How Author Derrick Barnes Prepared His Son for Kindergarten and Beyond

by Derrick Barnes

Photo credit: alvarez, E+ Collection/Getty Images

It’s summer time, and the “Daddy’s Summer Get-Right Academic Camp” is in full effect. This is a home program that I created some 15 years ago after my wife, my then four-year-old son Ezra, and I relocated from Kansas City, MO to New Orleans, LA. My wife was in medical residency, and I was essentially a stay at home dad — having just released my first two children’s books. We didn’t have enough money back then to send Ezra to daycare or to fancy-schmancy summer school to prepare him for kindergarten, so I did it myself.

I went out and bought flash cards, a couple of reading and math workbooks, and some academic software. I had prepared this intense, guerilla-style curriculum for my baby that had every hour mapped out: writing, reading, math, science, art, breaks, lunch, nap time, swimming, and even field trips on Fridays. To build up his confidence, I had him memorize short poems from prominent African-American poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, Sir Laurence Dunbar, and Langston Hughes, as well as African proverbs like: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Then, I would have him recite whatever blurb he had been practicing to a neighbor or someone at the grocery store. We worked on manners, how to address all adults as ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir.’ It has always been my responsibility to prepare Ezra and his brothers academically, but also socially, and make sure that whenever they arrive, wherever they go, they feel prepared. No matter what they are faced with, they can handle it. Being confident in what you know, especially if that knowing is of yourself, eliminates a great deal of nervousness and apprehension.

That Fall in New Orleans, we found a daycare center and had already found a school for kindergarten. But in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit and caused us to return to Kansas City. We were able to enroll Ezra in a Montessori school for kindergarten, and he was more than ready. We walked him in, and he couldn’t stop smiling. He was holding his mother’s hand, but when he walked in the class and saw his new classmates sitting on the floor in a circle, he let go and ran to join them. He didn’t even look back. He had a great first school year, and continued to keep an extremely high GPA all throughout his academic career. He just graduated from high school with a 3.8 and will be heading to North Carolina A&T State University in August. I’d like to believe it was his enrollment in the “Daddy’s Summer Get-Right Academic Camp” that prepared him for kindergarten and eventually landed him at such a prestigious college.

Now, before he heads off to school, he will be subbing in for me as I work on what feels like 10,000 books. He’s responsible for my eight-year-old and 12-year-old with pretty much the same curriculum. They went through the same program when they were four, and headed to kindergarten with cultural and family pride and confidence — so all four of my sons are veterans. But Ezra was the first.  He takes them to the library for two hours, Monday through Thursday, to work on math, reading, writing, and current events, as well as to prepare for spelling tests administered by yours truly on Friday. My 14-year-old goes to football practice, so he doesn’t have any work until he gets home; but they all have work to do over the summer so that their brains don’t turn into mush. I’m so glad that Ezra is here to help me out. And now big brother is moving on. It’s bittersweet, but this was the plan all along: To prepare him academically, but even more so, to prepare him to be a kind, thoughtful, caring human being so that when he steps into any new setting, people will look forward to his presence because he is a light – a light of positivity and all good things.