If we could only stay in kindergarten forever…

Sydney is 7 years old but has been in kindergarten for the past 2 years.  The decision was made to keep her back for many reasons, but the most significant was to help close the gap between her peers.  Although she can read and write and do simple math exercises, socially she is so far behind her classmates that a kindergarten setting seemed most appropriate. 

Being different, special, challenged, disabled, or whatever words you wish to use is never easy.  Getting people to accept you unconditionally can be tough.  To incorporate such a child into the fabric of a mainstream education is downright complicated.  However, the process is much easier when the individuals you are trying to integrate are kindergarteners.  There is something very unique, innocent, and quite frankly enlightening about this age group.  Simply put, they accept with out question, include without hesitation, and have not been tainted by what society deems “normal or typical”. 

Sydney, as I have written about many times, can display some socially outrageous behaviors ranging from self-injury to aggression towards others.  She has been known to take off her clothes when distressed throw the nearest objects across a room.  I would imagine such behavior would be deemed very disturbing and unsettling for another child to watch.  She demands quite a bit of attention and is constantly asking for others to watch her as she engages in even a simple activity. I would assume not always that much fun for the other child. I often wonder how she will have any friends or how her peers will get past these socially awkward behaviors.

In addition, her speech is not always easy to understand (my husband, who is known for his sense of humor and frequent movie references, will often turn to me after she has tried to tell him a story and ask… “Lassie, is jimmy in the well?”). Her recall of certain events is also not always accurate.  Therefore asking her questions about who her friends are and what she did with them can sometimes yield very few informative responses. 

Her teacher called me the other day to say that Sydney hit another peer. This was not the first time I received such a call and I am sure will not be the last.  This is one behavior I find particularly bothersome.  I would actually prefer she hit herself as opposed to harming another child, but unfortunately, it is very difficult to control.  The teacher went onto say that Sydney was having a rough afternoon and while being escorted to her quiet time area she hit a little girl on the way out the door.  The girl never saw see it coming and really did nothing to provoke Sydney.  The teacher, of course, had to call her mother and discuss the incident. The child had already told her mother about it.  As the teacher is telling me this I can feel myself turning red with embarrassment and cringing at the idea of my daughter laying a hand on someone else.  Then the teacher shared with me what the mother said.  The daughter said, “mom Sydney hit me today, but I think it was an accident.  I know she didn’t mean it; she was just walking out of the classroom.  Anyway that is just what Sydney does sometimes and we all know by now to duck when Sydney is in that kind of mood”. 

I am not condoning hitting anyone and we are actively working on teaching Sydney more appropriate ways to manage her frustration, but I wanted to go hug that little girl.  Her innocence and unconditional acceptance of less than typical behavior was so refreshing.  There was no judgment, hostility, or animosity.            

As we have been preparing for our transition to first grade in the fall I have been thinking a lot about these episodes.  Kindergarteners are a true role model for all of us.  They seem to have the basic understanding of how to be an authentically accepting human being.  They have not learned all the stereotypical negative verbiage yet and they appear to include everyone regardless of their “special needs”.  If only there was a way to preserve this genuine human kindness as they get older.  Unfortunately, with time, differences in people become undesirable and slowly lead to toxic behavior.  The strong need for their own acceptance leads them to do or say whatever it takes to maintain their foothold in a group.  In many ways it is a natural progression as we age and it is up to the adults in their lives to help preserve what was so pure and innocent in them to begin with.  Not an easy task when our society bombards us with inappropriate vernacular or labels to help categorize individuals.  The need to put everyone in a certain group slowly begins to highlight our differences and thus begins to erode that organic inclination to accept everyone for who they are.

My dream for Sydney is that she stays in an environment that would accept her for who she is – good and bad.  Of course, it is only a dream and I recognize that this is simply not the world we live in. 

If there were just some way to bottle the innocence and kindness of a kindergartener I think we would all find ourselves living in a much kinder and gentler world.