I recently wrote about fretting over kindergarten, and it’s true, I am. Fretting, that is. Sort of. I mean, during the times I forget that it’s not sort of ridiculous to fret over kindergarten.

I’m not thrilled about the school’s policy of daily homework, but I realize I have no idea what that means yet. It probably doesn’t mean, like, five consecutive hours of long division (SHOW YOUR WORK!), right?

I’m torn on whether we should start Riley in full day or not. On the one hand, I didn’t plan on doing so, because why not take advantage of the fact that I’m at home while we can, he’s sure got plenty of years ahead of him when he’ll be required to spend his entire day in classrooms. On the other hand, it sounds like he’d miss a lot of fun stuff (basically everything outside of reading and math) if we only do half days, and maybe more importantly to my decision-making, be one of only a tiny handful of kids who go home at 11:30.

(Note that half days are free while full days cost $350/month. I assume one of the reasons so many kids do the full day option is because it’s so much more affordable than daycare.)

(Oddly, the entire Bellevue school district is released after lunch on Wednesdays. That must be a nice pain in the ass for working parents.)


I don’t know how much I should worry about the fact that his school has relatively low testing scores as compared to the rest of Bellevue, or whether or not it’s even politically correct to helplessly wonder if the large percent (40%) of transitional bilingual students slows down the rest of the classes.

Our neighborhood is a microcosm of low/mid income in the midst of a ridiculously opulent suburban area. The best schools, at least according to scores and ratings? Situated in areas we could never afford to move to.

I catch myself spiraling down a rabbit hole of lip-chewing and I grab for perspective but I don’t know, I feel completely unqualified for thinking about these sorts of things. There’s so much I hope and want for my kids in school—not really in terms of amazing grades, but in happiness and a sense of adventure and an appreciation for the outdoors and not getting caught up in the bullshit of comparing yourself to others—and I know it’s up to us to help guide them.

Which is exactly what makes me worry, I guess. Wondering if there’s something I should be doing now to improve their chances.


83 Responses to “Watching ‘Waiting for Superman’ didn’t help this”

  1. Sabrina on March 3rd, 2011 6:36 pm

    Oh, I did the exact same fretting/worrying thing last year (we’re just north of you in the Lake Washington SD). Our neighboorhood school doesn’t have great WASL scores, but the staff & administration is pheonmenal and my daughter’s experience in kindergarten this year has been beyond wonderful.

    I’ve got a bunch of playgroup friends at different schools in the area, most of which are rated much higher than our school when you look at the test scores and most of the kids are these higher rated schools are having a miserable time this year (much of the classroom experience is teaching to the tests, instead of making sure the kids are actually learning the kinder basics). If your school has any sort of a population of English as a second language students, your WASL scores will usually be much lower – it’s one of the flaws of the test. What I’ve learned is to really not look at the ratings by test scores. The teachers are really what make the experience great for your kid or not. I pretty much just hoped for the best and figured if we weren’t happy with the kindergarten experience, I’d have time to figure out something different for first grade. Fortuantely, it turned out all my stress last year was for nothing; 2/3 of my kid’s classmates don’t speak english at home, so she’s being introduced to different languages and cultures at school and her teacher does an excellent job of making sure all the kids are challenged and learning at the individual level. She’s pretty much one of the most amazing teachers I’ve ever met.

    As for full day vs. half day….again, it depends on the kid. High energy kid, enjoys learning and mixing it up with other kids, you’ll be fine in full day. If you’re nervous, call the school, see if you can meet with the principal and/or some of the kindergarten teachers just to get a feel for what the school environment is like. Best of luck – hopefully you’ll both have a great experience with kindergarten.

  2. Joanna on March 3rd, 2011 6:42 pm

    I say this as a teacher at a predominantly Hispanic school with low average test scores: you should be concerned about your own child’s test scores, but the overall scores of the school matter much less than you think. The scores are almost completely a reflection of the racial/socioeconomic status of an area (which is why the best scores are in areas you can’t afford to move to). You get out of almost any school (except for, like, the most dire inner city school) what you put into it. If you and your husband are invested in your son’s education, he will be fine, wherever he is. I promise.

