Kindergartner + Stress = A Personal Day?

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A nearby community has a wonderful, play-based preschool cooperative. Several of the teachers are my former students and I was invited to attend their monthly meetings whenever I could… joining in conversations with staff and families about child development, preschool, parenting… life.

I’ve been to 4 of these sessions and so far, it’s been interesting to hear the kinds of things that concern both preschool teachers and parents.

Last Monday night, a mother told us about her oldest son, who was now in his second month of Kindergarten, having just turned 5 the day before he started. She said that although he had attended preschool three days a week prior, her son was having a difficult time transitioning to what the public school system was dishing out… moving into 5 full days a week, 8 hours a day. Besides the number and length of his days, it was also the intensity. He had to be fully engaged in academics the entire time, even during lunch. There was no “pause button” to his day. This was having a noticeable impact on him, both physically and emotionally. When he got home, she explained, she’d find him sprawled on the floor, exhausted. Being overtired wreaked havoc on his emotions and the emotional climate of their home. He was cranky and whiny, and often just started crying.

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This mom was searching for some answers or any kind of help to smooth her son’s way into dealing with his daily school routine.

I thought back to a similar experience I had with my middle son. He was a young five when entering Kindergarten and a full-on kind of child. He, too, was exhausted by the time I picked him up and had no more to give. His brothers had a much easier time adjusting to an all-day schedule, being more laid back and flexible. There were some days I just knew he would be a handful in school from the moment he woke up, not having fully recovered from the day before. I raised my hand to offer a suggestion. “Why not try a giving him a personal day once in a while? It’ll be a day to relax and play and just be a kid.”

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A good number of parents at this meeting were teachers and I could feel the unspoken pushback. I could relate to this as a teacher myself. I’d always criticized parents who kept their kids out of school for trivial reasons or took off-season vacations… That is, until I had my own children and then I understood.

“Look,” I said. “He’s only five and barely five at that. Oh, I know. As teachers and parents, we want our children in school every single day, learning all they can. But, for some children entering Kindergarten, it’s just too much. School nowadays is pretty intense, even Kindergarten. Sometimes they need a break… physically, mentally, and emotionally. After a personal day off, he will have re-grouped, destressed, and will probably be better equipped to handle a big day at school.

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I went on to explain that obviously, this shouldn’t happen on a weekly basis, but when a child seems to be having a particularly rough week, we have to recognize that and maybe cut him a break.

I can remember doing this probably a total of three times during my own son’s Kindergarten year. And, he never got into any habit of just wanting to stay home or begging not to go to school, as some might envision. It was never handled in a way that it became his decision.

Of course, as the child gets older, this won’t be promoted. He’ll need to learn that getting through life isn’t always easy and adapting to the routine of school will prepare him to self-regulate, meet deadlines, and be successful.”

But right now, if being a Kindergartner becomes too stressful, giving him an occasional personal day makes all the sense in the world.

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