This is the FIRST year in a long time I haven’t had one of my babies starting school. Our oldest turned 30 over the summer, and she finished up her master’s degree a couple of years ago. Our other children have all emerged unscathed with their college degrees, except our baby who is on a mission for our church this year. He’ll go back to college when he returns in 2018.
So when I count all that up – I’ve had TWENTY-SEVEN years of “first day” excitement, new shoes, pictures at the front door, nervousness and piles of paperwork. What great memories!
I realize not all moms are like me (I cry when the kids go back to school!), but I figure every tip that helped me while my kids were growing was a gift from a mom with more experience than I had – so the right thing to do is to pass on my favorite things to the next generation. So I thought carefully about the things that helped our family – things that are beyond having the backpacks lined up by the door and their clothes laid out the night before. THESE are my favorite tips for sending your babies off to school with peace of mind:
- Meet the Teacher Face to Face. Some teachers make this really easy and hold an “open house” style meet and greet before school starts! Not all do though, so I made it a habit to pop in before or after school just to say hello. This is NOT a time to interview them or talk a lot about your amazing, brilliant and adorable child – this is an introduction so they can see you are a reasonable human being who cares about the success of your child. I liked to point out to them that I am the kind of parent that likes to know what’s going on, and that (heaven forbid) the day comes that they have to call me because my child has crossed the line – I will NOT say “Oh, my child would never do that!”. That goes a long way when that teacher has to contact you later about that same amazing, brilliant and adorable child who may be in trouble. Knowing they have already met you makes that conversation easier for both parties. When you start off on the right foot with the teacher by making a partnership with them – your child benefits. If you absolutely can’t physically get to the school, then at least send an introductory email or letter to your child’s teacher letting them know you are an involved parent and appreciate their efforts in educating your child. Did I stop doing this when my kids began junior high? Nope! I figured that more than ever – those teachers needed to know I care about the success of my child. Meet EACH teacher all the way through high school. Do I know how many teachers that is? YES I DO. I have four kids. In our local high school, my kids each have eight classes (so – eight teachers each). It’s worth the effort.
- Follow That Bus. You can label me “Control Freak” if you want to – but I like to know the route the bus takes when it’s carrying my baby. My kids have been on the school bus during one accident, and one snow storm – and there are worse things that COULD happen. I didn’t have to freak out in those situations, because I knew where the bus was! I could retrieve that precious cargo and be united with my child in a short amount of time, rather than waiting 5 or 6 hours like the other parents. On the first day – just follow the bus all the way to school, and again on the home route (sometimes they are NOT the same!) Or, contact your transportation department and ask them to talk you through the route so you can drive it later and be familiar with it. Serious peace of mind! Also, follow that same #1 guideline about meeting the teacher WITH THE BUS DRIVER. Make them your ally.
- Whatever Your Child CAN do, They SHOULD be Doing. A friend of mine who teaches Montessori school shared that with me when my oldest was starting kindergarten, and it changed my idea of what a “good” parent does. The whole point of parenting, is helping our children become contributing members of society. That doesn’t mean we do everything for them – it means we teach them how to do everything for themselves.
- Teach them how to pack their lunch. Our family rule was First-graders packed their own lunch. Yes – they’ll need guidelines! Let them own this every day, and they’ll not only eat more of their lunch (because they chose it), but they will feel more accomplished and capable!
- Assign a color to each child for calendaring their schedule. Like my parents before me, I used a large paper calendar in the kitchen to keep track of everyone’s individual schedules. When your child signs up for soccer, their practice and game times should be written on that calendar. At the magic age of 8 years old – they become responsible for that detail. Up till then, they watched me write each thing down – and even helped me in the process. They know 8 years old is when they own that and will deal with the consequences if it’s not recorded on our family calendar. If they forget to record whatever music/sport/academic thing they are participating in – then you DO NOT take them to that event when there’s a conflict. They miss it. Tears are sometimes shed, but they learn to be responsible for their own schedule. (And that’s the point, right?) Each Sunday evening (or whatever day works for you) have a meeting and review the upcoming calendar for the week. Everyone brings their paper calendar or device to make sure they are aware of important things that are happening. This creates family unity and keeps everyone connected to each other. It has also preserved my 33-year marriage because my husband and I don’t fight about conflicts in our schedules – we resolve them on Sunday nights (we STILL do this with just the two of us!)
- Establish a Family Chore Schedule. What does that have to do with school? Everything! If you expect your child to learn to do their homework, even when you’re not standing over them, they need to understand how real life works. Work and responsibilities come before play. At our house, I liked to do the major chores on Saturday mornings. Daily chores were not as intensive, but the house still needed a cleaning weekly, so Saturday mornings were the time. Our rule was: Nothing else happens before your weekly (or “Saturday”) chores are done. That meant they had to complete the bathroom cleaning/vacuuming/mopping/
windows/baseboards/toy organization/whatever the assignment was BEFORE they could play, or do anything else. What if they had a soccer game? Chores first. How about a choir recital? Chores first. If the chores aren’t done, then nothing else can happen. That means they will probably miss ONE game/practice/bout/activity, and then they’ll have learned that hard lesson. What if the soccer game is at 8:30 am? Or a scout overnight trip is leaving Friday night? Chores are still first, and can be done Friday. A few times, chores were done on Thursday nights when school trips were being taken early Friday. Flexibility with the timing is good, but don’t be flexible about whether or not they are done. Adults do their jobs or theres a consequence. The consequence for our kids was they missed out on whatever else could or should have happened.
That’s it! Those three things kept our family functioning all through those school years. I am smart enough to know that not all things work with ALL people, so I truly hope these hints DO help with your family – but I guess I can’t guarantee it.
My best wishes to you, and remember to just love those kids of yours with all your heart. Be good to them, model patience, understanding and forgiveness to them and they’ll learn from your good example. Apologize when you’re wrong – you will be sometimes.