BETTER LATE THAN EARLY
By Terri White
When a tall, green-eyed girl peeked into her kindergarten classroom, her teacher greeted her warmly. Terrified, she stalled before entering. Home sounded so much safer to Terri Lynn Peterson. It was September 1953, and she would not turn five until December. That girl was me, a shy, late-bloomer. The age cut-off date was January 1st in those days.
Mustering my courage, I tentatively stepped into the classroom. And so the adjustments began. In the 1950’s, every kindergarten classroom was furnished with a piano, and the teacher was expected to play. She accompanied us as we sang our ABC’s and other childhood tunes. Recess, naps, and indoor playtime filled the mornings. Then we returned home at noon.
Although, in those days, kindergarten was not designed to introduce academics, but instead set up to acclimate youngsters to a school setting, each morning brought trepidation. I was never at ease. At center time, I yearned to stack the big blocks. But, alas, one of the boys always reached them first. Even when I felt nauseous one day, the nurse sent me back to class. I vomited all the way home – all two blocks.
Finally, May signaled the end of the school year. Time for summer and a reprieve from my anxiety, hoping that I could forget about school forever. That, of course, was not in the cards. Even though I was immature and not ready for first grade, my teacher passed me on anyway. She was tall, and since I was tall, she did not want me to suffer like she had for my height. Suffer? I was already suffering.
First grade arrived all too soon. Still shy. Still a late-bloomer. Still not ready for academic rigors. But still there. Learning to read, penmanship, simple arithmetic plagued me. I would forget how to hold my pencil. Sometimes my mind became utterly blank, and I could not read or write. Thinking that I was being disobedient, my teacher sometimes stood me the corner at the front of the classroom – nose to the wall. Total humiliation.
Other days I asked to use the restroom, which was right inside our classroom, but the teacher denied my requests. The result? A puddle under my desk. On those days, I raced home during recess. My mother kindly called the school informing them that I was home – and would stay there for the remainder of the day.
Meanwhile, our family moved to a neighboring town. Instead of living two blocks from school, we now lived about a mile, walking distance in those days.
When second grade reared its head, I still struggled. I still ran home during recess. And nobody noticed a six-year old girl escaping the playground or trudging through town during school hours. Don’t get me wrong. I gave it my all, but academic readiness is just that: a child is either ready or not. And no amount of stuffing knowledge into an unready child’s brain will change his or her reception.
Until one day. A few months after I turned age seven, our class was working on our arithmetic assignment. Then our teacher called us to join her for reading time. I ignored her. Suddenly, I knew how to solve every problem! I experienced the proverbial “light-bulb” moment. One minute I puzzled over the problems; the next I understood. Needless to say, when I asked my teacher if I could continue working on my arithmetic, she wisely agreed.
That was the turning point in my academic career. Since that day, I experienced an ease in school that hitherto alluded me.
In my early years, educators knew nothing of academic readiness. No one knew what to do with me. My parents, I’m sure, worried about me. Fortunately, they never scolded me or became demanding, which likely saved me from further trauma. Yes, trauma. Those pre-readiness years traumatized me.
However, now we know about academic readiness. How much easier and enjoyable we could make our children’s learning experiences if we waited until they are ready – also avoiding a mountain of behavioral problems. After all, what’s the rush? Better late than early.