  3. Shannon C. on March 3rd, 2011 7:34 pm

    It’s too bad you can’t just pick up and move to Shoreline. Our school system is supposed to be excellent and. . . free! But that fact is neither realistic nor helpful for you, I know.

  4. Dawn on March 3rd, 2011 7:42 pm

    I know absolutely nothing about your particular school district (I tend to believe that even the crappy suburban districts around here are probably better than most others in the country), but as someone who came from a really crappy public school and was successful at a top-tier university, I fully believe that a motivated child with a supportive parent can make anything work. If the bilingual kids are slowing down the class’s progress in reading, then let him read more advanced stuff at home to challenge him. Get him involved in community activities and extracurriculars that he’s interested in. And, looking WAY down the line, he can always take college courses through the head start program if the HS courses don’t challenge him enough.

    It may not be ideal, it may not be perfect, but I have faith that you’ll be able to make it work for you.

  5. kate on March 3rd, 2011 8:21 pm

    I say go for the compromise and do the half day. The homeschooling is wonderful and as he get’s older it will get harder. The time goes by so fast, so enjoy it and trust your instincts, you know best, just go with it and good luck!

  6. Crystal on March 3rd, 2011 8:36 pm

    We were in the same boat. It was either move and pay a shit ton more, for less house and snobbier neighbors, not to mention less time to spend with the kids and more worry over money….Or buy a curriculum and homeschool.
    Homeschool won, hands down.

    And wow, BEST. DECISION. EVER.

  7. Meagan on March 3rd, 2011 9:52 pm

    If the bi-lingual kids are the ones with the low test scores, than I’d say there’s no reason to be concerned with the academic environment. Kids with English as a second language are naturally going to have a harder time testing, so it’s not a reflection on the school’s teaching. On the contrary, I’d bet it can only be benificial for a little kid to have to learn to communicate with someone who has trouble with English. Particularly at the kindergarten age, when social interaction is probably way more important than math or reading. I’d
    say go for the full day! You can always switch to half day if Riley doesn’t like it or if you don’t, and I bet Dylan would love having some time alone with you (my younger niece is a totally different kid when her older sister isn’t around because she so rarely gets 1 on 1 time with grown-ups.) Whatever you decide, don’t agonize over it!

  8. clover on March 3rd, 2011 11:14 pm

    Ugh! The Puyallup SD is the same way with the weird, half-day Wednesdays. I’ve always hated the Wednesdays when my stepdaughter was home at noon… I’d rather her be in an hour longer but just 4 days a week rather than the obnoxious half day.
    She’s in JH now, and the Wednesdays are late start, rather than early dismissal. I still don’t get the whole concept.
    My daughter is just days younger than Dylan, and I am also undecided on the half vs full days. She’s never been in daycare, only a regular Little Gym class, and I don’t know if a full day would be good for her (socially) or overwhelming, for both her and her prospective teacher!
    Good luck with whatever choice you make — I’ll be following to see how your decision works out for your family.

  9. Lori on March 4th, 2011 2:52 am

    I don’t think there’s any RIGHT answer when it comes to schools.

    My kindergartener’s favorite parts of school are art, PE, music — all the fun stuff. Starting kindergarten was a big adjustment for him. We’re overseas at a private international school and the kindergarten curriculum is no walk in the park. As a result, it was the “fun stuff” that helped make school better for him. He goes to school without complaint b/c he has library, or swimming. If his only experiences with school were the reading, writing and math, I think it would’ve been even tougher for him.

