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Nov 22 2011

Getting into New York City Kindergarten

By at 2:11 pm
kindergarten finger painting

Kindergarten looks great! I wonder if we can get in.

Three separate intelligence tests. Multi-page applications. Essays. Interviews. Tours. A list of achievements. Letters of recommendation. A one in 12 acceptance rate.

Ivy League university admissions?

No. New York City private school kindergarten.

And the public school process is no better.

Local, zoned schools are overcrowded to the point where even long-time neighborhood residents can’t be guaranteed a spot and are put on wait-lists that stretch into August. Unzoned schools hold lotteries due to overwhelming demand and turn away hundreds. Citywide Gifted & Talented programs last year saw over 1,000 children qualify for only 250 seats spread out over five different boroughs.

Getting your child into kindergarten in NYC is a year-long job that kicks off 12 months before they even enter the building.

And I am smack-dab in the middle of it.

You’d think, since I’m on my third child, I’d be an old pro at this by now. Why can’t my daughter just go to the school where her older brothers go? Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 26 2011

In Loco Parentis: Why Teachers Rule

By at 10:20 am
amadeus

Mozart probably never dreaded the parent-teacher conference.

In wine, truth (in vino veritas); and in parents, madness (in loco parentis). At least that’s what we teachers would joke as the season for parent-teacher (and sometimes parent-student-teacher) conferences hove into sight. Having gone from being a teacher with no kids of my own to being a parent with no teaching duties in the course of five short years, I can safely say that teachers are much healthier for children.

The truth is, parents have no perspective. And that is good and proper. Parents are hopelessly vertical, teachers hopefully horizontal. Parents are rightly obsessed with their kids and all their friends are seen through that prism. Ninth grade biology teachers see a lot of ninth grade students and, when they do their job well, as they often do, they can provide a lot of context about life as a ninth grader to parents as well as biological knowledge to students.

Parents and teachers are the adult representatives of the two great worlds of a child’s life: home and school. Being able to navigate each individually and between the two fluently is part of growing up and is just one of the reasons why homeschooling is, in principle, an extremely poor alternative. The intersection of those two worlds — the coming together of matter and anti-matter — is why older students dread the conference time of year and why parents and teachers alike greet it with fascination, hope, and dread in equal measure.
Parents give love and support but often our expectations are unmanageable. My own parents were wonderfully supportive over 20 years of education but I remember watching “Amadeus” as a teenager with my own father and him turning to me in partial jest and saying, “By the time he was your age, Mozart had written an opera and transcribed the Vatican’s secret mass, what have you done?”

Thankfully I had some ninth grade teachers who could tell him.

Oct 18 2011

Bring New Technology to Your School

By at 11:50 am

It’s hard to ignore the fact that today, technology plays a huge role in almost every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate with friends and family, stay up to date with current events, and get great parenting advice (wink, wink). Technology can also play a huge part in educating our children, though all too often, the technology in schools is out-of-date or sparse.

The Intel AppUp Center is currently holding a contest open to all parents who would like to get better technology into their childrens’ school. The Wired to Learn contest will offer tech packages worth $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000 to three deserving schools. They’re also giving away one netbook each week to celebrate technology and education, so gather up your lucky charms and enter to win today.

To enter your school into the challenge, all you need to do is tell a story about your school and drum up votes. The school with the most votes wins a tech package. Be sure to also check out the AppUp Center for all kinds of education apps that your kids can use on their home or school PC, including Britannica KidsCaillou Alphabet and Core Mind Master.

So if you’re ready to introduce the latest technology to your kids’ education, enter the Wired to Learn contest, and we’ll be sure to cross our fingers for you.

Note: This is a sponsored blog post. Kveller is a not-for-profit resource. Sponsorship revenue helps us provide Kveller resources free of charge.

Sep 22 2011

Schoolhouse Rock

By at 3:29 pm

Now we officially have a kid in school. She has a backpack and a notebook and a pencil case. She has a dress code. (She also has “her Didi,” the doll that she’s been surgically attached to since she was born–the sole blond-haired, blue-eyed doll among the massive geniza of dolls, stuffed animals, Wild Things, and other assorted non-Aryan companions that she could have chosen–which she brings to school with her every day, stuffed inside her shirt like she’s pregnant, a sort of reverse security blanket.)

But: She’s in school. And our lives will never be the same.

