Nervous about kids starting school? 10 things to remember

As I’ve mentioned a million times, we have tried nearly every form of schooling that is out there. The biggest change was going from home school to the classroom. Lots of adjustments, in our habits and our attitudes! Here are ten things we learned the hard way.

(Please note: this post is intended to help parents who have some trepidation about starting their kids out in school. All of the “lessons” in it come directly from my own family’s experience, and are not intended to mock, belittle, or stereotype anyone. If you insist on assuming that my motives are foul, just remember what they say: “assume” makes an “e” out of you and your, um, ass. Or something.)

1. A kid who is old enough to go to school is old enough to pack his own lunch. He’s also more likely to eat food he chose than food you chose for him; and food that gets eaten is always more nutritious than food that doesn’t get eaten, no matter what it is. However, an adult must inspect these lunches regularly to make sure they have more nutritional content than the bag in which they are packed. No, checking how heavy the bag is does not count.

2. Teachers do not want tea lights or magnets or paperweights or wreaths or adorably decorated clothes pins. They want gift cards to office and craft supply stores, or to Starbucks, and they want boxes of tissues and Clorox wipes. Or, they would settle for an involved parent. They would probably prefer an involved parent.

3. Being a Catholic means you’re going to be different, and kids need to learn, sooner or later, that it’s not the end of the world to be different. If your kids are going to be in an environment where they are the only Catholics around, they need to have constant reminders (in word and in deed) that Christians are bearers of Good News, not bearers of hostility and smugness.  Also, If you are a serious practicing Catholic, you’re just as likely to stand out in a typical Catholic school as you are to stand out in a secular school.  The wearin’ of the plaid is not a guarantee of an excellent faith formation and a wholesome environment, so pay attention.

4. Skip the personal bottles of hand sanitizer to be used every time your snowflakes come into contact with the outside world. We actually got sicker when I tried hard to sterilize everything, because kids do need to be exposed to some germs. Try and remind them to wash their hands before they eat, but just resign yourself to some sniffles and pukies, and get on with your life. But don’t let them share hats or hairbrushes! Trust LICE me LICE on LICE this LICE one. (If they do get lice, that’s not the end of the world, either.)

5. Most teachers are not the enemy. We’ve run across a few teachers who genuinely don’t like or understand kids, and sometimes a situation really is unendurable, and you need to switch teachers or even switch schools.  But generally, if a teacher is in the classroom, it’s because he wants to do right by your kid. So if there is a problem, start by believing that you can at least partially solve it together with the teacher, rather than by believing you need to protect your child from the teacher.  It’s much easier to communicate with someone when you go into it acting like you’re on the same side.

6. If you’re going to believe everything your kid says about what happened in school (“Mrs. Fleishhacker says that she was going to beat me with barbed wire if I didn’t wear matching socks tomorrow!”), then it’s only fair that your kid’s teacher should believe everything your kid says about what happens at home (“Here is my picture of my family eating breakfast! All those whiskey bottles are my mom’s”).

7. Yes, your kids will probably change somewhat when they’re put into a new situation. This is just human, and not necessarily a bad thing.  Be ready and open to embrace positive changes, as well as being on the alert to ferret out bad changes. Do be concerned about a kid whose behavior changes drastically — a cheerful, outgoing kid who becomes very quiet and withdrawn, or a cooperative kid who becomes defiant and obstinate. Some changes are normal when kids are adjusting to a new environment, but if you’re worried, trust your instincts and look into it. There could be any number of things going on: a bad teacher, a good teacher who is approaching your kid the wrong way, a bully, a character defect in your own child, not enough sleep, hunger, or any of dozens of physical, emotional, psychological, or situational problems that don’t have anything to do with school. Most kids go through rough patches at one time or another, so if this happens to your kids, don’t assume he’s lost or ruined or that you’re a failure; but do take it seriously if your kid is consistently unhappy for a long time.

8. A lot of kids crash right after school. It’s partly being tired and hungry, and partly because they’ve been trying really hard to be good all day, and their tanks are empty. If possible, just be grateful it’s not reversed, and do your best to wait it out until the kid matures a bit. Have a snack ready, and be prepared to give even older kids some decompressing time before you expect much out of him after school.

9. Remember that you are still in charge of your child’s education. If there’s something they’re not getting at school, you give it to them. If they’re hearing something that’s not true, correct it. If you need someone else’s help to educate your kids, that is not an objective failure on your part!  Remember that they’re still your kids, and you can and must be the primary influence in how they see and respond to the world.

10. You’re not going to get an ideal education in a brick and mortar school. You’re also not going to get an ideal education by home schooling, or by unschooling, or by semi schooling, or co-schooling, or private schooling, or charter schooling, or attending-all-the-conferences-and-working-yourself-into-a-damp-spot-on-the-carpet schooling. Some schools are better than others, but since we are dealing with finite time and human nature, there will always be gaps. Expect this, fill in what you can, and remember that your kids are people, not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We’re making people, here, not soup.

***

A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

6 thoughts on “Nervous about kids starting school? 10 things to remember”

  1. I remember when my father took me to grade school for the first. I was taught by nuns every day of my grade school years.

  2. We’ve been homeschooling since my oldest, now almost 14, was ready for school. This year we’re sending them to public school. We’re all scared. We’re behind in some things. My middle child has trouble reading and will be held back a grade. I feel like crying for failing at this whole thing. I really needed this encouragement. Thank you.

    1. Have you heard the term “transitional object?” Think of the blankets children drag around or the worry beads or saints’ medals we keep in our pockets. As objects they inhere in their colors, shape and heft. But somewhere in their past, their stories and ours have converged: the blankets our mothers covered us with; the rosaries we got at our first communion… They allow us to toggle between the past and the present; the objective and the subjective–and, yea, between home and school.
      My parents gave me a cowboy watch when I started first grade. All I had to do was look down at my wrist to know when I would be home again. I’ve been through many watches since then, and both my mom and dad have died. But when I turn my wrist to check the time, I know we are still connected.

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