Mixed Feelings About the Gradual Start

Image Courtesy Unsplash

Image Courtesy Unsplash

I’ve had mixed feelings about my daughter Audrey’s gradual entry into Kindergarten this year.

There are many factors to consider when looking at the system. I discovered this after a lengthy Facebook thread I created asking for feedback on the topic. People were quite passionate, more than I ever anticipated, having had both positive and negative experiences with it.

Quite often with topics like this, it can be hard to meet in the middle. I think when it comes to gradual entry there are so many considerations that we have to open our minds a bit.

I know I did.

I’ve always had a hard time picking sides, but that’s the journalist in me. So let’s look at the big picture:

Schools introduced gradual starts when Kindergarten went to full days. One person reminded me that Alberta still only does half days, so maybe we’re lucky in that sense. It also appears as if every school has its own schedule. Actually, it seems a lot of the schools within our district had very different schedules.

My experience with Audrey was that she had her first morning Wednesday with parents staying, an orientation day of sorts, a drop-in option Friday with parents and then a full day with half the class on her own on Monday and then she started full-time today with the whole class.

I really appreciated that first morning. It was a great way for her, while holding my hand, to get into the school, get familiar with the classrooms, the cloak area and where the washrooms are. Meeting and making connections with the teachers and other students was nice too.

I wasn’t a fan of the inconsistency, with absolutely nothing school-related happening on the Tuesday and Thursday of last week and again the Tuesday this week. She spent those days with me and it felt like she went back to square one, our regular routine of her hanging with mom and our crazy dogs.

She actually asked why she couldn’t take the bus to school last week with Jack. Wait, she’s already ready for the bus? I contemplated just putting her on the bus and seeing what happened, but thought I better not. I’m joking, if you didn’t pick up on that.

I’m lucky that I’m my own boss and set my own work schedule, however I still had a lot of work to do.

That meant I had to give up my new-found Game of Thrones addiction (I’m late to the party, yes I know) and edit and catch up on emails late into the night after the kids went to bed.

It was only for a week yes, but I’ve been doing this night-time working gig all summer and have been counting down the minutes until I can work like a normal person during the day. I can only imagine how much scrambling was involved for parents with 9-5 jobs.

One parent said this to me: “This gradual entry has been an Olympic event in juggling so many different schedules. Please take my son for a seven minute interview at some insane mid-day time so I can forfeit yet another full day of wages.”

One thing I took from the tone of some people’s comments in that social media thread was the stress involved from the inconsistency and confusion of varying schedules and having to try and find people to either cover work shifts or take their child to the orientation days. That stress mostly certainly would have been absorbed by their child. And isn’t that almost defeating the purpose?

“Because of this gradual introduction, I have missed five and a half shifts in 10 days and instead of my daughter experiencing two environments, she was shuffled around to four to five environments making every day even more confusing and overwhelming for her,” Leah Davidson said on the thread.

In our generation, both parents typically work and most kids are used to daycare. They’ve said their teary goodbyes before. Our communities also offer amazing preschool classes, which prepare our kids for what to expect.

Even some parents with shy kids have told me it would be better just to say that one goodbye at the start and it’s done.

However, I love our teachers and our school and I know they didn’t implement this system just to make us crazy and grumpy for the week. There are good intentions. They also have to work around a number of factors, including registration numbers, classroom sizes and student abilities and needs.

“As much as it’s called gradual entry and it seems like it’s about the kids gradually getting adjusted, I think a huge part of the process is about planning classroom composition,” said Aldea Wood in that thread. “A lot of kids showed up for the first day without having registered. The range of abilities and needs is vast.”

It appears as if the school district creates the system, but each school’s schedule differs depending on those needs and numbers.

“Their professional observations are going to help my child have a successful experience at school for the whole year,” Alyssa Shawn commented. “Yes, it’s hard to navigate but it’s worth the few days of chaos for a teacher to get to know my child for their strengths and challenges and fit them into a class of new friends with a varying degree of needs.”

I’ve heard many parents chatting about solutions.

Would it work better if you gave parents a choice? If you believe your child needs you to stay, you stay. If your kid is pretty comfortable, then you do the typical slowly back out of the room and sneak off bit. If your kid is so ready, then just let them dive-in.

If some parents are staying and some going, is that sending a confusing message to kids?

Maybe the schedule could be tightened up a smidge, if it’s possible, so it doesn’t feel so drawn out.

It’s unfortunate that some parents were feeling stressed to the max during what is supposed to be an exciting new chapter.

I wonder if the school board would consider some changes?

It doesn’t hurt to ask. I’m always a fan of positive solutions and creating discussions and hearing other people’s stories, so with that said, if you found it particularly tough getting through last week for you and your child, I would reach out.

Ask your teacher who the best person to talk to about it would be. The same goes for if you had a pleasant experience. I’m sure the teachers would love to hear that too.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Ashley Degraaf