Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bullying and Homeschooling!


(This is a long post, more for me than anyone else. Which I guess is what you can say about most of my blog posts. Haha!)

As I was picking Paprika up from school on Friday, I noticed that the Kindergarten Screening is coming up. I can't believe it's been a year since we went through that. A year ago, I was fretting about whether or not to send Paprika to Kindergarten or Developmental Kindergarten (aka DK, it's just like Pre-K).

As you know, after much hemming and hawing, we put her in DK. I have gone back and forth all year on whether or not that was the right decision for her and for us as a family.

In retrospect, I am not sure I made the right choice. I am glad that she has another year of part-time school. This year and next year (Kindergarten), she'll only go to school for about 3 hours/day. That gives us a lot of hours in the day just to be at home, be together, and learn stuff on our own.

The downside of having her in school is that:

1) She is not learning anything academically. We pretty much do a full homeschool curriculum at home, and Paprika is academically doing work a few years ahead of grade level. She's very advanced in reading and science, pretty advanced in spelling and math, and better than average in penmanship. At home, she gets one on one attention, and well, that's just not possible at school, especially when they are trying to catch other kids up. I didn't really expect that Paprika would learn a lot at school, but what concerns me is that I don't think her teachers know that she knows so much. As in, I don't think her teachers know that she can read.

We got her report card a few weeks ago, and it stated that soon she would learn how to read consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words (like cat, dog, hop). Well, Paprika can already read Level 3 books easily (she reads them to me every night before bed) I kind of scratched my head at that one. I guess I didn't expect that Paprika would learn a lot at school but I thought at least they would recognize how advanced she is...but with 15 kids all at different levels and one teacher, I know that's tough.

When Mr. M volunteered in the class last week (we try to volunteer at least 1 day/week), he noticed that Paprika was finishing her work very quickly. What took her 30 seconds to do correctly was taking other kids 10 minutes or more. The teacher was helping other kids at other stations, so I don't think the teacher realized. Paprika just went off to play by herself while the other kids were working. So, there's really no academic challenge for her at school. It's just her kind of going through the motions, jumping through hoops, if you will.

2) Another glitch we've encountered this year is the "friend" thing. In case you don't know, mean girls show up even at DK! Paprika is super sweet (to a fault) and she's been the target of some bullying in her class. Her class is 13 boys and 3 girls, so there are really only 2 other people for her to be friends with, since the boys are kinda like a Lord of the Flies gang. One of the girls is a "queen bee" and has decided who gets to be friends, who gets to wear what, etc. This little girl can be quite cruel. Paprika has also dealt with a lot of teasing from the boys in her class, and one boy even told her that if she told anyone he was teasing her that he would "make her sorry."

A few kids even made so much fun of Paprika for wearing dresses, and told her she couldn't wear them anymore, that she stopped wearing dresses completely (and she loves her dresses!) She said that she could only wear them at home because people laugh at her at school about what she wears. Well, you know I had to bite my tongue about that because I really had some choice words float through my head. I talked to the teacher, and she had a discussion with the class (no names were named) about how we don't make fun of kids' clothing, etc.

I guess I could have just made sure Paprika always wore pants to school (she gets to pick out her own clothes every day)...but I felt like giving in to the bullying was not the answer. I was made fun of for things in school that I had zero control over. In Junior High, I was constantly teased for having "fat ankles" when I was a beanpole of a girl. I was also made fun of for other things, like the shape of my lips. So, I think bullies will just be bullies no matter what. One day they pick on your clothes, the next day it's the color of your hair, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation. Where does it end?

Anyway, it's pretty much a daily/weekly thing for me, dealing with this or that social issue at the school. I was hoping that Paprika would make some good friends and socially, it would be a fun break in her day for her. But, really, it just kind of eats into our day and we don't get to go to a lot of the places we used to enjoy so much together (museums, the Aquarium, the beach, Disneyland, etc.)

3) Paprika has a lot of creative interests that she fulfills at home and being at school is somewhere she just can't do that. For example, Paprika loves writing and illustrating her own books. She has told me repeatedly that she wants to be an author and an illustrator when she grows up. On any given day, she can spend hours writing her special books. But, she has also told me that at school it's too noisy, too crowded, and too cluttered for her to create. I imagine this will be even more so the case as she progresses in school and their time is more structured and more geared towards preparing for standardized testing. I enjoy watching Paprika grow academically with her self-directed learning, which is something that just really isn't possible (as far as I know) at a traditional public school.

On the plus side:

1) Paprika seems to love school. Why, I do not know. But, she does. She is really excited for next year in Kindergarten when she'll have more girls in her class to be friends with (the DK is always heavily boys), since she says that her one "friend" this year is more often mean than nice.

2) Paprika gets pragmatic speech therapy 2x/week at school (this helps her learn how to talk to others in a social way), and is in a special friendship group that also helps with social skills. She also has an OT in her class who works with her on a regular basis. Having these services (and not having to pay for them) is pretty awesome!


