In the corner of my 5-year-old’s closet is a gray and neon-green backpack with a "Star Wars" print. It is the special one he hoped to wear into his kindergarten classroom this September; the one he carefully picked out last winter. Though less than a year ago, it may as well have been another lifetime.
This fall, my son, like so many others, will not be needing a new backpack or sneakers for his very first steps into school. All he would need is a laptop to join other incoming kindergartners across school districts like ours that have gone all-remote. But he won't be — because we are opting out of this mess of a year altogether.
Electing to hold a summer-birthday child back from kindergarten is not new to the pandemic era — but it had never crossed my mind. My youngest, a June baby, seems made for school: extroverted, always first to jump into activities and eager to please teachers. Initial hopes of in-person learning were wrought with their own worries, yet I entertained the thought because he desperately needs interaction and structure. But once the distance-learning decision was made, I knew without a doubt that a computer was not how my son will be experiencing his first year of formal education.
I grew convinced of what I had already suspected — that online schooling is wildly developmentally inappropriate ... especially for the youngest crowd.
Kindergarten, I have always believed, is not about learning to read and count. It’s about easing playfully into the school world; learning to share, listen, make friends and open your own lunch. Exactly none of that can be accomplished by a 5-year-old through a screen. The learning itself is pointless at that age without a hands-on component. Gripping the pencil, flipping a colorful page; catching the teacher’s encouraging smile or dashing out to recess: None of these simple yet essential aspects of school exist in the arena of webcams and apps.
This spring, when the world as we knew it ground to a halt, I tried jumping on the virtual bandwagon. But after the novelty wore off, it became obvious that online kids' yoga and Zoom playdates were not going to be our salvation. Just as my child had been eager to participate in every real-life activity, he was stymied in virtual ones; disengaged and losing focus, frustrated by glitching screens and lagging conversations. He began running off and then refusing to participate altogether, and I grew convinced of what I had already suspected — that online schooling is wildly developmentally inappropriate, for most ages really, but especially for the youngest crowd.
While I try to incorporate learning into our everyday routine, I refused to entertain the notion of formal homeschooling with its set curriculum and all the arguing and whining that my kids would never attempt with teachers but would reserve wholeheartedly for me. This left redshirting — essentially winging it as we extend my son's pressure-free preschooler-hood for one more year.
And so, as my Facebook feed fills with homeschooling chatter and color-coded Zoom schedules, I watch with (I won’t lie) a touch of schadenfreude, while we enjoy the short-lived August sunshine and stock up on chapter books and Nerf guns. I no longer expect anything from next week, never mind next year. The year 2020 has taught me not to plan too much. But I take solace in knowing that in a month from now I won’t be losing it over missing passwords or dealing with meltdowns during Teams meetings.
We're looking at having our son go back to his amazing pre-K, a risk we are reasonably comfortable with. The rest of the time, we’ll be reading and building Lego machines, going to the park and the store, eating endless snacks and watching cartoons.
The decision now made, a new set of questions swarm in my mind: Is he going to be bored next year? Will the classes be huge, given many parents may choose this same option? Should he skip straight to first grade, or would that be too overwhelming?
But as this stormy year rages on, I will get to hang on to my baby's childhood just a little bit longer; and hopefully, he'll preserve his enthusiastic spark for the day he gets to walk through those school doors. If I can be certain of nothing else today, this will just have to do.