I spent a normal amount of time worrying about whether my son was ready for school last year. Normal for me rests somewhere between the average Irish and average American parent’s time spent analyzing the quality and effectiveness of their parental choices with Irish parents being self-assured (regardless of track record) and American’s obsessing over every detail of every medical, educational, recreational and superficial choice (purchase).
You can start school in Ireland at four. Most children are almost five or five but there are no requirements, assessments or standards for school readiness. The first two years are the infant classes, Junior and Senior and these classes usually finish an hour earlier than the rest of the school at two o’clock.
Irish parents are basically reasonable. There’s not a ton of obsessing over their decisions or their very special children which require very different considerations than every other child that starts school. There isn’t one child in my son’s class who could read or write before school and I never heard anyone discuss this in the summer months. The school was mainly concerned that we sent in ‘indoor shoes’ to save the carpets and labeled all their Twistables. There isn’t much worry around school here which makes the children relaxed about it but it makes an American mom automatically suspicious. Where are the forms?? What about the dietary restrictions??
There is one primary school in the village, one teacher per class and this teacher usually has two classes and the whole process of enrolling involves completing two basic forms in the spring. The pre-school teachers give the school a list of names, arrange a visit for the children in the spring and the primary school invites parents to a meeting one night. There is no excess information given or asked to or from parents. Many of the parent’s attended the school, have other children in the school and if not, have extended family members in the school so everyone knows how everything works. Except when you don’t and then you have to wait until someone mentions there’s no school tomorrow at the bus stop.
I have recently looked at the New Student Registration packet for the elementary school in Maine my son will attend. There are eight different forms for parents to complete. My favorite is the Kindergarten Parent Questionnaire. The questions are reasonable but very American. I couldn’t help laughing at the consternation for the school principal and parents if these questions were thrown into the mix at my son’s primary school in Ireland. The assumption that your child and your expectations can or will be met by any service that caters for everyone is uniquely American. This information overload and attempt to instill an illusion of choice or control over situations where in fact you’re not in control, is inherent in the questions below:
Please describe your expectation or any concerns you have regarding your child’s transition to
kindergarten. Do you anticipate any separation difficulty, peer conflicts or behavior issues?
This year in kindergarten I would like for my child to …….(goals you have)
Are there any specific social, emotional or behavioral concerns, which may affect your child’s school experience? (For example, family changes or recent losses)
Is there anything else you would like to share about your child? (Daily routines, likes or dislikes)
(This just seems like trouble to me – Johnny doesn’t got to sleep until 11 pm so it’s very hard to wake him up in the morning and I don’t like him to start the day upset so he might be a little late some days. He won’t eat breakfast so he’ll have to have a fruit salad at his desk in school. He doesn’t like to share anything blue. He gets sluggish if he eats and dairy or wheat. He needs to be reminded every thirty minutes to drink from his filtered water bottle and this means he sometimes has trouble making it to the bathroom but he’ll be fine with frequent reminders and help.)
The American part of me would have welcomed this form because of the thought that the teachers and school administration would get to know my lovely son better, and hence, be better prepared to take care of him. The Irish part of me thinks it’s pointless. Unless my child has true special needs (not an intolerance to gluten or dislike of the word ‘no’), their and my individual expectations and concerns can not be deal with in a school setting with a hundred other kindergarteners and frankly, my goal is that my son will be able to get along happily in the mainstream of life. Boring I know but the alternative scares me.
How do Irish parents in America find the whole starting school experience?
My son as it turns out was very ready for school (which tends to happen despite my analysis or fretting). More ready than I was to be a parent of a school-boy…to be continued.