Monday, August 16, 2010

Kindergarten Conundrum

Today is the first day of school for almost all the kids in town. But instead of making my way through public school crowds with my brand new kindergartener we drove right by the masses on our way to the private school our daughters have been attending for two weeks now. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel some Mommy guilt as we drove by.

The truth is that I have been agonizing about what to do about my daughter’s schooling for a long time. She is 5 and has been so for about 8 months now, which means she doesn't miss the cut-off for starting school this year. Sounds great, right? Well, since we just moved to a new community I faced more questions than I ever expected when it came to how she will start her education.

Actually, even saying "start her education" is incorrect. When we lived on the boat and happened into Hope Town we were told that the local school took "transients" like us. It turns out that wasn't entirely true since the school is a serious place of learning that is already overflowing with students just from the local community. But, we lucked out and there was an opening in the PreK/Kindergarten class. Since we also had some skills to offer during our stay (I became the Spanish teacher, my husband taught a little first aid/medicine and our wonderful marine biologist/live-aboard nanny taught some classes, too!), my daughter was allowed to start going to school there. She was at that wonderful school for 4 and a half months before we sailed away. During that time I knew she was learning a lot from her amazing teacher, "Miss Amanda." She went from writing her name in that cute, baby way to writing clear sentences in just a few months. At Hope Town School her passion for learning was ignited and my husband and I have been giving her "assignments" and projects to keep that spark alive ever since.

It wasn't until we took a tour of the public elementary school in our new community that I started to realize how much she really has learned over the past year. She is reading and writing and, thanks to her Daddy, doing addition and subtraction. While on that school tour, as the very nice Principal gave us the run down on what is expected by the end of kindergarten we realized there might be a problem. "As long as they have number and letter recognition by the end of the year they are in good shape" she told us. When her Daddy threw some numbers at her "What is 6 plus 7?" and she answered "13" correctly, I thought the kindergarten teacher's mouth was going to hit the floor. They said she is "advanced" for her age, and suggested that there's always the option of skipping kindergarten and going straight to 1st grade. The problem is she got her Daddy's intelligence and her Mommy's size. She and her 3 year-old sister wear the exact same size and are often mistaken for twins. In other words, she's petite. As it is she would likely be the smallest person in her kindergarten class. So the thought of putting her in the NEXT grade up is not so appealing.

Next we looked at private schools hoping to find a more challenging curriculum. The problem is the only private schools that offer kindergarten in this community are religious schools. They are great for lots of kids, but since ours is a different faith than the schools offer, it isn’t really a viable option for us.

Which brought me to a possibility I never thought I would entertain; homeschooling. Before I had kids my reaction to learning that someone was homeschooling their kids was usually shock followed by the question, “are they nuts?” But when we moved onto the boat I realized if we wanted to live that lifestyle for more than a year, we would either have to be rich enough to hire a private teacher to sail away with us or I would have to homeschool. Since the first option wasn’t an option I seriously thought about homeschooling. I quickly realized that all the people I have met that are actually homeschooling their kids (and not just those “crazy” theoretical people I had in my head) are doing a fabulous job. Often their kids are far beyond other kids their age in education. And thanks to homeschool playgroups, sports and field trips, they even get lots of social interaction with kids their age. So I figured I could at least handle Kindergarten and maybe first grade on the boat before having to worry too much about short-changing my daughter. And, besides, wasn’t the life experience itself more valuable than anything that she might learn in a book?

But then my boat dreams got put on the shelf when we found out I was pregnant. And now we are in a community with real schools and real teachers. I decided I really wanted both girls to have something of their own that is consistent and enjoyable so that their entire world isn’t turned upside down when the new baby arrives. That led me to explore PreK’s for my 3 year old, which then led to the unexpected discovery of a new option for my 5 year old. The school that we LOVED for my little one is in the process of applying for accreditation for kindergarten. They won’t get it until January at the earliest, but they are willing to teach my daughter the kindergarten curriculum and add in some more challenging material too. This means she will get the one-on-one attention of being homeschooled and the group experience of being with other kids, including her beloved sister.

