Six weeks late: Shalom Kitah Aleph

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.


  1. shoshana (bershad) says

    Your story reminds me of my son’s experience of starting first grade in a new school. His synagogue nursery school also offered a year of kindergarten, so first grade was the big transition to a public school. After the first couple weeks, he had “school phobia”: he wouldn’t walk to school (3 blocks away), so I drove him, but then it took at least a half-hour each morning to talk him into getting out of the car and entering the building. I usually had to accompany him to the door of his classroom. (When he came home, however, he appeared happy and relaxed and said he’d had a good day.)
    I met with his teacher, who subsequently made a point of greeting him at the door and inviting him to get started on some distracting activity. It turned out that my son had a lot of anxiety because his previous school’s kindergarten had made a point of NOT teaching reading, but the public school kindergarten did, and his classmates already knew the rudiments of reading. My bright child was behind! The teacher and I both knew that he would soon catch up, but HE didn’t realize it. After a few weeks of extra help from the teacher and at home, he was up to speed and feeling a lot more confident.
    The second factor was that he had gastrointestinal symptoms every morning, so we also visited the pediatrician. Although the problem wasn’t serious, the doctor gave him some medication to quiet the morning cramps. This problem disappeared quickly as well. It’s important to realize that “psychosomatic” doesn’t mean “imaginary.”
    In my case, I didn’t have the option of considering home schooling, but I did learn to relax a bit, so I didn’t add to his anxiety by hurrying him into the schoolroom so I could go to work. I think this meshes with your comment about weaning and toilet training: you have to make him feel that it’s his decision and that you don’t have an emotional stake in it.
    Good luck with your son!

  2. My son also has just started kitah aleph and had a bit of a shaky beginning with making friends. Back in Gan chova, he had ONE best friend who waited with “bated breath” for him each morning. He also had 3 other friends that the 2 of them liked to play with.
    We moved. again.
    So here he is in a new school, needing to make new friends, and yes, ALL of these kids were together last year in the school’s gan chova (fabulous program having it in the school).
    PLUS, his idea of what FRIENDS are has needed to mature and change. He told an aunt on the phone that he hasn’t made any new friends, he just has kids that he plays with! So like you, I started to invite different kids over to the house to play, to turn them into “friends.”
    And guess what, it has worked! I also volunteered to host the first “Bayit cham” at our house, and we made suggestions to the teacher of some kids that he wants to be friends with.
    That also worked!
    And yes, I have relaxed too. I don’t pounce on the teacher when I see her during the day in the teacher’s lounge anymore! 😀 hee hee, as if I would EVER do that! 🙂
    hang in there………….this too shall pass!

  3. I still remember when I was in first grade my parents switched me from one class to another…I didn’t remember why until I asked my parents. They said I would cry in my sleep and when asked I said it was because I didn’t like the teacher.
    I believe that to this day the fact that they took action made me realize they would always take my problems seriously. My guess is by thinking about the home schooling, you made him aware that his needs would be taken care of.

  4. Mo'ah Kemo Efro'ah says

    “My son has ten, yes, ten subject teachers.”
    that seems like an awful lot for a first grader. i would assume they need some sort of continuity and familiarity. can that much transition be good at that age?
    it does seem like the teacher you spoke with–which of the ten was it?–was willing to accomodate your son’s needs. that sounds unusual to me
    “Y had no friends from gan in his new class.”
    what about putting him in a differnt class?
    “One friend started with him, but his mother switched him out immediately.”
    how come?

  5. mominisrael says

    Thank you for the interesting comments. Emah, I was surprised that the teacher didn’t know all the mothers as well as she knew me! She asked one whose mother she was. . .
    Moah, I thought this group would be a better fit. I didn’t have much to do with those gan mothers. And as I spend more time in the class I think that was the right decision. The other mother put her son in class with the kids from gan.
    There is one main teacher responsible for the class. She has one day off a week. The school is torani, so we have extra torani hours, and it seems like each hour has a different teacher. Two hours science, two English (!), two music, two phys. ed., one hour each art, “gedolei chazal”, pirkei avot, parshat shavua, traffic safety (last two are the same teacher), geometry, and one hour with a teacher but no subject yet! Can you say babysitting?

  6. Poor little guy- I’m glad things are finally turning around for him.
    At our school, the gan hova and kitah aleph are housed together in a special “chativa”, in a different building than grades 2-6. It’s to help make sure that the transition from gan hova to 1st grade isn’t such a huge, terrifying experience. From what I’ve seen, it works.

  7. I have been reading your blog for a while now, but not posting any comments though. I am a homeschooling frum mom of three living in America wishing to live in Israel. I just wish you would give the homeschooling idea a chance. I never thought I would homeschool but as it turns out kids do much better that way.
    Good luck

  8. mominisrael says

    Thank you RR and Bara. Homeschooling is off the table for now, but one never knows.
    Batya, is your opinion based on experience with homeschooling?

  9. If there are social issues, home schooling would make them worse.

  10. FarFlungGal says

    I’m also a frum HS mother of three. Wanna chat sometimes? I’d love to hear what you do!