My son Sam, is a super energetic kid, who has a physical intelligence that surpasses 99.9% of the population. No, I am not exaggerating. He rode a two-wheeler, without training wheels at age two, and can hit a fast pitch baseball from a pitching machine going forty-five miles per hour. His hand eye coordination is extreme. His need to master all things physical is like a hunger he can never quite quench. Sitting quietly sorting blocks into colors and sizes, or waiting patiently in line for all of your friends to go to the bathroom is not an opportunity to master the parallel bars on the playground.
I prepped his teacher for this. I told her that Sam will be standing on the podium proudly showing his gold medal in some sport (he’ll have to pick which one) in fifteen or so years. He may well be receiving the Pulitzer too, but I wanted her to know that his physical intelligence is going to set him apart early. For him recess is not just an outlet, it is like a textbook for his body. I asked her to imagine a child who learned to read at one being told he had to be outside for six hours a day with no opportunity to crack a book. Then for twenty minutes twice a day you allowed that child to read. What would happen to them? She nodded with kind consideration, and reassured me that her husband had been the same way as a kid, and he was a tremendous resource for tips in working with energetic boys. She was only hired to be Sam’s teacher twenty-four hours before the start of the school year, so I had reason to be concerned that dealing with a physical prodigy like Sam might not be in her coveted teacher tool bag just yet.
Sam loves people, and people love Sam. He is a natural leader, and kids gravitate towards him. All kids. The quiet ones, and the outgoing ones. The athletic ones, and the uncoördinated ones. Kids like to do what the leader does. This is hard for a teacher, when your class appointed leader is doing arm farts, or jumping jacks when the expectation is to walk quietly through the halls, using only your little bird feet. She used it to her advantage though, appealing to Sam to channel his leadership gifts to help the class see how important it is to listen well like him!
It worked. We had the day with the sticker on his shirt for being a “super leader”. He came running out to me on the playground jubilant about that little smiley face sticker! Then days went by without any stickers.
My friends prepared me that the lack of communication about how your child was doing in school, was the hardest part of transition for them to kindergarten. As a teacher I didn’t want to become that parent. But as a mom, I didn’t want my son to become the kid getting the message that he was not doing well in school, even though I knew he was working his petunia off to do everything the teacher wanted. After all, he told me she was great, and had a beautiful smile.
When I checked in with her four days after the first sticker, I learned that he was indeed having a very hard week. Lots of reminders, and not lots of listening. As my heart sank, I reminded myself that this is all new to all of us; Sam, his teacher and me. My job was suddenly not only to support him, and remind myself how fantastic he is doing, but to remind her that transitions take time for Sam, and that he will master the expectations of school, like he can master a fast ball coming at him at break neck speed. I asked her to tell me what was the most important thing we needed to help him focus on. And what words did she use to the class, so I could use them at home? I kept the conversation with her clear too.
The next day, Sam came out barreling out of the class (which open onto the play ground–talk about good design!) with two stickers and boasting that he was given computer time for eleven minutes! How did you earn that I asked? I listened to the teacher the first time, and got five stars next to my name. See mom, he added, I can do anything! In his take home folder for the week was a little slip of paper, with five hand written stars, next to a little image of a computer. I smiled and waved to his teacher at the door. We were all wearing stickers and stars this afternoon. It will be a great year, and a great school career for Sam, as long as this kind of collaboration and communication keeps the focus on Sam’s success.