I started writing a post about preparing for school in Israel, and how you basically are given very little information that you need until the last minute or past the last minute. I was going to share that to let people know this is normal so they don’t get frustrated, but I decided to delete it because it sounded negative and I don’t like to be negative, so instead I’ll share about the first day of school today.
Today was such a good day! It was so dramatically different from when everyone began school last year – at that time none of us knew any of the teachers, administrators, kids in the classes. We didn’t know what the school rules or schedules were, what supplies we needed; all of the kids except the high school girls were signed up for school after the school year officially began. The kids didn’t speak Hebrew and hardly understood anything going on in the classes, and were extremely limited in communicating with their classmates.
And this year? I know the teachers and principals at each school, and they know our children and their needs. (I spoke with two principals yesterday to make sure they understand the kids will continue to need academic support throughout this year.) The kids now understand Hebrew (varying levels of this, but in every case it’s much, much better than last year) and most of them were going into familiar school situations. Everyone left with backpacks filled with the requisite school supplies, with the appropriate uniforms – last year it took a week to buy what we needed for dd10 since they didn’t sell anything that fit the school requirements in the city (the school sells uniforms but only had clothes left for very little girls). They all came home positive, basically saying how big a difference it was between this year and last year.
Yesterday ds6 participated in the orientation for first graders – the parents of the first graders and the first graders were invited to the school in the late afternoon, and the principal and teacher went over school rules and what the boys will be learning while the boys did an activity together. This was the second meeting for incoming first graders; the first was several months ago and I was very pleased they did this. It took away the unfamiliarity of a new situation and helped the kids become familiar with their teacher, classroom, and classmates, and ds6 had a great first day of school today. I ‘ve been vacillating about where to put him in school and questioning the decision that I had made, as well as the reasons that I made the decision I did – it’s hard to send to a school that hardly anyone in the charedi community is sending to, and sometimes I doubt myself and wonder, if my reasons are so good, why doesn’t anyone else who shares my concerns make a similar choice? But yesterday at the orientation I had a feeling of peace that it really was the right thing to do.
Ds4 (will be five in a week and a half) had the hardest time today. I had been anticipating that it would be pretty smooth for him to begin kindergarten, since he was entering the class that ds6 was in last year, and he accompanied me every day to pick up ds6, so he was familiar with the teacher and the building. But a few days ago I found out that they shuffled the teachers and class locations, so he now is in a building that he’s never been in, with teachers he’s never seen before. One positive part is that he knows a number of the boys from last year, despite the shuffling of the boys in the classes into different groupings. Another positive aspect is that thanks to the shuffling, his class size is now 22, down from 34 last year, which was overwhelming for him. When I took him in to the kindergarten class, I was pleased that the atmosphere was so calm, since lots of noise and stimulation is hard for him.
I stayed with him for 45 minutes, then thought it was a good time to leave since he seemed comfortable and told him I would be back later to pick him up. As I was walking out of the courtyard, he came running out presumably to say goodbye again, then burst into tears. The teacher told me to leave him there, that he was crying because I was there and it would be easier for him if I left him, but that’s not my belief. I understand why it seems to work better to leave children despite their crying and screaming, but when they do quiet down, what looks like their acceptance of a new situation is often them shutting down emotionally because they feel unsafe. Resignation and acceptance are very different emotions that look quite similar from the outside. I was reminded of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s statement that peer oriented children look so much better than parent oriented children, because they seem more confident and look as if they’re doing better in new situations. Looks can be deceiving. To the teacher, I only said that everyone knows their own child and I didn’t think it would be a good idea for ds4 to leave him there against his will. I took him home and we’ll give him a chance to adjust to kindergarten more slowly, so that when we leave him there, he feels comfortable with it. Pushing him to stay there before he’s ready isn’t going to be beneficial to him.
I wasn’t looking forward to school starting – it feels like the summer went by too quickly and since it was the postpartum period for me, I didn’t spend the kind of time I wanted to with the kids. Nonetheless, the kids had a nice summer and despite my reluctance for the summer to end, I’m glad that they all had such a positive start to this year.