  10. Ser on March 4th, 2011 6:06 am

    Our experience, for what it is worth: Both my older boys are summer birthdays, and we chose to put both in kindergarten on schedule rather than the (seemingly) more popular choice of waiting. This was absolutely the best choice for first son, now 8 and in third grade, but second son is in kindergarten now and needing to work a bit harder to keep up with the academic part of it. It is still great for him socially, though. They have both done half day, and second son is in the same type deal that is sounds like goes on in your district–he is one of 8 kids in his class who leave before lunch. We love it, though, and do lots of outdoor time/fun/naps in that window before we have to go get first son. As far as test scores go, first son went to a school with higher scores in our district. We moved after a couple of years and second son now goes to a smaller school in our district with lower scores, but we really like it more. It is very friendly, artistic, focused on individual students. I think the lower scores are due to this more mellow approach and also due to a pocket of economically disadvantaged students that attend the school (who make it one of the most diverse and interesting schools in our district, in my opinion!) If I could go back and do it again, I would visit schools before making a decision. We are switching our oldest to this school next year. So anyway, this is all to just share our experience and say that there are a variety of choices you could make, and all of them will probably be fine, and you will find your way!

  11. Violet on March 4th, 2011 6:14 am

    Ugh, I sympathize!  My daughter starts kindergarten this fall, and we’re having some of the same issues.  Our area is only half-day, but they have afterschool programs, but they get shuffled around.  Or private school?  Or Montessori? Would that be too freeform, and not prepare her for elementary school?  The decision is not the most major in her life, but it feels that way right now.  Good luck, I’m sure he’ll do great whatever you decide.

  12. Redbecca on March 4th, 2011 7:19 am

    I’m in a similar situation right now but with preschool. Our son is special needs and does half-day preschool through the county, but his afternoon daycare situation is no longer ideal for his development. So we’re trying to find an alternative solution – and potty training, hours, and 50 other options come into play. And we both work. I’m on the hunt for the perfect 9:30 – 3:00 Tues – Fri gig with full benefits and an excellent 401k. Hahahahaha!
    All that to say, I totally get the insanity and indecision and fretting. And I thought college selection was going to be a nightmare. Sheesh!

    Oh, in case no one has mentioned it, many school districts have half days once a week (ours is on Mondays) to allow time for teachers to have group planning meetings, professional development, or other school or district-level activities. Sometimes it is just an opportunity for teachers to not have to be grading papers after hours in front of the TV, but a lot of the time it is so they can improve the quality of curriculum and instruction for our students. To me, it is a sign of an excellent school district – even though it puts all us working parents in a bind!

  13. steff on March 4th, 2011 8:03 am

    Just like most things, the experience will be what you all make it, no matter what you decide.

    He will probably know a majority of the academic curriculum, except the social interaction will be excellent for him, the concept of working together in a classroom environment will provide life skills he can use over and over again.

    We’ve been in the “best schools” in the area and recently moved to the “just regular” schools. My 9th grader claims it is less stressful and more relaxed learning, while my 2nd grader is now getting THREE recesses.

    On a side note: I’m not sure i have much faith in the statistics/rankings that are assigned to schools. Test scores don’t really reveal the intelligence of an individual.

    Of course we all want the best for our children and you are doing a fabulous job of extracting those opportunities for your boys.

  14. willikat on March 4th, 2011 9:35 am

    Oh, this topic is fraught with issues. My mom works at a school where more kids are ESL than English-speaking. But yet parents drive their kids from across town to get the education and experience of diversity. Test scores are low because so many kids are struggling to learn English and teachers are forced to teach to the test. Oftentimes those ESL kids learn more in a year than the English speaking ones do, but those aren’t the skills measured on the tests.

    I believe that your involvement in your childrens’ lives will make the biggest difference in terms of getting the most of their education–so many children do no have that.

    All this to say, I think wherever he ends up, and for whatever length of time, he will be great and so will you.

  15. CarrieP on March 4th, 2011 10:14 am

    I full-on sobbed at not one but two preschool parent-teacher conferences when deciding whether to send or hold my late-birthday son. So, no shame on stressing about education options for kids who still occasionally need help wiping their ass. (We held, BTW.)

    We are in similar straights regarding half-day/full-day. They offer both, but almost everyone opts for full-day. Most of the half-day parents I’ve chatted would siwtch if they could; their kids definitely feel left out, though I know mileage may vary on that one.

