Kindergarten Krazies.

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor


It official: Parenting makes you crazy. I thought the diaper years were going to be the hard part. How could it get more challenging than dealing with babies who can’t communicate their needs with words and must resort to the far less civilized grunting, whining, crying and biting (oh Sadie!)? I have to tell you, I had a few years of relative smooth sailing with Elby between maybe three and five. But a stress hurricane is brewing and its name is Kindergarten.


I’m not sure if this is just an LA thing but the public school system here is in shambles. I’m not going to spend this whole column talking school politics –mainly because I don’t know the why’s, when’s or how’s and to be honest I don’t recall every voting for any councilmen. All I know is the public school my daughter would automatically attend –should I choose to completely ignore my instincts - boasts thirty students to one teacher and loads of soul killing homework every night. My kid is five! I’d much prefer her hula hooping to a song about sea creatures than spending four hours perfecting her cursive. The public school is overcrowded and understaffed and they give demerits for tardiness! Demerits! Tardiness! Neither of those words has any place in the mind of a five-year-old, in my opinion.


Look, I’m not expecting sunshine and lollipops but…actually, I am expecting sunshine and lollipops! It’s kindergarten, dammit! At the very least I want something gentle and inclusive.


Maybe that sounds airy fairy and sometimes I wonder if I’m searching for something that no longer exists. I’m looking for the elementary school I went to in the 70’s where we called our teachers by their first names, everyone wore tie dye and we were taught the true meaning of Kwanzaa. This was an experimental school which combined students from two different neighborhood schools in Los Angeles –Canfield Elementary and Crescent Heights Elementary- and combined them taking an early stab at integration. The experiment worked for me. I’d love to say that it laid the foundation for the rest of my education but, in reality, it was my education.


In the public junior high and high schools I eventually attended in another state, I learned little more than how to make a pot smoking device out of the apple I brought for lunch, how to forge all my teachers’ signatures and the art of sleeping in class with your eyes open. It should come as no surprise then that I didn’t go to college. By that point, I was solidly turned off of learning.


And yet, I did something with my life that you would normally associate with having a degree. I became a writer –sure I use spell check more than the average writer but I still write and I have my elementary school education to thank for that.


There has to be something out there that will make both kid and parents happy and lately I’ve been making it my full time job to find it. The problem is, the schools that are anything like the ones I remember cost upwards of ten grand a year and given that I have three children to put through school, that’s like…well…a lot of money (I told you I didn’t go to college –get off my back)!



OMG -I never, in a million years, thought I would say this -but our Atlanta Public School (and GA schools don't rank very high) options where I live in the city are fantastic compared to this! At least for elementary school I feel really lucky! I hope you find something better and more positive for your child. The ratios and expectations sound pretty ridiculous for kindergarten.


Kindergarten just plain sucks! My oldest is in first grade now and doing fine but I had my heart broken into tiny pieces almost daily last year when he was in Kinder. He attended a great preschool and was more than prepared from an academic standpoint but the things he was exposed to from those other little f'rs was unbelievable! We live in a great neighborhood with really good schools but I honestly don't think that matters too much in some ways. There's still all sorts of kids coming from all sorts of backgrounds that are influencing your sweet, innocent (for the most part) little guy or gal. It sucks!
I plan to hold my middle son back just to protect him as long as I can. He's extra sensitive and I can only imagine how heartbroken he'll be the first time some snobby little snot-noser calls him "stupid", "ugly" or "retarded" (all three names my oldest was called in the first month and none of which apply BTW).
Good luck!


I'm in the same situation as kjpope - a kid who needs an IEP means public school. I certainly was originally on the (everyone goes private) bandwagon, but instead chose not to buy a house so that I could rent in a neighborhood with a decent public school.
I realize that is no more of a choice for everyone than going to private school is but neither is private school the answer to the schools crisis.
My best friend's daughter is in private school and they pay for additional tutoring from a private firm because she's not learning enough (the class still teaches to the lowest achieving) to be considered for the best high schools. They don't get any more enrichments like art & music then we do. And struggle with what to do with children who clearly need the services (special ed plans) of the public schools that their parents are too frightened to send them to.
The answer is we need to find ways to fix public schools, especially in urban settings. But it will take creativity and probably a good amount of "unfair" policies to do so.


I don't think there's an easy solution here, and obviously one choice does not fit all. I grew up in a small town with amazing public schools, only to find myself figuring out what to do with my very shy, introverted 5 yr old daughter in a California town with good public schools "for" not exactly awesome. Teachers are getting laid off, there's no art, music, p.e., classroom sizes are going up...meanwhile, the small town from which I herald (south of Boston, Mass.) is still doing great. California is screwed up!! So, my husband and I have decided to keep our daughter at the private Christian school she has attended for preschool. Instead of going straight into Kindergarten, she's doing a jr. kindergarten year. This isn't to give her an "edge". She was too young, too shy and afraid to ask questions for todays Kindergarten curriculum - maybe for the K of yore.
Most parents, whom I know, who hold their kids back, do it because the curriculum is way beyond what "their" child can handle at that age. I'd rather have my daughter enter K at age 6 than have her repeat a year. Just another perspective.


