This school year has been long and hard fought.The Caterpillar finished kindergarten and didn't even kill her teacher before it was over. She did, however, try to help that teacher with her fashion sense and instruct her as to whether or not her outfits each day were correctly coordinated.  I'm betting that teacher might be happy to see her go, just for the ego boost it'll mean to not have a five year old telling her that skirt looked better with the blouse she wore last week.

I was looking up something for a friend last week and realized that last year at exactly this time, we didn't even know if The Caterpillar would be starting school in the fall. Our district has a ridiculously early birthday cutoff date to enter kindergarten.  If I lived two counties over, there would have been no question that The Caterpillar was ready to start kindergarten last year, but in our county with her birthday, she wasn't eligible and they told us she had to wait a year.  This happened with The Dormouse too, but if they're within a certain window of the cutoff date, you can petition for them to start early if they pass a readiness evaluation.  The Dormouse went into the classroom for her evaluation and read all the words on the signs of the fourth-grade classroom where the evaluator was sitting that day.  There wasn't much question in anyone's mind whether she was ready to start kindergarten or not. But The Caterpillar is a different kid.  I was pretty confident she was ready for kindergarten -- more confident that another year of pre-school was really not the right thing for her -- but not one-hundred percent. So we went through the process to see if she could enter kindergarten last fall despite the fact that the district would have her wait another year.

We had her "evaluated," which as they explain it, is certainly not a curriculum-based decision, it's a readiness-based decision, but it is also apparently a magical, secret process that no one can talk to you about because no one, including the kindergarten readiness pamphlets they bandy about, will explain how they determine readiness.  They tell you over and over that it's not a test you cannot prepare your kid for and they can't study for it.  If they are ready they just are. But then you're also not allowed as a parent to be IN the evaluation nor can you ask any questions ABOUT the evaluation.  They won't even share with you what they'll ask the kids, but through our process, someone I talked to let it slip about something The Caterpillar "wrote in her workbook," so it's really hard for me to believe they didn't just ask them to do a bunch of kindergarten worksheets and grade them.

At the time, The Caterpillar was a confident kid who had a vocabulary bigger than mine (if you take out the curse words) and she had been adding and subtracting single digit numbers in her head for a year.  I knew she was ready for kindergarten in all aspects but one: I wasn't sure about her reading readiness.  She knew all her letters and the sounds they made, but she showed almost no interest in reading.  She would get frustrated by how long it took her to sound out letters and put them together and quit trying, so if anything were to keep her out of kindergarten last year, we figured it would be her reading skills, I mean, "readiness."  So when they came back from the evaluation and told me that she met the threshold in two out of three areas, reading and emotional readiness, but not math readiness, I was incredulous. That was the one area I hadn't worried about. We petitioned the decision.  I wrote an appeal letter that not only explained my concerns clearly and eloquently but also cited research articles that supported my case and all but accused the district of "academic redshirting" to improve their test scores.  In the meantime, I had had her evaluated and accepted into a private school kindergarten and included that information in my appeal letter -  how she was going to start school regardless but I believe in and wanted to support the public school system and keep her in the same school where her sister is attending.  I guess it worked, because in July I got a response letter that allowed her to start school in the fall. I'm glad they didn't call my bluff, because we couldn't really afford the private school tuition.

She's done spectacularly well in Kindergarten, by the way; I haven't regretted that decision.  But I did worry a little about the reading.  She just wasn't interested and when she was, it was slow going.  She understood how to put letters together, but it wasn't consistent and it drove us all crazy that you help her sound out a word and then literally two seconds later, point back to the word which was still on the same page and she couldn't read it again.  Her teacher wasn't terribly concerned, but we were.  Then at some point this Spring, the reading just took off. She broke through the brick wall of educational blocks and started sprinting.  It's not like she's reading chapter books without help or anything, but she's at grade level, reading spontaneously, and when she needs help with something, it's usually some appropriate part of the English language that trips her up like "Ghoti."

I was musing all last week about what changed.  Did she just develop the maturity? Did something happen to motivate her?  Maybe someone held her hostage and told her she couldn't go until she could read that stop sign on the corner? And then we went to her dance recital.  

To many, this probably looks like a bunch of kids on stage with Tourettes Syndrome manifesting only in their legs, and it does to me too. (h my lordy, the shuffle kicks! Could they be on the beat just once?)  I've been taking her to dance class every week without fail since January.  It's not my favorite thing.  I considered quitting more than once, because dear heavenly stars, it's a pain to drive to One.More.Thing each week, and the studio we go to is less than organized and dance moms are not my favorite people and HOLYTHREEHOURLONGRECITALBATMAN.  I'll leave it at that. But it didn't occur to me - the music therapist - until last week, that a good part of the reason for the reading breakthrough probably has to do with music and movement creating order and opening neural pathways in her developing brain.  Skeptics might claim that it's just a coincidence. It all happened around the same time and there's no causal relationship.  But even if that's the case, I sure got a buttload of cute photographs.

The Stage Makeup Thing, I'll have to come to terms with later.