I mean, I’m happy for her. I’m happy. It’s good that she gets to spend more time around kids her age than she does around me and her mother, who listen to music that she suddenly Does Not Like (“What’s wrong with Rage Against the Machine?” I demand. “I want UNCLE MOISHY,” she protests) and teach her how to say such dramatically un-kidlike things as “Excuse me, what did you say?” when she didn’t understand what was just said (so cute! Such a great party trick!). All these things and more make her a stellar human being. But, admittedly, they ain’t gonna help in the preschool cycle of schmoozing and swapping lunches.

So, it’s good that she’s exposed to this. She’s happy, and I’m happy. But it also means that we don’t control her path of thoughts: How long until “Excuse me, what did you say” turns into “what the $#!%?” We need to be prepared. Last year when she started playgroup, the bathroom-alert “I have to pishy” turned into “I need to make.” To make? Who made my daughter ashamed of her natural bodily functions? Was she going to start calling her vagina down there? And what new mannerisms and phenomena would she be exposed to at this new, strange, dark hole of a kindergarten? There are three teachers. Their names are Morah Chaya, Morah Mushkie, and Morah Mussie. Aliens. I mean, they’re probably the nicest people ever, but their names still remind me of space aliens. And they’re with my daughter more than I am.

So here is what I do to compensate: I take her and pick her up when I can. I ask her every day about what she does there (which I realize {a} can turn quickly into grilling and {b} is exactly what my parents always did to me, to which I responded, every day for 12 consecutive years, “nothing”).

And I value the time we have together even more. When she comes home, showing us art projects, explaining in elaborate detail this game they play every day called (as far as I can tell) Squishy Squishy Applesauce, which does not appear to have any rules and which nobody actually wins but involves a big red circle and sitting in a row, I listen, riveted and spellbound. I thought I’d have to fake interest in her kinder stories, but there’s no need–everything is so damn loaded, from the snacks they get to her choice of activity partners (mostly it’s Mayanie, whose mom I’m developing a movie with, but I try not to pressure her). Okay, watching too much Doctor Who and cop dramas and reality TV, we become conditioned to think that only a certain kind of drama is really dramatic–shootouts, million-dollar corporate mergers, affairs. But hearing these life-and-death stories from the front lines of nursery school, I remember what real drama is. It’s when there’s one strawberry left and three kids ahead of you, and you really, really hope they all choose the other kind of snack. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 13 2011

A Special Uniform for my Special Needs Son

By at 2:31 pm

We recently moved to Florida from Brooklyn. I grew up down here, so coming back shouldn’t feel like such a major adjustment. But it does, and I’m guessing that’s because all of my parenting experience up until now has been in New York, and I spend a good 80 percent of my time parenting these days.

I’ve been trying really hard not to focus on the things I don’t like about our new life, such as, for example, the eternal carpool pick-up line at my son Zack’s school. (Two-hundred SUVs and minivans idling for 45 minutes, every day? Really? They can’t come up with a more efficient system?). Instead I’ve been concentrating on the things I do like. High up on that list is the ubiquity of school uniforms.

Uniforms, generally khaki or navy shorts and a polo shirt, are required pretty much everywhere around here as far as I can tell—at public schools, private schools (including Zack’s Jewish day school), and even at my older son Benjamin’s tiny special ed program.

There’s a lot to love about these preppy little outfits, in my opinion. Not only are they totally cute, but they make getting out the door in the morning about a hundred times easier and wearing them means children have fewer opportunities to show off and compete. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 8 2011

First Day of School & I’m a Nervous Wreck

By at 10:18 am

“You’ve got to calm down,” my husband said as we put the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. “You’re making me nuts.”

It was the first day of school yesterday – the first day of second grade and first grade for my two older boys, and the first day of a new school for all of us. When my husband and I got married last year, we moved to a new home in our town…but, as it turned out, another school district.

But my husband wasn’t talking to the boys, who were busy exhibiting unusually calm behavior, putting on their new raincoats and adjusting the straps on their brand-new Batman backpacks.

No, my husband was talking to me. And rightly so — a casual observer could smell the nutty nervousness on me from a block away.

If we’re being honest here, I’d been nervous the whole week before. Of course, having no power until last Thursday, a now-8-week old baby in the house and having a “boil water” alert didn’t do anything for any of us in the relaxation department. But I’ll admit it – I felt like I was the one going to a new school, and I was scared.

