Letter to Camille: 130 Months

Hello my sweet girl, my 5th grade graduate, my MIDDLE SCHOOLER.

Somehow we have arrived at the end of your elementary school years, and my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, you seem to be zooming toward independence and adulthood at an alarming rate, with each year flying by more quickly. I feel an inevitable nostalgia with every milestone passed. But then again, it’s so FUN to watch you grow and become your own person. Sometimes I joke that I’d like to freeze you in place just as you are, but really I don’t. I would never want to stop your forward progress, or miss out on seeing the person you will become.

So zoom on then. It’s not as though I have any say-so in the matter. Like it or not, here you grow.

We celebrated the end of the school year with shenanigans at circle park, and then root beer floats at Betty Bombers with buddies.

Then I had the pleasure of digging through your backpack. One of my favorite things about the last week of school is the backpack purge. You bring home notebooks full of writings and drawings from the year, and I get a fresh peek into your brain.

So I thought for this month’s letter, I’d let you do some of the talking. One day you might like to look back for a peek into your 10 year old brain too – a look at that time when you wanted to be a marine biologist, hated recess, and just wanted to sit by the wall and do your work in peace and quiet.

There was this pamphlet, from a career project:

Camille is going to be a Marine Biologist!

About the Author: Hello, my name is Camille and I’ve always have been interested in marine biology. I’ve always liked the ocean and the creatures that live in it. I recently spent the previous year in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has a lot of beaches with beautiful waters and magnificent creatures. This is why I would like to be a marine biologist.

You drew this lovely picture of yourself with your friend Audrey and pets (Noel sprouted magnificent wings apparently).

Then there was an essay about our evacuation during Hurricane Matthew, which you began with “Nice try Mathew!” And an opinion essay about whether or not kids should have two recesses each day – spoiler alert: you argue for just one recess. You end with, “The only other thing I have to say is that it’s just not fun.”

I particularly enjoyed a series of worksheets called “How do you like to learn?”

First, some context. You have been in a Montessori school since kindergarten, and I think it has been WONDERFUL for you.

We weren’t so sure at first though. For better or worse, your early childhood home life was one of structure and order; we’d tell you what to do and you’d do it. So when you got to your Montessori classroom and were presented with the freedom to choose your own work, you were overwhelmed by the sudden independence. You just wanted to be given a specific assignment, and then given affirmation that you’d done what was expected. I’d volunteer in your kindergarten classroom and watch you sit on the floor, clutching your blank work plan and crying because you didn’t know which math project to take off the shelf. And the teacher wouldn’t tell you, because she wanted you to choose for yourself. But you were afraid to choose the wrong thing.

In the first half of that kindergarten year, your Daddy and I wondered if we’d made a mistake sending you into a Montessori environment. But then, gradually and with the help of great teachers, you began to catch on. You became unafraid of making your own choices, and less fearful of mistakes. You became self-directed, able to complete all of your work without much supervision, and at your own pace. These are skills that will serve you well in life.

But fast forward, and not too far into this 5th grade year you announced that you were “tired of Montessori.” At first I chalked it up to a typical “grass is greener” mentality, until we spent some time really talking about it. And though you’ve thrived in a Montessori school, and learned all kinds of important life skills, there is still some part of your DNA that craves structure and order.

“What don’t you like about Montessori?” I asked.

“Mama, I just want the teacher to give me an assignment and then a grade. And I want the classroom to be quiet. And I don’t want mixed grades in one class – the younger kids are always coming up to me and asking me how to spell things.”

So I wasn’t terribly surprised to find these answers on your “How do you like to learn?” survey:

  • I study best when it is quiet – YES
  • I am able to ignore the noise of other people talking while I am working – NO
  • I like to work on the floor – NO
  • I like to work by myself – YES
  • I like to work in pairs or in groups – NO
  • I like to learn by moving and doing – NO
  • I like to learn while sitting at my desk – YES
  • Where would you prefer to work on a classroom assignment? – AT A TABLE
  • Where do you like to sit in class? – BY THE WALL

These were the same things you’d been telling us all year. And so, next year we will find out if the grass is greener for you, because you’re going to a new school – a traditional school with desks by walls where teachers give specific assignments and grades.

Truthfully, the biggest reason for the transfer to a new school is convenience. When we bought our house last fall we moved fairly far from school. Your Montessori school has no attendance zone so it wasn’t an administrative issue, but a logistical one. Thirty minutes to school, and then – because we work from home – 30 minutes back. Two times a day. Your Dad or I spent 2 hours in the car each day just to get you to and from school. And every day we’d drive past the neighborhood school in our district, and it would look more and more appealing.

So your Daddy and I toured the neighborhood school. Then you toured it and shadowed kids there. We talked to parents. We talked to students. And we decided to take the leap.

It wasn’t an easy decision. When you were beginning elementary school, we wanted a spot for you in the Montessori school so badly. And I’m very glad you were able to go to that school. I think the freedom, independence and choice have helped mold you into a confident, self-assured learner who is not afraid of challenge and can think for herself.

But I also think you’re the kind of student who will do well in most any positive learning environment, so why not try something new if it makes our lives much much simpler?

And so, you will begin your middle school years as the new kid in a new school. You’re nervous, and worried about leaving your friends. And we’re nervous, but excited too. You may find that you miss your blank Montessori workplan and your unstructured classroom. You may even miss the younger kids asking you how to spell things. You may find that traditional classrooms aren’t as quiet and peaceful as you like, and that you don’t always get the grade you want. But regardless, moving out of your comfort zone almost always teaches you something about yourself, and I’m excited to see all that you’ll learn.

So here’s to a happy summer, and then a fresh start for my middle school girl. I know you’re going to rock it.

I love you. Love, mama.

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