good word describing the homework fiasco. I took a brief look at the math homework and couldn’t believe how complex it was for a kindergartener.

      My heart also aches about the competitiveness. It is the opposite of a carefree childhood, which is what I so wanted Ari to have. Already, Ari is talking about how she hates to be graded and judged. Of course, we all know that this is a normal part of education — getting judged for our work. But it seems a tad premature for kindergarten.

  2. Kara Bourke had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth- You are such a beautiful writer and wonderful mom. As a teacher the homework does not seem right for the first month of kindergarten and for Ari to be aware of academic differences between her and her classmates is concerning. Is there grouping or labeling going on in the classroom? Schools are under so much testing pressure–the students are getting lost in the equation. Most of our peers Kindergarten consisted of finger painting, show and tell, story time etc socialization was really the key and it was half day. I think first grade is the natural time for most children to learn to read. This pressure of thinking our kids are behind if they are not reading in kindergarten is outrageous. I hope Ari has a good year and keep up the good work as an amazing mom. Please pardon any typos it’s early….

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Kara, thank you for the sweet words. I know you are a terrific mother and teacher.

      The school is touting its ability to work at the level of each student, and the teachers work very closely with each student. I think that’s wonderful, but unfortunately, there is grouping according to students’ abilities. And, let’s face it, kids are smart: they know when someone is doing better than they are.

      I think our society does lose our students in the equation. Socialization is so very important in kindergarten, more so than academics.

      Truth be told, I have mixed feelings. Ari really is improving academically and learning (as hard as it is) not to compare herself to others. The part about character building is true. But I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude to figure out if Ari can adapt.

      Thank you for your insightful comment, Kara.

  3. EAK13 had this to say about that:

    Beth I am really not feeling that children in kindergarten should be doing homework at all period. They have so many years of schooling that will take much of their time involved in additional school work at home. There was a meeting not long ago among teachers and parents here that concluded the children are in school for 8 hours each day Why in primary classes do they have to be bogged down with work needing completion at home. Math give me a break…these early times in school can make or break a child’s self esteem if they feel they can’t keep up…i was that child my first year of school. I didn’t go to kindergarten because it was not available in our Catholics school back in ancient days lol But I remember being in the school auditoriun for parents day. We were supposed to have memorized an addition equation My turn came up Instead of saying while holding my card 2 little piggies plus two little piggies make 4 little piggies I made a mistake I said 5 little piggies The place erupted in laughter. My teacher ostracized me I had to recite The Hail Mary a few times. I was traumatized I hated Math or anything to do with performing in public. It stays with you. Painting, singing learning to integrate with her peers is what should be the agenda They have barely left being toddlers only to have homework?? No.I disagree! Sorry if I am over opinionated… Love Alli x

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      HI Alli,

      Thank you for your comment. What happened to you was unacceptable and horrific. That was so abusive.

      You are right about these times being self-esteem building. Kids’ self-esteem is at such a tender age at this time. It seems that so many schools are opting for this type of schooling. I remember kindergarten as a place to play and learn socialization skills.

      The thing is, I feel torn about the whole thing. It’s OK for you to disagree with my conclusion that it is character building.

      I’m really on the fence; it depends on the day. For example, my brother was traumatized by kindergarten, even though it was all about play. He couldn’t adjust well. So I’m not sure if it’s harming her in the long run. She is very happy four days a week, and then one day a week, there’s a meltdown.

      I’m trying to see how this unfolds. Luckily, there’s a parent-teacher conference coming up soon, and I will voice my concerns.

  4. EAK13 had this to say about that:

    Thanks Beth I was talking with my son this evening. He was in a full day program . There was a lot of information they had to retain plus learn a new language on top French was a required subject that began with Kindergarten . Though he could grasp some not all. He too had a meltdown at least once a week. These tender years are so important for character building yes, bur adding stress where stress isn’t necessary should be off the table. In speaking with my cousin I come from a family of teacher various grades. He was a Superintendent of “Special needs classes” and children who had difficulty fitting in to a normal classroom. It was discovered that many children as young as the early primary grades had become so stressed they began developing symptoms of hypertension. That should never occur. Let them be kids. I love the Montessori system plus after re-examining the same children who were becoming hypertensive. Once some of the extra pressures were removed they did well were able to be in a reg classroom setting setting. Went on to be successful students. To me even one melt down per week is too much for a 5 year old first school experience. If I were to do it again Home schooling. I did home school my son for 2 years when he developed a sleep disorder caused by being suspended from school trying to protect himself. Short version he was being bullied by a female student School policy never hit girls, she cracked a bottle over his head, he went down kicked him in the ribs went to kick him again he grabbed her leg she fell on him Because she was a girl he was suspended, she had zero punishment. He was innocent in trying to protect himself rightfully so.. a 5 day suspension in grade 4 was too much. School was very difficult for him afterwards right until high school. Once there he was great! we are our children’s advocates we know there abilities and when they are pressured we need to press back for their benefit in peaceful learning .

