For my non-American readers, kindergarden is the first year of elementary school. Children start when they're five. In Ireland - and the UK, correct me if I'm wrong, someone - we usually start at four and have two years before First Class/Form. First Grade here is roughly equivalent to First Class there, because it also happens when you're six. Perhaps they learn more in that extra year of schooling over the pond, but I'm pretty happy to have it this way for us right now: I think Monkey will be a whole lot more ready for the big transition at five and a half than he would have been a year earlier, and I don't feel there's any great advantage to teaching kids to read and write and do sums as soon as they pop out of the womb - they'll all get there in their own sweet time, given a conducive home atmosphere and interested parents. I'm more concerned that my son, at five or six or seven, gets time to play outside, than that he has an hour a week learning how to use a keyboard and a mouse.
But we've signed on for the public school and that's just how it is. And what I saw today, while terrifying because it seems to indicate that my children are going to keep getting bigger and bigger and older and more independent, was good. It's a big, bright school, with corridors full of artwork and geography projects and directions to the shad presentation (yes, shad, as in roe, I presume). It has things my primary school never dreamed of, like a counsellor and a lunch room and a library and a nurse. (In my school, the library was some books in a cardboard box at the back of the room. Or on a bookshelf, if you were lucky.)
But the kindergarden rooms we saw had comforting, familiar things too: cubbies for backpacks and lunch boxes, alphabet letters on the wall, scissors and gluesticks and pencils and easels, and nice friendly teachers. The children sat in groups at big tables, just like we did way back when, and it didn't seem like they had to stay there glued to the seats in total silence as they traced one giant cursive a after another - there was plenty of jumping up and down and moving around and talking when they shouldn't. Unless they were just putting it on to lull us into a false sense of security, and went back to a more Stepford-esque military precision as soon as we filed out the door.
And then we all had cut-up blueberry muffins and apple slices sitting on the grass outside the school, and wended our way back downhill - a train of green-scarved children caboosed by a sturdy wagon to trundle the snack materials, under the shade of tall trees, stopping at playgrounds as we went, along footpaths between the houses, leading to a tunnel, made so that the children of the town could walk safely to school without crossing any major roads. (That school, the original one, is the building that now houses the nursery school, among other things.)
Monkey took the visit in his stride, I think. He was interested, and didn't seem intimidated, and asked a question in the counsellor's office in a nice clear polite voice (I was proud), and I think he'll be fine when the time comes around. Me, I'm getting a little sniffly just thinking about it.