For now, I settle into my decision delicately. Part of my hesitancy is the fear that having her in private school limits MY options to meet people, or may limit her opportunities to interact with lots of different people from lots of different walks of life. I will probably drive by that public school everyday and wonder “what if?” But in the end it is simply a question of whether or not this new arrangement is best for my daughter. Does it keep that spark for learning alive? Will she be well-prepared for going into 1st grade at the public school next year? And will she be happy? I'd like to think the answer to all those questions will be "yes" but the fact is, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, as we drove home from school last week both of my girls proclaimed: “I LOVE school!” Here’s hoping that means we are doing something right.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Making Friends

When I think about the benefits of living on a boat the list is long; the freedom of movement, the beautiful scenery, the amazing people you meet along the way and on and on. But when we moved back to dry land I wasn't sure what impact, if any, living on a boat would have on us; especially on our now 3 and 5 year old girls. Well, I am happy to report that the liveaboard lessons are shining through in lots of wonderful ways.

One big difference I've noticed right away is in the way my kids interact with other kids. Before we moved on board friendships were generally initiated by me. I would set up playgroups to encourage social interaction. But now they don't wait for Mommy to get things started. When I took them to the park yesterday they made several new friends within minutes. They played tag, made mud balls and built an imaginary fort with kids they had just met. By the time we left, my 5 year old was holding hands with her new "best friend!" Granted, we will probably never see that little girl again, but it was nice that she felt so welcome in a new community.

Yes, it could just be that they are a year older now and not so prone to separation anxiety, but I really think it is more than that. Just before we moved onto the boat, we spent a year in a community where we didn't make a single friend. Then we moved onto "Hakuna Matata" last September and the girls didn't see another child for the first 6 weeks. Being the social creatures that we are, it was a rather lonely time for us. Perhaps that loneliness made us all a little bolder when it came to making friends.Then in November we happened into a tiny little place called "Hope Town." The first morning we heard an invitation to the local kids' soccer club on the "Abaco Cruiser's Net" (a VHF radio program that gives boaters and landlubbers alike a run down of weather and activities around town each day). I decided to take the kids. I figured at least they would get the chance to see some other kids, if only at a distance. I had no idea what a great decision that would turn out to be. Within moments of arriving at the soccer field, the girls had made fast friends with half a dozen other kids. And those kids' parents ended up becoming some of the best friends I have ever had, anywhere.

Since then we have had the chance to meet other "boat babies" and watch how they interact when they make landfall. The experiences are remarkably similar. I love the way they all seem to make friends easily. I suppose when you don't know when the next chance to make a connection might come you tend to embrace potential friends wherever you are.

Now, as we explore this new community in the desert Southwest, with no chance of sailing away anytime soon, I think I will make a point to bring my little goodwill ambassadors to lots of public venues. Who knows which of their new "best friends" will help this Mommy make some new friends of her own.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

First Day of School

It was a sleepless night in our house last night. Our boat babies are starting school on dry land today. For 3 year old Ziva, it is truly her first day of school as she begins PreK for the first time. Ironically, she wasn't the one that was nervous. 5 year old Ahava was up until 11:00pm thinking and thinking about what school was going to be like. And when I awoke at 6:30am, she was already sitting on the couch with more questions.
I say it's ironic because while we lived aboard "Hakuna Matata" in the Bahamas, Ahava actually went to school in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. It was an amazing experience that we hope to repeat down the road (both the boat and the school). I'm sure I will talk about Hope Town a lot here on this blog, but for now here's a photo of her first day at Hope Town School last November.

Now that the girls have been dropped off, and the Mommy tears have been shed, I have a moment to reflect on what a whirlwind our lives have been lately. Up until a few months ago, I was convinced that we would be back in Hope Town, living on "Hakuna Matata" by the time school rolled around this year. So it is with mixed emotions that we make the commitment to start the girls in school here in New Mexico. I am glad that the girls are going to have some stability before they get hit with the next major, life-altering event; a baby brother due around Thanksgiving! With a new baby on the way and a very nice job offer on the table for my husband, this move was the right one to make right now. But that does not mean we have given up on the liveaboard life that we fell in love with.

For now I will call it a "hiatus" and try to make the most of the exciting, and sometimes overwhelming experiences we have before us. Today that means a new school, new teachers, new backpacks, new classrooms, new friends and a bit of heartache for this Mommy. Here's hoping they come home after school with even bigger smiles on their faces.