My son Y, 6, adjusted easily to kindergarten (gan hova) last September, and loved every minute. When I asked the ganenet (teacher) whether he was prepared for first grade, she dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. I see Y as the most even-tempered and least complicated of my children (not that that’s saying much).
Kitah aleph (first grade) is a major transition in Israel. Most children have been in the same gan for two years, in a structure that resembles a house more than an educational institution. Then they jump to a big school with six grades with two to four classes each. My son has ten, yes, ten subject teachers.
I was still surprised when he refused to go to kitah aleph after the first day or two. I had other things on my mind at the time. On the days Y refused to put on his school shirt in the morning, we let him stay home. On one of the few days he did attend, the teacher informed me (at the end of the day) that he cried for almost four hours.
The teacher had her own distractions, missing two days after Yom Kippur for her son’s operation. She also mentioned at the “Meet the teacher” night that many kids were having a difficult time socially (I appreciated her not glossing it over). She didn’t seriously relate to Y’s problem until the beginning of last week, when she invited my son and me to a meeting at 9 am in the teachers’ room. Y laid out his complaints: Too much coloring, cutting and pasting; too much boring writing; and no one to play with during recess. And once he knew how to read, “shalom kitah aleph” (the first words they learn), why bother with review? The teacher exempted him from the artwork and asked him to tell her when he got tired of writing, and she promised to help him make friends. I noticed that as we passed his classroom several of the boys waved and called to him.
That day he agreed to stay until the end of school. On Tuesday, when my daughter was about to take him to school, Y accused her of “making the wrong kind of sandwich.” I lost it then. I’d been living in limbo for weeks, through the endless holidays and all of the ups and downs of my older son’s problems. After I calmed down I decided once and for all that I would homeschool Y. I’d been going back and forth about the possibility since the problems began.
At the park that afternoon, my son said he had “bad feelings” in school. We talked about different bad feelings such as fear, worry, and pain, but he couldn’t tie it down to anything specific.
Several people suggested the problem was that Y had no friends from gan in his new class. One friend started with him, but his mother switched him out immediately. At the time my son seemed fine, and I felt the new class was a better match. Once he started complaining, I couldn’t be sure that switching would solve the problem. It seemed as if he just didn’t enjoy school, period.
But one short hour after our discussion in the park Y asked my oldest son if he could bring him home from school the next day. Because had other plans so my husband and I took Y there and back. Although he cried a bit, he’s gone happily ever since. He even drew a picture in art class. “I still don’t have many friends,” he told me, but he’s playing with one at our house as we speak.
One friend suggested that the situation only changed after I made peace with homeschooling. It’s like weaning, she said. If you are ambivalent about whether or not you want to wean a toddler, the child senses the tension and won’t cooperate. Once you decide to continue nursing, the child (often) weans or at least cuts back on the number of requests. The same applies to toilet-training and countless other parenting situations. I’m not saying that my anxiety caused the problem, as the school principal annoyingly implied. He’s my fifth child, and I knew his suffering was genuine. But I did need to step back and let him work things out for himself.
Shalom Kitah Aleph.