Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kids grow up and change

During the past week or so, we have been having the toughest time with our eldest daughter the Pillowfight Fairy. She just turned five and it seems like this tremendous change in her life necessitates retesting all the boundaries and making sure the foundations of her life are still dependable. Because of this, I've been trying to figure out what is going on in her head and how to make this transition easier for all of us. I haven't got that figured out yet, but in the process I've been reflecting on how change hits kids and how they transition from one period of life to the next.

When we started homeschooling the Pillowfight Fairy, she was not quite four years old, but already reading and understanding her numbers and basic mathmatical concepts. At the time I knew that the preschool programs described to me were not academically advanced enough for where she was, but kindergarten was socially beyond what she could relate to. So I tried to come up with some way of giving a preschool-thinking child the school age academics she was showing that she was ready for. It was hardest at the beginning when I wasn't sure what to try. We would try short little tasks since she had trouble sitting very long and spend more time on what caught her attention. She would spend hours reading with me, drawing or doing dot-to-dots, but could stand no more than a few minutes of "lessons."

As we went along, she made progress in many areas. Her abilities improved and her attention span improved. Right now, she is doing work beyond Kindergarten level, but I still call her a Kindergartener since that fits her age and social interactions best. I was always frustrated that Preschool level material and books talking about Preschoolers would give an accurate view of a child of that age and the maturity level the child has, but not help much with teaching a child who's academic readiness was beyond that which was the average expected. When I would go to Kindergarten level material it was aimed at an older child who had a greater maturity level, which wasn't appropriate for my preschooler. Also, books talking about teaching Kindergarten and elementary age children assumed a maturity level that my daughter hadn't reached yet. I didn't find anything that helped with my problem or even explained that a transition needs to happen between the preschool age and the school age. I didn't make a thorough search, but the only book that I found that explained a transition in the way children mature was "Your Baby's Mind and How It Grows: Piaget's Theory for Parents," by Mary Ann Spencer Pulaski, published in 1978.

This book is all about how the child thinks at different ages starting at birth and continuing level by level until adulthood. According to the book, around ages 4-7 a child makes a mental transition from "the world is magical and all about me" to a prelogical or intuitive stage that starts leaving the magic thinking behind. I haven't found any other books that deal with a transition around this age that takes a child from preschool thinking to school age thinking. The book did help me understand earlier changes with the infant stages.

I remember when our oldest was a baby how astonished we would be that she would suddenly be able to do something she previously couldn't and then do it like she always knew how. It was exactly like someone flipped a switch and the new way became the new norm. We watched her make transitions as a baby. She made the transition to the dreaded "terrible twos" fairly easily. The transition when she turned three was much harder. We thought we had things stabilized, then she went through another hard transition when she turned four. Now that she is turning five, I notice that this transition seems to be the hardest so far.

Some of the things that I have noticed is that she is aware of change around her. I think she is somewhat aware that she is seeing things differently, but isn't sure how to deal with it. She is starting to understand plot-lines in videos that went over her head before. She is starting to get jokes (especially the really bad jokes that five year olds love). She is starting to ask questions about deep things like death. We recently were given some wonderful Beatrix Potter story DVDs that combines a live action Beatrix Potter with watercolor animation telling the stories. She adores the stories, but these stories deal with life and death, with good and evil. She has been in tears more than once over what happens in the stories, but she wants them again. My theory is that she is needing to figure out these important ideas and she is drawn back again so she can think about it. She worries that Daddy won't come home when we are driving home in separate cars. At the same time she wants to dictate to us how she wants things to be and we have to remind her that we are the parents and she is the child not the other way around.

She is going through one of life's major transitions. She is starting to see the world with clearer vision. She is starting to get glimses of difficult concepts. She is starting to be open to new ideas and information. She is learning to be more independent. She is learning to interact with other people and understand that they are "other" and not participants in her latest imaginings. She is learning to think differently. I think this is that unmentioned transition that makes all the difference between the preschooler and the school age child. I'm not sure if it is just that kids don't like change so these transitions are just naturally bumpy. Or maybe the difficulty of the transition has more to do with what the individual's tolerance level for change is. But, this is looking like a doozy of a transition we are going through. Change is hard both for the Pillowfight Fairy and for us. But, I am looking forward to the new world on the other side.

In the meantime, if anyone has come across any helpful information that talks about this transitional time, I would love to hear more about it. I'm guessing that our worst bumps are at the beginning when we aren't ready or expecting a change. But, so far these transitions she has gone through have taken months to calm down to a new equilibrium. A little more understanding of the process might help.


Anonymous said...

When I would go to Kindergarten level material it was aimed at an older child who had a greater maturity level, which wasn't appropriate for my preschooler. Also, books talking about teaching Kindergarten and elementary age children assumed a maturity level that my daughter hadn't reached yet

Ummmm ... well, you'll have this forever, probably. I have a gifted 12yob and this is a terrible problem for us. Literature that he can handle intellectually is "too mature" emotional/socially. He's blasting through high school math and science, but everything else requires significant tweaking on my part ... but I guess it beats the opposite problem. Best wishes to you.

Angela said...

I came to your post from the Carnival of Homeschooling and I must say that you have read my mind.

My daughter just turned five too. While she is not as academically advanced as yours, we are seeing the change in awareness about the world. She is more anxious about unknown things and verbalizes that anxiety. She has been cautious but it seems that knowing more is making that caution grow.

I am finding it all rather challenging, she certainly isn't a baby anymore and I am having to change how I explain things and communicate in general.

I have started to learn some about the Waldorf philosophy of education and it does take into account this transitional time. However, it also doesn't begin "academic" work until about age 7. Which I like but is not for everyone.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.