Tag

school

I’m Not Excited About the First Day of School

 

That’s right, I said it. The first day of school is tomorrow and I’m not excited.

It’s true that the girl has been driving me a little nuts with her stir-crazy, end-of-summer energy. It’s true that it will probably be good for her to see her friends and get back into a routine. It’s true that I am incredibly grateful for her wonderful school and her wonderful classmates and her wonderful teacher. That’s all true.

But it’s also true that I’m going to miss her. It’s true that I can’t help but wish that we had time for a few more adventures before I had to send her back into the busyness of the school year. A few more chances to choose boardgames over laundry. A few more days  to listen to her laughing with her sisters.

She’s growing up faster than I can keep up with and it scares me a little. Proud and excited. But also scared. She’s my first and I’m not sure how to let her grow up. I’m not sure how to let her go little by little.

So tomorrow when everyone is kissing their children and sending them off with a smile, I’ll be fighting back tears and putting on a brave face for her sake. I’ll probably cry when I get to the car and look for ways to distract myself for the rest of the morning. My heart will break a little every time the toddler asks where her sister is.

And I’ll wait for the excitement to finally arrive, when it’s time to pick her up from school. When I get to hug her again and hear about her day and buy her a cookie to celebrate the start of new adventures.

Because it’s true that they are worth celebrating. It’s true that I am incredibly proud of the beautiful young lady she is becoming. It’s true that watching her grow into her place in the world is one of the greatest privileges of my life.

And it’s also true that my favorite part is when she comes home.

The Struggle to Succeed

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.14.46 PM

Two days ago I wrote a post about The True Measure of Success, in which I reminded myself to keep my parenting battles in perspective by using my daughter’s happiness as a measure of how well something is working or isn’t working.

That post got me thinking.

What if it isn’t that simple?

I still believe that happiness and joy and love of learning should be the true measure of success. But sometimes it isn’t as simple as happiness in the moment. Without the opportunity to struggle, to learn perseverance, to test their own limits and build their own confidence, children won’t have all the tools they need to pursue true happiness throughout their lives.

If that is the case, me stepping in when I see my daughter struggling isn’t necessarily what’s best for her.

(When I say it out loud like that, I think “DUH”. Of course I can’t step in every time she is struggling with something. She would never learn.)

But even as obvious as that seems, it’s easier said than done, you know? As a parent, we want our kids to be happy. One of the hardest parts of our job is letting our kids struggle and even fail. We have to let them fall down, let them get frustrated, let them make mistakes. It’s how they learn that they can succeed.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the fact that as they grow, so do their struggles. I’m just getting to the point where I can let my toddler take a tumble or struggle to figure out a new toy without stepping in every time. But now the oldest is in first grade. She is learning how to struggle with dynamic friendships. With responsibilities like homework. With reading and math. With rules in class that she doesn’t want to follow.

And she’s doing it on her own. I can’t be there to help or advise or comfort. The best I can do is hold her tight when she gets home, weary from her own battles of figuring out how this big world works and what her place in it all is.

And as she does so, I’m figuring out what my place in supporting her is. How much do I let her struggle and how much do I help?

I’m going back to the homework debate as an example, because it’s something so many of us parents are reading about and wondering about and struggling with right now, due in part to all the hype on social media and the beginning of a new school year. In my previous post I came to the conclusion that perhaps questioning the homework policy for me as a parent wasn’t necessary because my child wasn’t struggling with it (yet).

But what am I teaching my daughter if I support her doing homework until it becomes a struggle for her?  I don’t want to teach her that the response to difficult situations is to remove the challenge. If it is something I believe in, shouldn’t I stand up for it no matter what, regardless of how well she is handling it?

Because there will probably come a time when it does become a struggle. Then what?

Really, it all boils down to an impossible question: how do we know when to let them struggle and when do we stand up for them? How much homework-induced discomfort will teach them perseverance and grit and responsibility? How much of it will damage their love of school, their self-esteem, and their love of learning?

How do we know where the line between benefit and harm is when it comes to struggling? 

It truly is an impossible question because I think it is different for every child. And not just that, I think it changes at different times in a child’s life.

BUT. WHAT IF….

What if the most important question here isn’t how much struggle is the right amount? Maybe we would be better off asking which struggles are worth the struggle instead.

Because here is the real secret: NOT ALL STRUGGLES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

If children are going to struggle, it should be for a purpose, not simply for the sake of struggling.

