My daughter, Anna, is in a split class made up of junior and senior kindergarten students. I don’t love split classes: My gut reaction is that my five-year-old shouldn’t have to “repeat” a year. When I mentioned this feeling to a friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher, she got defensive and insisted I was wrong in assuming that Anna is learning all the same lessons she did last year. I guess my thinking is that a split class means that the older students get less attention from the teachers. And I think older kids tend to regress a bit when they play with younger children—I’ve already noticed some changes in Anna’s behaviour.
This year, Anna is in the older group, although there are only six other senior kindergarten students in her class. From the beginning, the senior students have been positioned as the “class helpers.” While this is great, it shouldn’t diminish from their time spent simply as students—after all, this is only their second year of school. Because there are more junior students in her classroom, I know Anna could be learning so much more. She has gone from writing the alphabet and learning to read on her own to more mundane tasks. Now that we’re a few months in, she has come home full of reports on how she helped a younger kid with her jacket zipper and how she comforted a little boy who missed his mom. I’m glad that Anna is learning empathy and helping out, but is she taking away any actual educational lessons?
While Anna may not recall that she has already done many of the same lessons she did last year, I do. Have you heard the story of the Gunniwolf? Well, once you’ve heard it—the long version, I mean—narrated by a kid to a story circle made up of yourself and sparkly-eyed Beanie Boos, you’ve heard it one too many times. And once you’ve heard the ditty “Here’s a cup and here’s a cup and here’s a pot of tea” a thousand times, you don’t really yearn for its return. I even got another paper-plate turkey craft this year at Thanksgiving. (Confession: When I walk by the art wall of the other senior kindergarten classes, I get jealous.) Sometimes I wonder if the disproportionate numbers in her class are the real reason behind my issues. Perhaps if it was closer to a fifty-fifty split, the lessons wouldn’t feel redundant.
But it may be time for me to change my stance overall. I think being around younger kids has actually encouraged Anna to play with boys, which is a good thing. I think it helps that the boys are younger and that she has more of a built-in role as the “older kid.” It’s been an unexpected perk of the split classroom. And the other day, she explicitly told me that the senior kids are given specific tasks more often than the junior kids—I felt relieved knowing that this distinction is being made. She is learning in concrete ways and improving with each passing week: She is now a stronger reader and a neater writer than she was at the start of the school year, and she is great at counting by twos. I suppose it balances itself out. Even if her improvements mean hearing the “cup of tea” song 500 times a week, so be it.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.