My nervousness was an utter mystery to my husband. After all, he repeatedly pointed out, I actually wasn’t the one going to a new school – the boys were. He also noted that first and second grade have long passed me by. And moreover, the boys were clearly excited about their new school. Sure, they had a touch of nervousness, but really no more nervousness than any kid has before the first day of school, new or not. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 24 2011

Take-A-Dad-To-School Day

By at 9:35 am

Every day I walk Ronia to school, I pass her neighborhood public school. The crossing guard and I know each other’s names, and I have become adept at weaving through the laughing crowds of students walking in. I get a little a twinge, as a former public school teacher every time I do this, it is unlikely that Ronia will ever attend this school. Instead, with my grandmother’s help, she attends a Waldorf school, located in huge campus of something called the New Covenant Church.

While I was worried there would be a Christian character, the Waldorf school is essentially based on  an invented religion of its founder Rudolf Steiner, the man also behind biodynamic agriculture. When the kids actually begin to read (at third grade, which seems late to me) their first text is the Torah (I assume in translation). But I don’t really have to worry about any of that for a while since Ronia is 3 and ensconced in the nursery.

Ronia is clearly having a blast at school, the “things to work on” portion of her parent-teacher conference was “Keep doing what she’s doing!” She sings snatches of Waldorf songs adorably and practically, “Thumb all alone, fingers all together, that’s what we do in the cold cold weather!” She makes the cunning fox eyes. And most hilariously to me, she tries to whip the younger children into shape during circle time: “Sit up!”

That said, the Waldorf school can seem a bit of an imposing place, so specific is everything to the color of the walls (pink for nursery) and how successful they are at creating another world, one that really is quite child-centered. I sometimes feel a bit ungainly as an adult, as Ronia usually heads into her classroom with nary a backward glance. Overhearing a woman say to another dropping-off father, “I didn’t get that nice of a goodbye and I’m a MOM” did not enhance my comfort levels, though Ronia picked that day to smooch me extra affectionately. I was also once advised by the assistant teacher to watch Ronia through the window from up the hill so as not to disturb her. I love that I am so peripheral to Ronia’s day, but it is still an adjustment from stay at home parenting.  I was excited when the wonderful Ms. Kerry offered observation mornings to parents.

Of course, scheduling was a concern as I wanted to pick a day that I was on with Ronia, and not off in New York City (my wife and I are separated and share custody). Then there was a snow day, yet another in the ongoing Snoah that is Philadelphia’s winter 2010-11. So the visit had been built in my mind when I finally arrived last Tuesday.

“Are you bringing your slippers?” Ronia asked, sounding like the actual adult she will beocme, and of course I had forgotten. The children wear slippers in the classroom, and as Ronia pointed out, I would need some. I found some in Waldorf’s copious cubbies: bright orange, like a warning sign that an adult was present. Ronia asked me, “Are you going to sit on the couch?” It soon became clear that this is her realm, home to a doll called “King Winter” and a succession of sheep. She fended off one kid off who tried to play with them–”They’re sleeping!”–but did manage to share. She spoke the Waldorf, “May I have a turn with that when you’re done” with a practiced air about her.

She also dealt with the other older kids, who are boys, though definitely Waldorf-style boys. They were having a lengthy discussion about the difference between “good pirates and bad pirates” (good pirates love people, bad pirates will cut your neck) while playing in a rocking boat (wood of course, almost everything at Waldorf is made out of wood). They spied Ronia playing with her King Winter and said “Ronia, you’re the sea!” Ronia rejected their classification: “I AM NOT THE SEA.”  The teachers mediated successfully, but I was proud of her refusing to be drafted into someone else’s narrative. You tell ‘em!

I was also amazed at her physical prowess. She was able to stretch her legs to the far ends of another wooden walking toy, farther than the other children. She also had the hand motions of circle time down. Less surprisingly, she was very into the food, scarfing down the barley soup. “She likes everything we give her,” her teachers explained.  I know I am not supposed to compare with others, but I don’t often see her with a lot of children and was struck by where her development fit. I was also relieved when she was not the girl who refused to take her hands out her pockets and toppled over on the slippery ground, bursting into tears. Though I was happy how unprincessy most of the girls were, the walls aside the only pink-wearing child was supporting it as part of a rainbow ensemble, of course!.

Waldorf is really committed to outdoor play, which is why the tearful girl was outside in the first place. Even as a wind whipped up, Ronia charged out into the little playground. She vanished into a little house with her male playmates, and I felt a surprising relief. I was not worried, I watching her enter her own world, with boys no less, and I had no fear that she wouldn’t be able to stand up for herself or that she would harm others. This might be naive, and I don’t know if I can keep it up when she goes to bigger and bigger playhouses.

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