Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Square Peg

I take care of a little guy who is just finishing up his Kindergarten year at school. He just turned six years old ... but he has such a jaded view of the world would never guess that he is so young.

I found myself describing him as a 'square peg'. He just doesn't seem to fit into our little daycare world. He walks in the door with an attitude that screams "I do not want to be here!" He plunks himself down on the couch and so begins our day.

I don't offer any extra or special attention to cajole him out of his mood. I include him in whatever is going on in our day and talk to him like any of the others. In fact, I rather welcome the conversation that he can bring into our young crowd. It doesn't take long and he accepts his fate and carries on with his day.

We go for a lot of walks. When he first started coming here he thought he may die when we took a short stroll to the mailbox (a few blocks away) and back. We gradually increased the length of our walks to include a stop at McDonald's for lunch (quite a distance from here). He no longer complains about walking.

One day, I was attempting to condition my 1-1/2 year olds to the idea of walking. So we walked to the school (which happens to be the school this little boy attends) at the end of the block. As I mentioned our goal to this little guy he adamantly said, "I do not want to go to the school!" I explained that we were not going inside the school. We had no business in the school and we were not allowed inside unless we had a reason to go inside. Still, "I do not want to go to school!!" was his (louder, more insistent) response.

I told him that we were just going to walk to the school playground and check it out. Maybe we would stop and play for a little while. Maybe we wouldn't. Depending on whether or not it was recess time at the school. "I don't want to go to the park!" I went on to explain that during the summer, we go on lots of adventures to the playgrounds in the neighboring areas. It is a lot of fun (and he had better get used to the idea, is what I was thinking). Still, "I don't want to go to the park!!" was his (louder, more insistent) reply.

We stopped and checked out the playground. The playground had a few areas for my 1-1/2 year old girls but there was a lot more area geared towards older kids. So we just wandered around a little bit and I knew that our stay would be brief. This little Kindergarten Guy hid under a play structure for a little while. Then he started to peek out and show me a few things that he could do at this park. A teacher spotted him and immediately said, "What are you (calling this child by name) doing here??" I smiled and said that he was with me but I couldn't help but wonder about the tone in the teacher's voice. It seemed that there may be a back-story here that I was not aware of.

It wasn't long before we turned around and headed for home. My mission had been accomplished. I wanted my young ones to associate something positive with walking. But I shook my head and wondered about my Kindergarten Guy's reaction to such a mundane little 'adventure'. Usually kids of that age are excited to show you their world and all that they know within it. I didn't know what to make of his negative view of being around his school. I correlated this with his reaction to coming to daycare and just left it at that.

Until this week. We walked a little further and went to the playground at a different school. My little Kindergarten Guy was eager to go and play. As we gathered ourselved up and headed towards home he happily stated, "This was fun!!" I have never ever heard those words from him nor that happy tone of voice since I met him. What baffled me more was when he added, "... because no one knew who I was." Because no one knew him??

Why would a young child of such an innocent age be happy that no one knew him? I could not help but think of the words that I had just used to describe this little boy before my mom met him last week. "A square peg"; "One of these things is not like the other. He just doesn't ... fit".

My mom (who is not a kid-person) took a special interest in this little guy on the day he was here. She likes teaching kids little things and there is only so much room to 'grow' within the under-three-year-old set. So to have this interested young boy eager to listen, learn and talk at such an advanced level? They were both in their glory. At one point Mom told him, "You are sure smart!" His response? "Ya ... my teachers don't know that." How many other people in his world label him and expect him to behave the way he has always behaved?

Children find their way into the school system which is geared towards learning within a classroom setting. Some kids handle this better than others. Some thrive. Some are lost. Some fall between the cracks and somehow find themselves advancing through the grades with little sense of satisfaction (and not fully grasping what is being taught).

I have great empathy for teachers. They are doing the best that they can do within the limitations that they have. There are so many learning and behaviour disorders within a classroom that they simply don't have enough eyes, ears, hands and encouraging words to give each and every individual child exactly what they need. Add to that, all that is going on within a child's home life and family dynamics that creates additional barriers to overcome ... and what can a teacher do when their class is full to capacity?

There is additional help for those that qualify for assistance. Testing must be done. School authorities, rules and regulations must be appeased to get assistance for the students that can display a need. This takes time and co-operation on all parts. There may be times that a parent does not fulfill their role to help the school help themselves. There may be other times that the parent feels they are not getting the assistance they need from the school. There are frustrations on so many levels.

Many of these kids end up in the principal's office because they are disrupting the class. A teacher cannot teach a classroom full of children when one behaviour is demanding all of the attention. I worked in schools across the city and it didn't matter what social class or financial status ... there are scholastic and social challenges in all corners of our little world.

I have three children of my own. Each of them fell into different paths once they entered the world of education.

One of my children lived in a world of fear at home. He struggled at school. He repeated a grade (back in the world where everyone did not receive an automatic 'pass') and a great deal of self esteem was lost. Once our family life was calm, he began to succeed in school.

Another was one that simply fell between the cracks. He did not fall into the category where he needed extra assistance, but he was not grasping all that he needed to succeed in a group setting. He advanced through the grades but never felt the feeling of satisfaction from the school system.

One out of three. One of my children has walked an 'easy' path at school. He has the ability to grasp what he needs to know within a classroom setting and run with it. One out of three...

I look at this little soon-to-be Kindergarten graduate and I wonder how this first year of schooling has impacted him. He doesn't want to show off his school. He doesn't want people to know him. His teachers don't (in his eyes) know how smart he is ...

Yes. He walks through the door with an attitude that begs the world to come to him on his terms. It is not an endearing quality. But I am guilty as charged. I have pinned a label on him myself.

We are all square pegs, if you think about it. Some of us are more 'moldable' than others. Often in our desire to fit in, we round off our corners and make it work. Don't we all want to feel that sense of belonging? To fit in socially is as important (to me) than it is to fit in to the scholastic requirements at school. When I went to school, I felt like a 'square peg' socially. It was important (to me) that my children never feel this way. I often said that I felt it was just as (more??) important to feel that social acceptance than it was to excel at school.

Balance. It is all about balance. And when it comes to children, I feel that they need to feel valued. For who they are and what they can bring into their world. I am working with some flexible and impressionable young minds here. It is my job to value each person for their unique qualities and attempt to bring out their own personal best. Which is as unique as their fingerprint. And may often appear to be a little bit of a square peg.

I still think that a little 'rounding of the corners' goes a long way. To feel unaccepted socially is a lonely place to live. I hope my Kindergarten Guy finds a way to find his own piece of happiness within the school system. For him, it has only just begun ...

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