    Our kindergartner also has homework, but they don’t have to turn it in daily. It’s more of a calendar of activities they give to you at the beginning of the month. You mark off at your leisure and then return the calendar at the end of the month for a trip to the treasure box. (Whee!) This meand it’s technically okay to say, to do the last two week’s worth in one night the day before it needs to be tuned in, not to say that’s happened, am I right? And it’s fun, easy stuff…like grab a handful of change and add it up or do 10 push-ups and 10 sit-ups.

    Have you ever watched a scrawny six-year-old do pushups? Comedy gold.

  16. Michelle on March 4th, 2011 10:23 am

    I think Riley would benefit more from going 1/2 day, and spending the remainder of the day at home doing the same kinds of fun activities with you and Dylan that you have already been doing! :) Free play time at his age is far more critical to his healthy, well-rounded development, as is his family/sibling time. Being ‘on’ at school, even if it is doing play/crafts, is different – and more taxing – on such a young dude.

  17. Kelsey on March 4th, 2011 10:31 am

    I did not read all the comments and maybe you are not looking for yet another opinion on this? BUT I was a teacher before I had children and am still active in our local schools. Here’s the bottom line: Most children will do just fine in most schools. I think that we often put too much emphasis on the role of the school in that even a the best school will not be effective for a child without a supportive home environment.

    You also have to take test scores with a grain of salt for so many reasons. Standardized testing is the easiest way to get data from a large population but it is far from accurate a lot of the time. Many, many teachers are frustrated with NCLB because of the emphasis on testing. Think of it this way – do you rate your dentist based on how many cavities his patients have? :-)

    Riley (and Dylan) are in a loving supportive home. You frame your life in a way that provides rich and emotional and physical experiences for both of them. There is no reason to believe that they won’t do great in school, most any school.

    The other thing I often say to parents is that you can’t be afraid to make a change if you find yourself in a situation that isn’t working for you… Sometimes there really is no good way to know without being in the middle of the situation.

    Have you visited the school? You may get a feeling from doing some observing that helps you make up your mind one way or the other.

    Good luck!

    I’m sure there are hundreds of people reading/commenting here who are more qualified than I am to advise you on this, but feel free to email anytime if you think it might be helpful… sometimes it is hard for me to be clear in a blog comment!

  18. Trixie on March 4th, 2011 10:46 am

    I hear your concerns since my kid is in K in Seattle PD and I’m considering moving him to an option school, homeschooling or private for 1st.

    The school we are in now is ranked high, but his K teacher is “green” and the biggest issues I have found in my disappointment is mainly the teacher. Horrible communication, not being responsive to e-mails asking basic questions, volunteering but not being allowed in the classroom – working outside of the classroom doing administrative stuff. After watching “Waiting for Superman”, I can see firsthand how a bad teacher can put a child back a full academic year.

    As far as homework goes, they read every night and get simple writing assignments to turn in once a week.

    We supplement at home since he is ahead in what the school is teaching him now. So, the concern about him being challenged is there, too. He has told me he thinks school is boring – already at this age. Great…

    I never thought I would ever consider homeschooling, but it’s a possibility now since private schools around here are so expensive. With homeschooling I also worry about him staying socialized (he doesn’t have any siblings). I hear there is a big homeschooling community, though. The option school is a possibility, too, so I probably will try to get in before trying the other two.

  19. Sharon on March 4th, 2011 12:42 pm

    Our school district has full day kindergarten. While it is good for working parents, my son is so exhausted when he gets home. I remember it being that way with my older son also.

  20. Josefina on March 4th, 2011 6:37 pm

    My own experience was that I didn’t really know exactly what to do about things until my kids were in school for a while. Then, it became very clear and I had peace with my decision (we now homeschool).

  21. Quince on March 4th, 2011 6:54 pm

    Have you toured yet? I suggest touring and talking to the principal about your concerns.