I'm pulling my hair out too picking out a kindy for my oldest dd. Private is out of the question money-wise, and the charter schools that have popped up here the last few years are at best shaky. So I am doing the best I can with what is open to us on the Public school level. Back when we were this young (ah the 80's, good times) we didn't worry about this sort of thing, our parents sure didn't - I asked mine about it the other day just to be sure. There are so many "qualitative" things that are learned in kindy that simply can't be measured by NCLB. Not to mention all the budget cutting at the local and state levels, whose districts who are already operating on a shoestring-and-bubblegum basis it seems.


Lsls, I don't usually respond to people's opinions about my columns but I have to be honest with you on this one; you are way out of line. I have no idea what your school system in SF is like but it is not the same as LA Unified and therefore you can't judge what I am not willing to tolerate for my children. How dare you say that the right thing to do is as simple as getting more involved. Class sizes are going up all the time and no amount of throwing money at the situation will change that. The foundation of a child's learning happens in K-5 and I'm simply not willing to gamble with my kids in the name of my community. That link is to an article in USA today that might help you be more tolerant of what others are going through.

I'm so happy that you can "afford" private school but make the better choice to put your kids in public school. I can not easily afford private school at all and therefore am having sleepless nights considering my options. Comments like yours are meant to judge and do nothing to make mothers feel that we are all in the same boat just trying to do what's best for our children. In short, I don't like your attitude.

In answer to KJ Pope, yes, I'm all over the Charters (which are part of LA Unified, Lala). I'm currently involved with a charter that we're hoping to actually be ready by this year but even if that happens, it's still a lottery. Magnets are a long shot every year because we have a points system whereby we have to apply and get turned down year after year to get enough points to get priority. The hope is to get into a Charter or Magnet by middle school and continue through high school.

Until then, if I don't get chosen in the Charter lottery, it looks like we will go broke paying for private.


Have you checked into "Charter" schools. That's the latest craze here. As well as home schooling with an internet school programs.

Honestly though for my aspie child a private school isn't an option. Had a close friend who thought that would be better for her child with its lower student to teacher ratio then public school and it was a rude slap for her. They don't do IEPs. They don't have too. They don't do special programming for special needs. They aren't required to. And they are much more aggressive about discipline. If your child can't tow the behavioral line they don't beat themselves over the head making your child mind. That's your job. If your child doesn't have enough self discipline to conform they will expel your child and not refund your money.

There is in many private schools the same problem if your child is exceptional. They don't have any "special" or honors programs. They cater to mainstream. And they stick hard to the core 3Rs curriculum. The one my step-daughters attended didn't have special reading groups, special science groups or much offered in the way of special interest groups. My son attends before or after school special interest activities like Lego club, chess club and a Star Wars reading group. Not available to my step-daughters.

But my average step-daughters excelled in their christian private school setting. Smaller class sizes meant they got individual attention in class so less homework had to come home. They had good routines and structure. They did the pledge of allegiance and prayed before lunch or had a moment of silence (required). If they had a struggle with a particular subject then yes homework came home, it wasn't extreme but it was up to us as parents to tutor our kids. Not a problem. Honestly if your children can adapt to a bit of a rigid routine structure this is actually a good setting. My oldest step did private through high school, her choice and is now is in college. The school their mother chose even out in farm country did a fantastic job with them.


We should all keep in mind that deciding whether to send your child to public or private school is a "problem" that many parents don't have. It's simply not an option. The only "choice" that some parents have is which public school to go to, and the process of going to one other than the assigned school is often a battle. Rather than complaining about the public school in your areas, why not do something to change them for the better? If you invested half of what you're obviously willing to pay if you send your child to private school, and if others like you did the same, you would make a significant difference in the quality of the schools. At the same time, your child would be attending a school which is reflective of the community they live in. Even though I can "afford" to send my child to private school, I've made the choice to invest in my community AND my child's education. I'm going Public in San Francisco. For every child that goes private, we're taking resources away from those who remain there. Funding is based on number of students and schools are closing all the time here. It's a problem we've brought on ourselves though.


I was in the same boat as you about a year ago and I didn't make up my mind until August ... the end of August. It is a gut-wrenching decision. We opted for public for reasons I won't blab on about, but my son ended up with a great teacher who has years of experience. No matter where you go for public, the crappy "No Child Left Behind" has made school so standardized and pressured for kids and teachers alike. By the end of Kinder they are expected to be able to do a number of things ... and finger painting and role play is not among the valued skills. They need to know sight words, count to 100, read a clock, etc. Not the kindergarten of our days. Still, I think if you get a good teacher and parents have the right attitude, your kid will survive and thrive. My husband is a teacher and he always tells me about this crazy triangle theory or holy trinity he has (he teaches math) in that you need a good teacher, good, checked-in parents and a kid who wants to try. That's the perfect equation for school success, but you can still succeed with two of the three in any given year. Good luck with your decision. I observed my public kindergarten class and met with the teachers - you may want to consider that too. We are paying our tax dollars to schools, so you're entitled to info.


Tell me about it. We live in Smalltown MS, where our choice was paying for private school or the local elementary school which is SERIOUSLY underfunded. When we went to see the public school there were CONVICTS cutting the grass and doing the yard work WHILE school was in session. I'm sure someone was "in charge" of them but I didn't see anybody and told my husband we didn't even need to go inside. Trying to keep those people AWAY from my kids. GEEZ!

There is also a fun trend here of holding your kids back regardless if they need it or not. (To give them "an edge".) Which means my 5yo has 7yos in her 5K class. Seriously.