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Kindergarten and COVID: How I Made the Tough Decision

My son is an ordinary kid. Rambunctious, affectionate, and confused as heck by this scary virus. He loves to explore, learn, and ask why. Sound like anyone you know? That’s why I can’t stomach sending him to a school that looks more like a leper colony than a vibrant place to learn. And now that I’ve made that decision, I’m wondering why I’d ever send him back.

Best Laid Plans

Had you asked me six months ago, you’d have heard a wildly different story. We did everything right–everything by the book. But, these past few months have been scary, sad, and–perhaps most of all–enlightening. We’ve thrown out the book and put our ear to the ground, and we’re quickly learning that everything we thought we knew about giving our kids a great education was wrong.

For the first 4 years of Granger’s life, we lived in a beautiful spot. Five acres of land surrounded a pond and bordered a recently declared nature preserve. Summer paddleboating gave way to fall four-wheeling and Granger always had plenty to do. But we knew our time there was always short. The clock was ticking on that house the moment we learned she was pregnant. You see, while our rural Indiana property was nearer to the high-end Lake Michigan resort towns than it was to Michigan City, the red lines of the district map told us another story.

By a hair’s breadth, our property was inside the worst school district within 50 miles. We had weighed all the options. A private Catholic school nearby rated well but couldn’t feel any farther from right for our high-energy little dude. We entered the lottery for a charter school some 40 minutes away, but the logistics hurdle seemed high. So we packed, bit the bullet, and moved to put ourselves in a position for educational success. Or so we thought.

The Virus

When this virus struck at the end of last school year it certainly had an immediate impact. We scrambled to get some family support to watch Granger and our new baby as we were lucky enough to have kept our jobs. Juggling daddy duty and conference calls was something of a sport after a few weeks, and I think I had it down to a science. But, I never thought we’d still be here–still not knowing what the world will look like tomorrow–some four months in. 

Juggling daddy duty and conference calls was something of a sport after a few weeks

The rumors and theories started to fly. They’ll come back to school, but all wear masks and gloves. They’ll come back, but only for part of the day. They’ll have to stay distant. They’ll have to wash their hands and use sanitizer 20 times a day. The picture of Granger’s first year of school looked grim at best, damaging at worst. I remember my own experience, a cripplingly shy kid trying my best to push through and make friends. How would I have done it with tyrannical rules in place? With a mask on, in small chunks of time, distant from the other kids?

Learning and Exploring

During the same time that I had been slowly devolving into a panic-stricken mess about what Granger’s first school experience would look like, my wife and I had gotten our rhythm at home. She’s a school teacher–I know, right?–and with summer break we had a chance to really dig into getting Granger geared up for school. We found some lists of what he needs to know for kindergarten and what he’s expected to learn during that first year. Something felt a little off. G already knew most of the items on the list. He’d been spending a couple hours a day on educational apps, reading with Grandma, and learning experientially (it turns out) by just moving through the world with us and asking “why?” 

Stay in the know about how education should be

Something felt even weirder, though. This couldn’t be the whole list, right? Traces letters? Identifies shapes? That’s the measure of learning for our little dude? Where’s “knows how to make cranberry orange scones” or “perfecting his jump shot” or “names three types of fungi in the woods?” Maybe it was some new perspective given to me by the virus, but all of a sudden, I was struck by the question: “What is the purpose of education?” And, when I answered it, kindergarten felt like the strangest solution.

All of a sudden I was struck by the question: “What is the purpose of education?” And, when I answered it, Kindergarten felt like the strangest solution.

In the past few months, Granger and I have hiked, biked, and explored the world. We’ve baked, boated, and built climbing walls. We’ve watched movies and read books. I couldn’t stomach the idea of giving up that time, strapping him in a mask, and sending him off to trace letters. 

The Decision

I approached Steff with building anxiety. What on earth was I thinking, asking a school teacher if we could forgo school for her firstborn. I thought about the argument and how it would go; how I’d use those old high-school debate skills to slowly win her over… How it might take weeks. 

I started the conversation simply. “Are you worried about sending Gray to school like this?” The conversation was over in minutes. Of course she was. Of course she had thought about it just like I had, just like any parent has recently. It was just a matter of logistics.

He won’t learn to be jaded about learning… like I was. He’ll have something better. That’s what we all want for our kids, isn’t it? Something better. 

With that decision behind us, it feels like I’ve removed a ton of bricks from around my neck. Granger won’t have to experience school as a traumatic event. He won’t have to worry about handwashing more than learning; mask-wearing more than socializing. Better yet, he’ll get to focus on his individual interests, learning about the things that power him and his creativity. He won’t learn to be jaded about learning … like I was. He’ll have something better. That’s what we all want for our kids, isn’t it? Something better.