Somerville, Mass – Here we go again. At this time last year, I agonized over the decision about where the twins should attend pre-kindergarten. This year I have been agonizing over the decision about where they should attend kindergarten.
The twins have been attending pre-k at our neighborhood public school. It’s wonderful. It’s a gorgeous, new facility that’s less than a block from our house. It’s an incredibly diverse student body, with families from all over the world. All of the neighborhood kids go there. Many of the neighborhood adults work there. The parents all know each other and they all know the kids. My guys spend hours at the playground after school, running wild, playing with their friends from their class and with older kids too.
Starting in kindergarten, the twins have the chance to attend a two-way English-Spanish immersion program. This cutting-edge program includes kids from both English- and Spanish-speaking families. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish, so that the students gradually develop fluency in both languages. It seems awesome.
The two-way immersion program is part of the public school system, but it is housed at a different school, across town. Children are bused there from all corners of the city; and at the end of the day most of them get on buses and go home. Fewer kids hang around at the playground. Parents have fewer ways to connect. They may or may not be able to communicate with each other, considering language barriers. I’m sure there’s a sense of community surrounding the school, but it’s not the same.
I never thought that much about the “community” aspect of school. But when I consider the twins’ current situation, it’s the aspect I appreciate the most, and I don’t want to give it up. Even to the detriment of my efforts to raise bilingual kids.
It’s a blessing and a curse that I spent the fall reading about the importance of free play–unstructured, unsupervised and inter-age play–when kids are free to hang around with other kids and act like kids. Kristen Race, author of Mindful Parenting, and Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, both argue that free play is crucial for kids to develop self-confidence, to learn the arts of negotiation and cooperation, and to develop valuable life skills like communication, problem-solving and empathy. Plus, I see how my kids crave this kind of interaction–they love nothing better than running around with their friends from school, and tagging along behind the bigger kids.
In our society, kids do not actually have a lot of opportunities for such free time. A friend lamented “If I want [my daughter] to have unstructured play time with other kids, I have to sign her up for a special after-school program.” Ironic.
I feel extremely blessed that we live in a neighborhood–a real neighbors’ neighborhood, a safe neighborhood, right next to a big park–where kids are free to run around and play. And they do. All I have to do is make sure the twins have the time and energy to join the fray. And they do.
But they won’t–not if they start taking a bus across town to attend a different school in a different neighborhood with different kids. It’s not that I’m against new friends from other neighborhoods. But I don’t want to give up our ties to our neighborhood, our school, our park, our neighbors–all of which give us the freedom, the very valuable freedom, of unlimited unstructured time with other kids.
So that’s where we’re at. Once again, I’m sacrificing my goal of raising bilingual kids, which distresses me. But I believe I’m sacrificing for something even more essential. Sweet freedom.