    I am in the same boat, pretty much. And all our programs here are magnet/lottery, so you have zero control over where you end up. So I have researched, visited, talked to “parent ambassadors,” etc. And after being SURE I was going to put my daughter in a public school out of district if our #1 choice didn’t work out, I now am getting all zen about the backup in district if our number isn’t drawn for #1 choice. The backup gets a 3 on greatschools (test scores!), but it is an amazing school with an amazing support system. It just happens to serve a very transient poor population + a few yuppies (hi!) in adjacent areas. And if you look at the poor kid test scores there vs the 9 and 10 schools, the poor kids at the 3 school are doing much better there than at the “good” schools. Talking to the principal and not holding back in the interest of not offending her school was what really put me at ease. I did the whole “not to be that mom, but I’m totally gonna be that mom here…” talk about how my kid is ahead at preschool and I was concerned about academic support for kids who are working above grade level. And her answers were so great and authentic and encouraging.

    Test scores mean really little in the grand scheme of things. If you haven’t observed the classes and spoken with the principal (and parents! Ask him/her for some parent names/emails/numbers — they surely have a list of volunteers willing to talk to you), do so.

    I am so chill about it now. I even turned down a coveted spot at an IB academy outside of the district. I want to keep kindergarten mellow and fun. And really, you won’t know if it’s gonna work out unless you try. I am sure Riley will be fine academically — he’s got involved, educated parents and an innate curiosity. And the “hoemwork” thing is usually “cut Gs out of magazines.” Our school calls it “homefun” to avoid the negative reaction.

    Kindergarten is going to be a year of academic review for him, guaranteed. But that’s ok. He’s learning to be Riley At School, and that’s a lot to handle as it is. So easy work will make that transition a little less stressful.

    The teacher and the principal make the environment, and that’s the most important thing, I think. But I have a kid who needs a close relationship with her teachers. Different kids need different things, obviously.

  22. Mason on March 4th, 2011 7:16 pm

    Our sons share a birthday, only 4 years apart. I’m in Washington too, and where we are 8/31 IS the cut off date for K entry. I wasn’t comfortable sending my guy to K after turning 5 the weekend before, plus in all honesty and selfishness I wanted to be home with him another year. So we waited. It was the best thing for us. Now that I’m a “seasoned” mom of an elementary school student I will say that he won’t be missing ANYTHING (anything worth while). Year after year they teach the same things, have the same activities, not much changes from year to year (sadly) Once you start school, time flys by so fast. One day you’ll drop off your Kinder only to pick up a 3rd grader. Hold on tight to him as long as you can.

  23. Mason on March 4th, 2011 7:17 pm

    Forgot to say 1/2 kindy all the way!

  24. Lisa on March 4th, 2011 8:20 pm

    Oh my goodness, you all need to let it go. It’s kindergarten! I have one in 4th grade and one in 7th grade, and seriously, at this age test scores are really not an issue (and testing shouldn’t be an issue for middle school and high school, but that’s a whole other issue that you’ll come to know when you learn about the standardized testing nonsense. No Child Left Behind=BS).

    And are you really locked in to the school you choose for Kindy? Give it a year or two and see how it feels. You’ll have a chance to get to know teachers and administration and classmates and other parents. We were bussed over to an older school in a lower income area and I admit it was a concern for me. It turned out to be wonderful because of the teachers and the awesome learning environment they created- something you can’t get from looking at a schools’ test scores.

    As far as half or full day Kindy, I’m a huge fan of half days. I thought I would want full day but it was not an option for us in our district. After visiting the private school all-day Kindy, the kids seemed *so* young to be in school all day and the teachers there said it was really difficult for so many of them to handle it. Spend those half days with him, he won’t miss a thing and you won’t regret it, I guarantee it.