3) I get a little break during the day when I can focus all of my attention on Baby Violet and Ginger. Although, with it just being three hours, it seems like by the time I get everyone out the door for drop-off, by the time I turn around it's time to go back to school to pick Paprika up (and by that time, Violet is usually taking a nap so I have to wake her up).

4) Having her in school gives us a little rhythm to our day, and connects us to our community.

Going forward, we're just going to take it year by year and see what happens. I can completely see us homeschooling at some point in the not-so-distant future, especially when school is all day long, and the little girls are a bit older. Paprika will probably join swim team in the Fall, which will give her some extra social time, and there are other groups she will likely join, like Girl Scouts. I have also thought of getting the girls involved in gymnastics (for gross motor skills), and that would also be a great social outlet. And it's also possible that we might join a church and start going regularly and they'd meet other kids there.

So, that's where we stand on the whole school thing right now. I think for next year, we will give regular Kindergarten a shot. Hopefully it will be a fun three hour block in the day for Paprika to get to know other kids and be social. At home, I will continue basically homeschooling her on my own (so she's learning something academically). Then at first grade, we will reassess and see what is working best for our family at that point.

I guess the sum of all of this is that I want Paprika to enjoy school and for it to be enriching on some level for her. I am not the type of person that believes that you have to go to a conventional school to learn things, or even that it's the best option. I have a lot of formal education under my belt (a Master's degree and a Juris Doctorate), and yet most of the things I have learned have been outside of school. And certainly, my most enjoyable educational experiences have all been extracurricular. And, my friends were mostly made outside of school, as well. So, there ya have it.

It will be interesting to see where the next few years take us. Of course, I could go back into law practice full-time, and then the kids would probably be in private school! Haha. Well, anyway, this blog post will be fun for me to look back on in a few years anyway. I just really don't want to miss out on these sweet and formative years in my kids' lives by shipping them off to school everday, especially if it's not what's best for them. But right now, I do think that school is overall more positive than negative for Paprika at this we're sticking with it. Unless, of course, I change my mind. Haha.

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OTtraveller said...

as we discussed last year: why don't you let Paprika go on to first grade from DK?
The class will be calmer and more structured than a kindergarten (which will serve her well) and there may be more academic challenges that she is interested in......
Plus she will be with children that are closer to her age/maturity level given the strides she has made this year.
I like the idea of homeschooling but really want to remind you that some of the skills Paprika is working on are not necessarily academic(making friends, succeeding in a structured environment with rules and relating to peers her age) will not be addressed as easily and the developmental window where such changes can be easily facilitated will start closing......

Kim said...

I'm sorry Paprika is having a rough time with kids this year. I cannot even believe that kids are acting like that in kindergarten!! How frustrating! I thought for sure you were saying you decided to homeschool! I decided to homeschool Brennan next year. I went back and forth with many decisions and if his K was half day I probably wouldn't have given as much consideration to homeschooling, but there is no way he can be gone from me 5 full days right now. It felt so wrong and homeschooling feels so right. I think you're doing great by doing the extras at home and keeping her in for her therapies. I hope next year brings a new change for her in friendships and decent kids to be friends with! Geez!

scm said...

I share your frustration with the public school system. I grew up in NY where public schools are outstanding. Needless to say, for me, they're lacking where we currently reside (in my opinion). I wonder if part of the reason your daughter is so far ahead is that she (may or may not) be in DK for possibly different reasons than most of the other kids are? Maybe if you can skip over (regular) kindergarten and go right to first grade, some of those issues will take care of themselves. The bullying is just awful and I guess one just hopes kids will become more aware of their behavior and sensitive of their actions as they gain maturity.
I debated homeschool vs. public school for my own daughter. However, she is an only child (for now) and, while very social, I wanted her to be exposed to the challenges that come with having to share one's space with people just as important as she is :). She needs that. That was the decider for me. As you described, I just supplement at home with the academic side of things and I, too, volunteer on average 2-3 times/week. In my view, she gets the best of both worlds that way. Good luck in weighing your options and making your decisions. These are not easy ones to make. :)

The Mama said...

Homeschooling is 'da bomb and all of your pros you have for regular school can easily be accommodated while home schooling! I can totally see you as a home school mom, you just fit the mold so to speak! I hope that wherever your journey takes you that you are all happy with it. Making an educational choice can be a challenge but ultimately as the parent you need to listen to your heart and if you can accommodate what your heart is telling you then by all means, do!!

Jus said...

You know how I feel about homeschooling and particularly when you have several children and a husband with an irregular schedule.

Tracy said...

We are also taking it one year at a time. Right now, my boys would attend the same elementary school I attended. But I have been less than pleased with our experience thus far. I feel that they are over policing, i.e. my son was weighed at school and sent home with a note saying he was underweight, therefore malnourished, and his pediatrician had to sign off on it, which meant we had to do an extra "well" visit. I know it's very difficult, and I keep second guessing myself. But we as mommies are experts on our children. ((hugs))