It may be the kids who are going back to school, but sometimes us parents also need some lessons to help us – and our children – navigate this transition with ease. I’ve been watching a lot of young families around me (online and off) gear up for the school year ahead and have come away with some key observations I wanted to share…and also implement in my kids' lives as they embark on fifth and first grades.
First, factor in some serious downtime this week and month. Going back to school is a huge transition for young bodies and minds. Waking up earlier, going to bed on time, adjusting to new classrooms, new teachers, new friends, new routines – it's a lot for a child of any age to take in. This post by Jen Hatmaker is a very good reminder that it is up to us to recognize the effects of that transition and counter-balance them with a lot of mellow downtime. On your agenda for now: pizza, movie nights and a whole lot of nothing.
This leads me to my second recommendation: make more time for less this year – not just in the first few weeks of school, but all year long. School is a lot of work for our kids, and we personally believe that it should be the priority over too many extracurricular activities, so we limit our kids to one weekday commitment and maybe one weekend one (if even) so they can focus their time and energy on school and time at home. Yes, that means my kids are not all-star anything. It means that sometimes we have to say no or "maybe later" to a particular class or course or sports team that they want to try. But we are okay with that. I see so many kids overloaded with sports, music lessons, art classes and more, and while I firmly believe in a well-rounded mind, I also firmly believe in a well-rested one. So we opt for fewer extracurricular activities and lessons all year long and pick and choose what to do when. It's incredibly freeing for the whole family.
Give your child – and their teacher – a chance. I have watched so many moms the past week panic about the teacher assignment they didn't get and even worse, voice those frustrations in front of their kids. Unless you have a child with special needs, let them get the teacher they get. And most importantly, teach them how to thrive with that teacher. Maybe he or she is strict. Or not. Or gives too much homework. Or your neighbor's cousin who runs the PTA said they are terrible. Whatever it may be, give it a chance. And teach your kids to do the same. The reality is, there are great teachers and less than great teachers and chances are, your kids will experience both throughout their academic careers and certainly in other phases of life long beyond the schoolyard years. Yes, the great ones will always stand out in their memories…but the not-so-great ones tend to as well, for their own reasons, trust me.
And finally, on a similar note, remember that your child's experience with school is about them…not you. There was a second grade teacher with a "mean" reputation at our school who everyone avoided like the plague. I was told time and again that I didn't want her. That no one wanted her. That she was bitter and angry and mean. My daughter had her and loved her. It wasn't about me, it was about her. And she absolutely thrived with her. Maybe the teacher or principal isn't supposed to check off everything on YOUR must-have list. Maybe they aren't there to appease your needs and your schedule and your personal preferences. Maybe they are actually there to do right by your kids, first and foremost. And maybe if you trust them to do that, you will see that your needs ARE being met. That your kid learns to love school. To enjoy learning. To be challenged and immersed and well socialized. And that's the lesson that matters the most. For all of us.