On Making Our Toddlers “Kindergarten Ready”

My 3-year-old loves baby dolls. Very rarely do we leave the house without one hooked under one little arm, a diaper bag dangling from the other. She wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up so that she can “go to the grocery store all by [her]self” and “do the dishes.” Girl’s got ambition — which I fully intend to exploit in 5-13 years. Taking care of her babies is just about the only activity that keeps her interest longer than five minutes.

I remember being alarmed at her early disinterest in learning … or at least what we think of as learning. Charlee had always loved to read, but early on, Hattie would slam the cover shut any time I even tried to crack a book. And the few times I attempted to teach her sign language as a baby, she would scream at me and yank her hands away, as if she was trying to tell me, I do not have time for silly things like this. There’s a whole world out there to explore.

While she can now engage long enough to complete a book or even a few (though she asks approximately 18,000 questions per page, some completely irrelevant), she’s still not interested in sitting down and working for long stretches.

Occasionally, against my better judgment, I get anxiety about the fact that she doesn’t know many letters or how to write her name or that she still gets that eleventeen-17 range jumbled when counting. I drive by the Montessori Preschools that I cant afford and think, “I should really work on preschool curriculum with Hattie so that she has a chance…”

But then I think back to my education degree and remind myself that Hattie just turned THREE, and this pressure that has been created to have my kids literate by the age of 4 and performing long-division by 5 and composing symphonies by 6 WAS NOT created by teachers or child development researchers but by the pressures of a flawed system and competitive parents.

I remember one of my professors discussing the new environment into which we are sending our students. This is no longer a world in which students who “know the most” will be the most successful. Information is now immediately accessible, so education is less about “knowing stuff” and more about creative thinking, application, cooperation, leadership skills, and all of that other intangible, “outside of the box” stuff.

Guess what!? These are things cultivated in free play, not rigorous preschool curriculum.

Then I think about my biblical duty as a momma: to make little, tiny Jesus impersonators. That changes things. Because Jesus is not remembered for his smarts but for his wisdom. He’s not remembered for his SAT score or for how many multisyllabic words he used in the Sermon on the Mount. He is remembered for his desperate pursuit of outcasts, his passionate cry for justice for the oppressed, and his counter-cultural inclusiveness — EVERYONE can be part of his club.

What if we taught our kids that while academics are important, because working hard at everything we do is important, school is not just a means to a good career but an incredibly convenient mission field? They have an awesome opportunity to desperately pursue outcasts, passionately cry out for justice for the oppressed, and be counter-culturally inclusive — make sure EVERYONE is a part of the club. They get to BE Jesus to the lost and lonely every single day. And if schools are anything like they were 4 years ago when I taught, there are PLENTY of lost and lonely.

When we push academic success at such an early age (or at any age), not only do our children lose valuable time to play and learn through osmosis, but we can unintentionally put SMART on a pedestal, high above KIND, SELFLESS, or COMPASSIONATE.

While at a bible study on motherhood, our incredibly wise mentor mom said, “When I walk into a parent-teacher conference, I push all the papers aside, and say, ‘I don’t want to know about grades. I know their grades. We can fix grades. I want to know what kind of person they are when they aren’t with me. I want to know if they are kind. I want to know if they play with the lonely kids at recess. I want to know if they sit with the lonely kids at lunch.”

In the long run, are we just dying for our kids to be rich and famous? To be the CEO of a company? Is financial success at the top of our priority list?

If not (or even if so), let’s just let our three-year-olds play. Let’s all just calm the heck down about Kindergarten readiness, because if you’re worried about your baby being ready, that’s a good sign that he will be ready. Instead, let’s make sure they know that sharing is JUST AS important as counting, cooperating is JUST AS important as phonics, that we care more about them being like Jesus than we do about them knowing a lot of stuff.

Let’s show our kids that we care more about them being the kindest than we do about them being the smartest.

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While I was agonizing over this article and trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, I flipped over to Facebook for a second so that I could stop using my brain for a hot second and THIS was the first thing that popped up:

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It was as if God was saying, YES. THIS is a message that you need to share. Thanks Jenn for posting — you were unknowingly encouraging me.

 

 

If this topic interests you, click to read this interview with my kindergarten teaching momma, Jody. She discusses what she she has identified as the most important characteristics in incoming kindergartners… and those that aren’t.

 

 

 

 

Husbands and Wives and Spiritual Leaders

Being raised in the church, I religiously (pun intended) attended Sunday school, Wednesday night huddles, lock-ins, bible studies, mission trips, church camps, and all the “RE” youth events:  “ReIgnite”, “Revive,” Rekindle”, “Recharge” … you get the picture … where people say deep things that include phrases like “this season in your life” and “spiritual high” and “guard your heart.”

Obviously, I attended a lot of those “girls only” talks. You know the ones: loving yourself for you, beauty is on the inside, boys only want one thing, and, of course, what to look for in a Godly husband. These are important conversations that are crucial for the malleable minds and souls of 12-year-old tween girls.  During many of these conversations, a catch phrase is tossed around, one that should top the list of what all good little girls hope for in a husband: Spiritual Leader.

Hear me: I believe in the role of a husband as a spiritual leader. I guess I am old-school in thinking that he is the head of the home, in that men value respect and women value their affection. The two are intertwined, each dependent on the other. However, to think that men should not and will not ever go through valleys or falter in faith, never doubt, never go through ruts or times of complacency is complete (and udder… 😉 ) bull.

Here’s the problem with the heavy emphasis of this phrase. Maybe I just got the message skewed, but somewhere between 10 and 28, I breathed out a heavy sigh of relief and decided that I was off the hook. The spiritual leader is husband-only territory. If he’s not leading, it’s certainly (and thankfully) not my job. I’ll just sit and nurse the baby, unload the dishwasher, fold the laundry, and wait for him to step into his God-given role. I won’t suggest we pray together… that’s his job. I won’t suggest a bible study… not my role. I won’t push him to spend time in solitude … he should do that without my prodding. For he is, in fact, dubbed the spiritual leader. I’m exaggerating a little bit… but sadly, not much.

I do believe in the leadership of a husband, but I shouldn’t expect to never have to lead. The problem with this model is that I use it as an excuse. I use it as an excuse to continue in my own rut, to justify my own distance, to feel comfortable sitting at arm’s length.  Thank goodness he’s not pushing me right now because I really don’t feel like moving. And thank goodness I don’t have to push him because I’m not really in the mood.

Here’s the thing. As in all marital roles, this one is never going to be permanent. There will inevitably be ebbs and flows in each spouse’s desire to grow toward Christ. But one of us had better start flowing. What might seem to be a minor leak in this area will eventually evolve into a drowning marriage because this is the source from which all rivers run. Every part is affected.

My husband’s passion for seeking after his heavenly father is one of the things that hooked me. I am so thankful for his encouragement, his challenging, and his leading by example. So to return the favor every now and then is the ultimate form of serving him. I can joyfully, humbly fill his shoes, showing him grace and encouragement without emasculating or demeaning him. Nobody lives on a mountain top… and those that claim (or, scarier still, actually believe) they do, are a frightening breed.

Most wives probably already knew this or figured it out year one, so I’m feeling a little anxious about admitting to this. I hope you did already know and I hope you haven’t waited around like me, arms crossed in begrudging silence. I hope you already know to thank him when he leads but are also willing to drag him along, help him up, or even carry him when he falters. After all, we would expect him to do the same for us.