Today he helped me make chocolate chip cookies, while playing with his
Squinkies in his Playmobil fortress on the counter ... in his pajamas.
Last year we started Maddox in Kindergarten a year early. You may be wondering what the rush was. Truly, there was no rush. I really didn't want my little boy leaving the house a year early. But he really wanted to go. And socially, we thought it would be better for him.
You see, Zackary started school a year early with home school. Zackary soared and loved every minute of it. And then we became active church goers. At our church, the children are broken into classes based on how old they will be turning that year. So Zackary was in church class with kids that turned 7 in February, even though he wouldn't turn 7 until the very end of the year. His best friend ended up coming from that class. And when he went to public school a couple years later, his classmates were his church friends. So at church and school, he had the same friends. He would have been the only child in his church class to be a school grade lower than the others if he hadn't of started school early.
Josh and I loved that when he entered public school, he already had a group of friends to join - and to add to. It made his transition smooth. We wanted the same thing for Maddox. He also has a birthday at the end of the year. But we saw how wonderfully starting school early was for Zackary socially (and academically), so we wanted to give it a go for Maddox also so he could have the same experience.
We searched around and found one school in town that would accept children who were turning 5 by the end of the year. So I tearfully sent my 4 year old off for Kindergarten. I was surprised by my emotions. I didn't cry when his 2 older brothers left for school. But this time was different. Maddox is my baby. And I cried for his entire first week of school.
Maddox did better than I did. At first, he loved school. He wanted to go. And then he started crying when we dropped him off. This was followed by weekly notes home from his teachers saying he was a little weepy for the day, but trying very hard.
We thought that it was perhaps from not having nap time anymore. He had quiet time at school and would often fall asleep. His teachers were kind and let him sleep, though sometimes we would pick him up from school and he would still have carpet marks imprinted on his face from where he slept. We thought perhaps he was weepy because he was so tired and his little body needed rest.
When the first quarter ended, we transferred Maddox to a different elementary school where his brother attended. This school had to accept him now, as he was entered into the school system by the other school. Each day he would hop out of the car and go running into school happy and smiling with his brother. We knew this was where he was supposed to be.
Gone were the tears, though it was clear that my little buddy was feeling very worn out by the end of the school day. Despite being tired, Maddox was doing fantastic! He loved his classmates and his teacher. He loved the activities that were offered, and he loved learning. He finished the school year either at or above average in his studies. He was moved without question into first grade.
At the start of this school year, there were times when Maddox and Zackary would get out of the car for school and I would think to myself, "He should be home with me. He shouldn't be here." I dismissed my thoughts, thinking it was just because I didn't want an empty house yet. It had to be because he was still so young. There couldn't be anything real behind my thoughts. I told Josh and he said it was just because Max was little, and he should be at school. After all, just look how much he loved going!
During the first quarter of school, we would occasionally get notes from the teacher saying Maddox was a little sad that day. Despite that, Maddox was coming home and getting his homework done. He was enjoying his classmates, and loved his teacher. And he rarely complained about school.
We got Maddox's first quarter report card, and everything looked great. He was right on task, and even a little above average in a couple of areas. But his teacher commented that he had a hard time sometimes and would cry in class. Josh and I had an appointment to meet with her that week, as did all of the kids at school for Parent-Teacher Conferences. I was looking forward to getting more insight into the school day.
We met with Maddox's teacher. He was doing wonderfully. There was just one problem. Maddox was in a class where the other students were up to 14 months older than he was. 14 months is a huge difference when you're 5 years old and in first grade. These other kids were able to keep on task as planned. Maddox struggled. His problem was that he has the fine motor skills of a 5 year old. He still has to think about the letters he's writing and really focus on them. The same applied to coloring, cutting ... just about everything. His motor skills were right where they should be; for a 5 year old. But these 6 and 7 year old students were right where they should be as well. And they were completing tasks much faster, which left Maddox feeling frustrated because he was still working so hard - and was only half done when they were finishing up.
This frustration led to tears. Though Maddox was smart enough to be there, he wasn't ready. As his teacher was relaying what she was seeing, Josh and I listened intently. She was speaking truthfully to us and wanted us to be aware of what Maddox was facing. She was choosing her words with care, as she was concerned about upsetting us. She didn't speak as bluntly as I'm writing, but that was the message that we received.
As Josh and I walked out of the school, he asked me what I was thinking. My first thought was that I was super proud of Maddox and how hard he had been trying. My second thought was that he should be home with me. This time, Josh completely agreed. My inner Mommy Voice had been right all along.
We couldn't help but feel that we really messed things up by putting Maddox in school early. We felt we robbed him of time that he could have been home. He was trying so hard and getting frustrated at school, at a time when things should still be fun and easy for him. School should be enjoyable for a first grader. We really messed up.
The meeting with his teacher was on a Thursday. The next day was no school, which gave Josh and I time to talk about what we wanted to do. We honestly didn't know our options. Maddox had completed Kindergarten. Arizona will only pay for a child to be in Kindergarten once, as it is not a mandatory year of school here. So he couldn't just repeat. But since he had completed Kindergarten, we didn't know if we could just withdraw him from school. Then again, children are not required to enter school until they are 7 years old. Maddox was only 5. Would we need to home school until his fine motor skills caught up?
We decided that if allowed, we would completely withdraw Maddox from school and start first grade again next year. If that wasn't allowed, we would home school him so at least he could develop his fine motor skills at his own pace, in an environment that wouldn't be frustrating to him.
Come Monday, I had emailed Maddox's principal for our options. He would not be required to be in school until he was 7 years old. By the end of the school day I had filled out the papers to have Maddox withdrawn. That would be his last day of school for this school year.
I went to meet with his teacher about 20 minutes before the final bell rang. The students happened to be in music class, and she was in her classroom alone. I explained that I had just withdrawn Maddox, and how I was very appreciative of her honesty with what she was seeing. We just felt it was best to not rush him, that school should be fun, and we hoped he would be returning to her classroom next year.
Words cannot express the relief that flooded her face. She was so anxious about telling us her observations during our conference. She was thrilled we chose to withdraw Maddox and start again next year. She said she thought this was the best thing for our little boy.
When the children returned to class, she had them sit on the floor and had Maddox come to the front. She explained that he was just 5 years old, and shouldn't be in first grade yet. She told them Maddox was doing very well in class, but now he was going home to be with his mom. He would be back next year. A few little girls started sobbing. Everybody took turns giving him hugs goodbye. We packed up the last of his things from around the classroom and left with the final bell.
And now, I have my little buddy home again. He's taking 1-2.5 hour naps most days. He's playing with his toys, walking the dogs with me, enjoying pajama time, snuggling the day away with mom, watching little kid television. The life and energy that left with the start of Kindergarten has returned to his eyes. My little boy is happy.
I know that Maddox is where he is supposed to be. He can be a first grader next year, when he is ready.