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Little Brother and Kindergarten. Where do I start? This is a loaded topic.
For me, it was pretty obvious by the time Big Brother Ezra was 3 1/2 that he had some extra issues to deal with. While it was a fight, I wasn’t hugely surprised when he was given multiple diagnoses at the age of 4. With LB, things have not been nearly so clear-cut.
In so many ways, he’s far more calmer and “normal” than his elder brother. And yet, he still has a lot of struggles. Of course, these struggles are so incredibly different than Ezra’s struggles, and far more puzzling in many ways.
I *think* he may have ADHD as well. Not surprising, as it runs in the family. But it presents in completely different ways. He wakes up calm and cuddly (whereas Ezra wakes up as though every cell in his body is vibrating). He likes calm and quiet and seems overwhelmed by loud noises. And yet, as the day progresses, he is unfocused, rowdy, and VERY OUT OF CONTROL of his own body.
His gross motor skills are clumsy and klutzy. He earned the name BABY BONK BONK before he was even walking due to how often he was bonking his head. It is a REAL STRUGGLE to keep this kiddo safe. He’s already had stitches once and additional slices to his ear and upper frenulum. He fell down the entire set of stairs the other day. He cannot be still, and the more tired he gets the more wired he is. He will lean his entire body over and push his head into things – me, the chair, the bed. Even when doing something like watching TV, sometimes he will be laying upside down. I’m constantly scrapping at him to STOP STANDING ON FURNITURE because he’s GONNA GET HURT (which he does), but then 2 seconds later he is standing or climbing on something again. He struggles with eye contact, and regularly puts blankets over his head. The later the day, the worse it gets.
LB is able to sustain independent imaginative, narrative play for longer periods of time than Ezra could at that age. Sometimes there’s still a hump we have to get over in getting him to play because he loves to be around us, but once he’s engaged, he can play for a while on his own. Some days. Maybe.
Yet, as pro-medication as I am, I don’t yet feel like he needs to be medicated, or even evaluated for ADHD. Everything we deal with seems fairly manageable from a parenting perspective.
I see a lot of signs of anxiety in him – many that are very similar to anxieties that I had as a child. Ultimate, as a girl, this led me into pursuing a straight-A perfectionism when it came to academics. I see inklings of this in him, and it terrifies me.
LB’s fine motor skills are actually quite good – if not ahead of normal – for his age. The problem is that he lacks the fine control that HE craves, and gets very angry or upset when he’s unable to create with his hands what he envisions in his head.
I have spent the entire last year finding preschool activities for him that almost always flopped. Most of preschool books are full of tracing and coloring activities. For months, he would try only to dissolve into a fit of tears when he went “off track” the lines or out of the lines. It got so bad we reached the point where he refused to color and trace. I even tried making special firetruck-themed pre-writing pages just for him, but it was hit or miss if he would actually do it, and these still made him cry sometimes. Even dot markers would cause him anxiety because they would go outside of the circles on the dot pages.
So from about June of 2019 until March of 2020, we were limited to lines he could draw on his own and circles.
Common homeschool advice would take these signs to mean that this 4-year-old child is simply not ready for school and needs to be given more playtime. There’s only one problem with this advice when it comes to LB: HE WANTS TO DO SCHOOL.
He wants to be with us, and not just with us – he wants to engage with the material. He will constantly pipe up with answers when I ask questions. We do a ton of lap reading of living books, but he’s not content to just “go play” during school time, even though he completely HAS the skills to do so. This has left me really struggle to find a way to keep him occupied during times I need to be very hands-on with Ezra.
His cognitive understanding of academic concepts is also incredibly high, probably kindergarten or first grade level: he can count by 1s, 5s, and 10s to 100. He knows all his colors, letters, and numbers. He’s reading CVC words and beyond, and zooming through early readers at a lightning pace.
He can do basic addition facts up to 2, and can even tell you different ways to make sums (like 5 can be 2 plus 3 or 4 plus 1). He’s spelling words for me all the time, even big words like TRUCK and SHEEP. He knows the colors of the rainbow in order and can tell you the life cycle of plants, as well as the water cycle.
So to those who might say, “He’s not ready! At this age, you just need to let him play more!” – that doesn’t really work. It’s more of a matter of getting his body to catch up with his brain. I’m trying to force both boys into having more outdoor, gross motor play (often several hours every day), and I’m starting to see more improvement, but it’s still a bit of a struggle.
