We put our kids in a local school almost a month ago.
The almost six-year-old is in prepa, the equivalent of kindergarten, while the almost four-year-old is in preschool.
It’s their second time attending school since we came to Costa Rica last August. Their first was a private international school of some repute just outside the city of Heredia, where many middle-to-upper-middle-class Costa Ricans send their children.
Instruction was in English although most of the children were native Spanish speakers. We thought this would make for an easier transition than a full-on Spanish school.
While my little girl was thrilled, my boy, the older of the two, was miserable. The academic standards seemed unusually high for his age group and from the outset the teacher made a point of telling us our boy was behind the other children in drawing and writing — something the children were expected to do every day, over and over, with great precision.
The day the teacher told me she was keeping him behind during recess so he could finish his work, I cried. I was torn between feelings of disappointment that my son was seemingly behind the other kids and outrage that he was being punished for not meeting someone else’s arbitrary expectations at age five.
After three months at the school, the improvement in his drawing was astounding and he was speaking basic Spanish to the other kids. But when we told him he would no longer be attending, because we were moving to the beach, his relief was palpable. I hadn’t seen him that happy in weeks.
After a month of doing nothing but playing in the sand and swimming in the waves, and another month enjoying the company of his grandparents along with a few fantastic nature outings, my boy and his sister started school again.
The school we chose this time is completely different. It’s located in our rural area and is about one fourth of the size of the other school. Although private, it is a fledgling operation that has far fewer resources than the previous school the children attended. Almost none of the teachers speak English (which I prefer because my goal is to see the children become fluent) and its standards and expectations seem way more relaxed, almost to the other extreme.
The kids spend most of their time on lame workbooks, drawing links between objects that match or memorizing the names of colors — something my boy knew by age two.
And surprise, my boy is miserable.
He’s stopped crying when we take him now but it still breaks my heart to see the sad look on his face when we pull away. And every day we pick him up he complains about going, saying he wished school was just one day a week.
He just wants to be at home, where he can be free to dress up “like a disguise” and go on adventures, shooting at imaginary “thuggies” with the stick he’s made into a gun. He’s discovering so many new things and learning about the world around him — even if sometimes it manifests itself in bizarre ways.
The other day, we went on a hike near our home to an abanoned piece of property where a hotel was once to be built. On this sprawling piece of land there are stone walls and pathways that were built but no buildings as construction was obviously halted before it got to that point.
The area is almost like historical ruins that have been overgrown. The property is now used as grazing land for horses and cows and consequently, there is dung scattered everywhere. My son dubbed it “poop city” (not surpising given his latest obsession with all things poop and pee related). He asked a million questions about why animals poop outside and we don’t. Later, after we came home and he and his sister were playing outside, I discovered he had squatted outside and pooped on the ground.
At first, I freaked out, thinking there must be something wrong with him. Then, I remembered the questions he had been asking earlier, about why animals didn’t use toilets. I figure he was exploring and wanted to know what it felt like to poop outside. Amazing, really, that he would want to experience this first-hand.
But I digress.
I’ve gone from worrying that my boy is learning disabled to worrying that he’s incredibly bright and not challenged enough. He’s my oldest, so I’ve not had the benefit of seeing what a child this age should be capable of and outside school, we’re never around other kids his age so I have no comparison of how he measures up.
All this has led me to question entirely the concept of conventional schooling, and whether it serves our needs more than those of our kids. The idea of warehousing my boy, in a place that does not value individuality and places rules paramount to personhood, for the next 12 years leaves me feeling nauseous.
Yet, I know I don’t have it in me to home school. I love my kids and I am great at cooking, cleaning and kissing booboos. But when it comes to play time and learning, it’s my husband, the teacher, who does all the heavy lifting. And as you can imagine, being a teacher, his viewpoint on the whole schooling issue is vastly different.
I came to Costa Rica to become more engaged with my children. And I have. But I will never be the supermom who can put all her own needs above those of her kids. Nor do I think I will ever feel completely self-assured in this area of my life; that the decisions I make for my kids are the right ones. But then again, does any mother?
And for now, I will continue to send my boy off to school every day because I do believe with conviction that learning a second language is something that will benefit him in the future.
But Grade 1 is looming. And if my son continues to feel this way about school, it’s going to be a long 12 years.