  25. todd on March 5th, 2011 5:06 pm

    Two kids, 19 year old woman in 3rd year at Mary Wash in VA, 16 year old man in 3rd year high school, also in VA. I was the stay-at-home. Be involved. Smile a lot, while taking joy in their journeys. Be friendly. Be involved. Know, and show, respect, to kids and adults and systems. Your kids follow you and your partner. It’s your example that makes the template. So be firm, be loving, be happy, and be confident–even in your doubts. Show transparency (what a great word–“trans-parent”–show ’em what you do, how you do it, and why you do it: trust ’em–they’ll get it). Being respectful of systems means that you know what the past is about, why this culture has adopted its forms and its customs, and that you believe in, and support, this culture.
    Of course, if you don’t, then don’t. That’s a different matter, but you must say why, and give details. Your kids ultimately deserve to know why.
    God bless you (or as my partner says, “goddess bless you”)–it’s a full journey, full of surprises and wonders. A tobaggan (sp?) ride down a mountain–little control, many dangers, but amazing views and lovely experiences, worth talking about, and worth living for. –todd

  26. mia valdez on March 6th, 2011 10:55 am

    i am a kindergarten teacher. i’m 26, with a masters, and i love what i do. i’ve been reading your work for years, and i’ve cheered you along as you (and i!) became runners. for the first time, i have what I think are valid and relevant thoughts to share.

    several things:

    1. if you’re worried about the quality of the school itself, go to the school and meet his teachers. spend some time in a kindergarten class, in both the morning and afternoon. see what you think. come around pick-up or drop off time and chat with other parents. would you have fun? (not going to lie: kindergarten is a lot of fun). schools are giant communities -check it out and get involved.

    2. full day is the way to go, probably. a large part of kindergarten is about teaching kids how to go to school. building up their stamina when it comes to sitting still, concentrating, and getting along with others. not only will your son learn how to read and do math in the mornings, he’ll learn how to cut, color, dance, make and keep friends in the afternoons.

    3. if you’re worried about not spending time with him, volunteer! go in and do the fun art projects with them in the afternoons! bring snacks! be generally helpful! i’m SURE your son’s teacher would love this.

    4. homework is a good thing. yes, it teaches kids that homework is something we do. but also, it helps them learn. whatever we’re doing in class gets practiced as homework. sometimes, your son might need a little extra work on the letter Jj -homework is that chance. most of it’s not hard – coloring, writing words. think, 1-2 worksheets. and books to read. nothing to be afraid of.

    deep breaths. it’ll be fine!

  27. Anonymous Pregnant Woman on March 6th, 2011 7:22 pm

    Have you read “Mother on Fire”? Here’s a link in case you’re interested:


    The author chronicles the year leading up to sending her daughter to kindergarten.

  28. Helen on March 6th, 2011 9:42 pm

    Oh, I hear ya. We have agonised this year over sending my eldest to Kindergarten. Local school, low scores, majority ESL? Montessori charter a very long drive away? Waldorf school of lovely art studios merely $8k per child per year IF we get full financial aid? Public school Montessori that starts at 7.30am? Ultimately I decided to put aside all the fretting and frantic school visits and go local. It’s 2 minutes walk away and it starts at 9.40am, which I find to be highly civilised. I think that not driving/ catching the bus/ getting up at the crack of dawn will make the family less stressed and so everything will be better. I feel we owe it to try local at least, and reconsider if it’s a disaster. On the other hand I feel the occasional pang of guilt that we’re not making enough “sacrifices” for a “better school”. And then I remember that’s BS. I believe we can improve our local schools if our kids attend them. I think the fact that we care enough to worry means our kids will be fine. Ask Riley if he wants to go all day or half day and play with his brother. Look ahead a couple of years, will Dylan do half days do you think? All these decisions are complicated by the younger siblings. I am sure my youngest will miss her sister incredibly while she’s at school all day. (No choice on half days here).

  29. Livi on March 8th, 2011 4:28 pm

    I’d do 1/2 day. It’ll give you time to enjoy just one child and Riley enough time to learn how school works & have fun with the friends he’ll make there.

    At the kinder level – they don’t need full day.

  30. Farrell on March 9th, 2011 4:01 pm

    I think a lot of parents fret over kindergarten. I don’t have an answer for you, but I have heard a lot of fretting so I know you are not alone…

  31. Annie on April 22nd, 2011 8:35 pm

    I would choose full day.

    Like you said, the half day is the serious work, the rest of the day is the fun, the free play with friends, the art, music, PE, and other special classes. Going from a half day of play-based preschool three days a week to a half day of academics five days a week would have sucked for my kid.

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