The other struggle is in distraction. Ezra distracts LB. LB distracts Ezra. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. ALL DAY LONG. It takes forever for them to eat when they are at the table together because they can’t stop talking. A few weeks ago, I told them school was done for the day and they needed to GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY and it took them over an hour to get socks and shoes on to go outside. They stood at the front door for 20 minutes having a riveting conversation about bumblebees. Not even joking.
The two of them are almost inseparable. Sometimes to get either of them to focus on a task, I have to separate them. I found that, while I was injured, having LB play downstairs while we did school upstairs REALLY helped. Now that I’m walking, I thought we could move everything back downstairs. One day of that and I was like…Nope…that won’t work! So Ezra has a desk both upstairs and downstairs, but he does most of his schoolwork upstairs and I try to keep LB downstairs playing by himself. It helps that Daddy is working from home now. Even though he’s working, he can keep his basement office door open and chat with LB, and that presence usually soothes LB enough to be able to play. At least sometimes.
LB’s ongoing obsession with firetrucks and everything fire-related has continued to grow. For a long time he didn’t want to read anything that didn’t have to do with firetrucks. So we have read over 100 books relating to fire and rescue.
His obsession has grown just a tiny bit to let in police, ambulance, and rescue squad stuff. He loves to enact rescue scenes in play as well as in building. He loves to make “scenes” whether it be with blocks, stickers, or magnets, so we have a lot of Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads, a firetruck magnetic playset, and firetruck sticker books. He also loves to build rescue stations and garages for his vehicles with his Magna-Tiles.
Around the holidays 2019 and through the spring, he started to warm up a little bit to coloring, and stopped freaking out every time he colored outside the lines. He also showed more willingness to write letters freehand. Tracing was still a no-go, though.
Then, on May 19, we had a HUGE fine-motor breakthrough. We had been working through The Good and the Beautiful Pre-K Primer, doing all the activities but skipping the tracing. All of the sudden, he decided that HE WANTED TO TRACE! He then proceeded to go back to the beginning lesson and catch up on 10-20 lessons worth of tracing all at once. It was unreal.
So, it turns out that patience and persistence and letting him grow up a little bit is really what he needed.
Where does that leave us now?
I still have a lot of uncertainty with him. I feel like homeschooling him is still a bit like throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks. He’s very unpredictable and constantly surprises me.
If he were in public school, due to his birth date (he will turn 5 in September), he would not be able to attend kindergarten for another year (fall of 2021). However, I feel like he’s ready for SOME aspects of kindergarten. So we are proceeding with working through our PreK curriculum books over the summer and starting our kindergarten books in September, but slowly easing into it. I am considering this a “transitional-kindergarten” year (TK) then necessarily a full-on kindergarten year.
Masterbooks Stepping Stones has been a really good fit for him. In some ways it’s below his cognitive level, but I like the Bible instruction, and it has a lot less tracing than other preschool curricula.
Working on currently:
- The Good and the Beautiful PreK Language Arts Course Set (we are halfway through and should finish by the end of the summer, if not earlier)
- Masterbooks Stepping Stones (Preschool)
- Masterbooks Foundations Phonics (1st Grade) – minus all the writing and tracing practice
- Masterbooks God Made the World and Me
Hoping to complete (or at least start) this coming year (June 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021):
- Learning Without Tears My First School Book
- The Good and the Beautiful Handwriting Workbook Doodles and Pre-Writing for Littles (ages 2.5 to 5)
- The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts Course Set Level K Primer
- The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts Course Set Level K
- The Good and the Beautiful Math Course Set Level K
- Masterbooks Simply K– all-subject kindergarten workbook
- Masterbooks Math Lessons for a Living Education Level K
- Masterbooks Biblical Beginnings for Preschool (Bible & Science Curriculum)
What our transitional kindergarten days will look like:
- New City Catechism and Bible story with Ezra over breakfast
- Age-appropriate household chores
- Free play downstairs in the Lego corner while Mommy does school with Ezra
- Structured preschool / kindergarten lesson times (10-15 minutes, possibly once before lunch and once after lunch)
- Quiet play in the bedroom while listening to educational story or music
- Doing science, arts, and crafts alongside Ezra
- Being read to (picture books and board books) by Ezra
- Educational TV shows
- Lap reading and working through phonics readers with Mommy
- LOTS of outdoor and free play
While homeschooling Little Brother is sometimes confusing and frustrating, it’s also very exciting. I’m looking forward to enjoying this transitional kindergarten year!