KINDERGARTEN: A school or class for young children, usually between the ages of four and six
Maybe I’m idealizing the past, but it seems to me that my parents had it easy. The rules were simple. If your kid turned five by a certain date, you filled out paperwork for kindergarten. She attended the school closest to your house. On the first day of school, you took a picture of her in a backpack and sent her off to meet her assigned teacher. Ah, the good old days.
Now, parents are expected to tour a range of schools to determine which is best for their child. There are so many choices to make. Public vs. Private. Secular vs. Religious. Traditional vs. Alternative. It gets complicated.
1. Do you have a child?
If yes, continue to Question 2.
If no, consider touring kindergartens anyway. It’s never too early to start obsessing. At the very least, offer input to the school board. If you want a better system for your unborn offspring, you need to advocate for changes now. Oh, and put your name on the list at several daycares. The waitlists are long, so you should really apply as soon as a cute boy asks for your number.
2. Is your child a boy or girl?
If boy, continue to Question 3.
If girl, skip to Question 4.
3. When is your son’s birthday?
If September through May, continue to Question 4.
If June through August, begin debating the merits of delaying kindergarten by a year. If you decide to enroll him on time, continue to Question 4. Otherwise, relax. You can postpone this painful process another 12 months.
4. Are you religious?
If yes, debate the merits of a religious education. Consider Questions 5-7.
If no, continue to Question 5.
5. Do you have money to burn?
If yes, skip to Question 7.
If no, continue to Question 6.
6. Could you eat ramen noodles three times a day?
If yes, continue to Question 7.
If no, send your kid to public school.
7. Do you think uniforms are charming?
If yes, send your kid to Catholic school.
If no, continue to Question 8
8. Is your kid scary smart?
If yes, begin application process for elite private schools.
If no, continue to debate between less competitive secular private schools and mediocre public schools.
Those questions are just the beginning. They don’t even begin to cover the choices involved in choosing a particular school. How is the art curriculum? Physical education? How active is the PTA? Will my child learn to ride a uni-cycle? Does the school have a strong principal? Technology funding? Diversity? How does the school deal with the wide range of learning abilities found in a typical classroom? Do they sit on exercise balls or chairs? Do they use formal titles or call teachers by their first names? What are the test scores? Class sizes? On and on it goes…
Is it possible my generation of parents is suffering from too much choice? I’ve toured a lot of schools in our region. They all seem fine. I can find things I like and things I dislike on each tour. I have had countless conversations about the merits and drawbacks of various schools with fellow parents. To be frank, I’m growing a bit weary of this whole process. I may just be taking the lazy mom’s way out, but here are the factors that are influencing my school choice:
- Lack of a trust fund.
- Adaptability of my child.
I live one block away from a “choice” school – that is, a public school with an alternative curriculum. My “neighborhood” school is about 15 blocks away and requires crossing two busy streets. I estimate those 14 blocks translate to a difference of approximately three years between the age at which Son can safely walk himself to school. In the meantime, it translates to time for a second cup of coffee and a hairstyle before I walk him to school.
I have a solid record of good outcomes from non-traditional (read: shallow) decision-making criteria. I chose my college based on the nearby outdoor recreation opportunities and access to a country with a less restrictive drinking age. When the campus registrar gave me a list of available classes for the time slot I was seeking to fill, I settled on the one taught by the professor who looked like he could be a model. Hello Environmental Policy degree! That shallow reasoning has led to a reasonably interesting career and the opportunity to have my own business. I began flirting with Husband based primarily on him having the same first name as a character in Anne of Green Gables. Turns out he’s Mr. Right in every way. I chose my kids’ pediatrician based his hobbies. Later, I read his name on Seattle magazine’s list of best doctors.
It’s not that colleges, majors, husbands, pediatricians and kindergartens aren’t worthy of serious contemplation, it’s just that I believe what you bring to the table has the greatest impact on specific outcomes. I arrived at college eager to learn. I was a dedicated student. I am a loving and faithful wife. I communicate clearly and listen attentively to our pediatrician. Yes, it matters that my college was respectable, that my major was in demand, that my husband is the kindest man on the planet, and that my pediatrician is smart. But it also matters that I was determined to contribute my best.
I feel the same way about the school I will choose for Son. Regardless of where my child goes to school, I plan to support the teachers in whatever way they find most helpful and contribute my time and talents for the good of the students.
Shouldn’t this be less complicated?