This year my son is in the first grade, and as such no longer occupies the bottom rung of the elementary school ladder. Gone are the naptimes and the snack times and the occasional “accident” of his favorite blanket finding its way into his bag. He’s quick to point out that he isn’t five anymore, he’s six. There’s a big difference.
There’s more responsibility, for one. There’s more homework in the first grade. More tests and quizzes. Construction paper and connect-the-dots have been replaced by words to write and math problems to cipher.
But being a first grader does have its advantages, ones that go well beyond no longer being the punch line of all the playground jokes. My son and his classmates may work harder and be expected to do more than last year, but those things are balanced out by a little extra dose of one very important thing.
For all its pomp and circumstance, kindergarten basically amounted to a fuzzy-feely boot camp designed to acclimate my son to the rigors of life in school. Every minute and every movement was planned and structured. Not so much in the first grade, though. Especially in the area known as “seatwork”.
The concept is a simple one. His teacher goes over a lesson—in yesterday’s case, it was spelling—and then assigns a list of ten comparable words that each student must write three times. The assignment doesn’t have to be completed immediately, though. “By the next day.” Ample time is given after the lesson is over, but it’s considered free time—do what you want.
My son chose not to write his spelling words. Evidently staring out the window and talking to his friends took priority. Not that I can blame him. I would have done the same thing.
Which was why he was sitting beside me last night wondering where it had all gone wrong. Evenings at home were supposed to involve things he wanted to do, things like playing with his Matchbox cars and having a catch with Dad. Instead, he’s now at the kitchen table with a piece of paper and his Lightning McQueen pencil writing POT-POT-POT, NOT-NOT-NOT, COT-COT-COT.
He didn’t like it. Not at all. And though he said nothing, I suspected he thought his father to be a mean and cruel man for making him sit there and do it. Freedom indeed! He felt like he was back in kindergarten again rather than the almost-grownup he knew he was.
Me, I sipped my coffee and watched. Reminded him to the cross the ts and make his words a bit smaller. “Yes sir,” he said, but mostly because he had to.
The jury’s still out on whether my son will enjoy first grade as much—and hopefully more—as he enjoyed kindergarten. To him, school is a place he has to go rather than wants to go. He’d rather be outside in the woods (not sure who he inherited that from).
But me, I’m enjoying it very much. First grade is offering my son a lesson in something that reaches far beyond POT/NOT/COT. It’s teaching him about freedom and the responsibility that goes along with it.
Which is why I think a lot of us nowadays would do well to sit in on the nearest first grade class. We just might need the reminder that freedom is a strong thing indeed, but that it’s a strength that will continue only so long as we use it to do as we should rather than as we can.