  5. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Hi Alli,

    I did check into Montessori schools, but they didn’t have a before- or after-school program, which is what Ari needs. Even though I’m an educator, I don’t think I would have the talent or patience to homeschool Ari.

    I never knew about the pressures and stress causing hypertension in children. That is scary.

    The bullying and ensuing punishment your son had to endure was downright unfair. In fact, I was looking at an alternative school, which would mean moving to that district, and everything seems great, but there’s a reputation for bullying there.

    Yikes. I have a parent-teacher conference tomorrow where I can express my concerns.

  6. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    As you know, I’m an educator too and I might be out of the loop on what’s new, but I do not believe children in Kindergarten should be doing homework. That being said, Ari’s school does believe in it so… The main thing to remember is that starting school full time is a huge adjustment for parent and child. And this adjustment takes time. I remember when my daughter started first grade (that was her first experience with all day school) it took a good month or two for her not to come home from school completely worn out and yes, crabby. Sometimes I think we forget how much energy on so many levels it takes for kids to get through their school
    day. It’s an exhausting experience for them physically and mentally (another reason I don’t believe in homework for K). Please be sure to talk about all your concerns at conference time, or sooner if you feel the need. I know with you as her mom, Ari will be fine. I really wish kids didn’t have to deal with competition and comparisons at such a young age, but… Anyway, this post really tugged at my heart. Big hugs to you both. I hope you both have a great school year. Please keep us posted.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I’m soooo glad you responded to this post, as I know you are an educator and also value your opinion. I’m having a parent-teacher conference tonight and will bring up my concerns.

      And, of course, there’s a fine balance between being a concerned parent and an overbearing one, and I really don’t want to be pushy.

      I was thinking of a different school, but in the last day or so, Ari seems to have turned a corner. She LOVES her teacher, who is very nurturing and loving. Ari seems to want to stay at the school, and I don’t want to switch things up at this tender age.

      Yes, it’s a major adjustment. Thank you for your kind words about my being a good mom. I think it’s the most difficult job in the world because of the psychological equation: you want your kids to grow up with a healthy self-esteem, and you don’t know if the choices you are making will result in this.

      Right now, I think I’ve decided to keep her in this school. I will tell the teacher my concerns.

      Thank you for your input!

  7. karen sutherland had this to say about that:

    dear beth,

    well, I am late to this conversation, but I feel I have an advantage by getting to read all the excellent comments, as well as your thoughtful responses. here’s what I think.

    homework in kindergarten in the degree and at the level ari’s school is giving her is not appropriate. however, I think because you are such a fabulous, caring, concerned and vigilant mother, and ari has risen to the expectations placed upon her, I think you both will prevail, and very well. and it appears that ari’s relationship with her teacher, whom you’ve described as very loving and nurturing, along with your comprehensive awareness of who ari is, what she is made of, and her needs at home that I know are met by you, above and beyond expectations, all will be well. remember that nothing is written in stone, and that if at some point there are problems, you and her teacher will be able to work through them to help ari feel confident and secure. and if that doesn’t happen, there are always other means and ways to effect changes. you should be so proud of yourself for being so vigilant, willing to give time to work through the challenges, and being so flexible about considering all sides of the issue. someday, you will find that’s made a very positive imprint on a little girl who will one day be a strong and emotionally healthy young woman.

    much love and light, xoxo

    Karen, TC

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for such wonderful, kind, positive words. Your comment really touched me. I’m feeling so much better about her schooling now that I met with and really spoke to her teacher. The homework isn’t going away, but the teacher gives her love and high fives and really builds Ari’s self-esteem. I do the same at home.

      Last night before bed, I told Ari that it’s OK to ask for help, and this is part of learning. It’s also important to try one’s best, but not to compare oneself to others.

      You are right: nothing is written in stone, and there are plenty of options. When I wrote the post, I felt there were no options, but now I see that there are, and she could succeed in this school with all the nurturing and love she gets there and at home.

      Thank you for your sweet words on my mothering ability. I often have doubts, as most moms have, but your comment really helped instill more confidence in my parenting ability. I, too, believe Ari will turn out just fine.

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