Sure, she could struggle with the boredom of another math worksheet. Or instead she could struggle to learn to ride her bike. She could struggle with the discomfort of having to do her chores or clean her room. She could challenge herself to read a book that she chooses. Or challenge herself in a swimming or gymnastics class. Or setting the table.

Or perhaps she is challenged all day at school and she just needs a break.

Which one of these things would be best for her whole-self development?

Honestly, it’s probably different every night.

Which is why, as her parent, I’m hesitant to say that struggling with homework is a good thing. Or an evil thing. Some nights it may be exactly the kind of challenge she needs. But what do I do on the other nights? Because I don’t need to let her struggle at homework just for the sake of struggling, especially if her time could be better spent elsewhere. 

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether homework is good or bad. Maybe what matters is that it might not always be the best use of our time in the evenings or the best way to teach responsibility or perseverance.

Surely teaching our children when to stick with the struggle is just as important as teaching them how.

Ironically, it appears I am learning the same thing.

 

 

 

 

The True Measure of Success

FullSizeRender (7)

My six year old started 1st grade at a new school this year. In Kindergarten, I knew her teacher. She is one of the most amazing people on the planet, and it made it so much easier to send my first baby off to school because I knew this teacher would fight for what was best for kids. Always. And I knew that we agreed on what that was. I trusted her.

This year we are at a new school with a new teacher. I’ve heard wonderful things about the teacher, the principal and the school. However, I also heard a few things that raised some questions for me as a parent before school even started.

First, the new elementary school only schedules two recesses for 1st graders. Several other elementary schools in the same district have three. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve read a lot of articles lately about the importance of recess, specifically unstructured play in child development. More importantly, I know my own child. I know how much she needs those brief periods of movement and freedom and independence throughout the day. Just like many of the children in the studies I read, her brain functions better when she has that time. So I couldn’t help but wonder why other schools in the same district offered more of that opportunity for children than our new school did.

I asked some questions to try to understand the decision and came to the conclusion that it was best to wait and see how things went.

The second thing I heard was about how much homework would be sent home in 1st grade.

If you’ve been on social media lately you’ve probably seen some hype about homework. As more and more research surfaces proving that there is no academic benefit to homework at the elementary level, more and more parents are speaking up against it.

And I’m right there with them. I’m all for challenging children, but only to the point where it is beneficial. She is six years old and is already in school for the majority of her day. The time at home in the evening is not an extension of school, it is a balance to it. She needs time to recharge her batteries, to play (especially if independent play time is being cut from the school day), to spend time with her family and unwind. That time at home is precious and it’s worth fighting to protect.

But again, I wanted to be reasonable and see how things went before I jumped to conclusions.

School started. On the second day, she brought home math homework.

Sigh.

I know I said I was doing my best to be reasonable. But the truth is that I was already on the defense. I felt like I was just waiting for the evidence I would need to build my case.

I didn’t love that homework was starting so early. However, it was a simple worksheet that she flew through in less than ten minutes. Maybe if that’s all homework was going to be it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe accomplishing something without having to devote a lot of at-home time to it would build her confidence and sense of responsibility and give her a chance to show me how well she was doing. Also, the note that came home about the homework policy talked about one of the goals of homework in 1st grade being to involve parents in the student’s learning. Can I understand that goal? Sure. I appreciate the impulse to include me as a parent in what she is learning.

The homework continued the next week, but each night it was simple. Less than ten minutes. I was still feeling skeptical. Was this really worth sending home? But at the same time, we spend that long talking about school anyway. Is a few minutes of simple homework really hurting anything?

I’m a chronic over-thinker, so I was still feeling conflicted about the homework and recess issues. One evening I was explaining my inner battle to a friend over text message. To be honest, I was probably on the verge of a full-blown rant, when her response stopped me in my tracks.

“Is your daughter unhappy?”

Uh… I don’t think so. She’s not coming home miserable. She hasn’t complained about her homework. In fact, she seems pretty proud once it’s done.

Sigh. There’s nothing like being slapped mid-rant with a really reasonable point.

My first priority as a parent is to help her thrive. In 1st grade, that means making sure that she is enjoying school so that she can develop a lifelong love of learning. Period.

The research isn’t the measure of what’s working and what isn’t. My child is.

If she is happy, what am I fighting for?

I still think recess is more important than we are treating it and that homework should be used consciously and sparingly in elementary school. But ultimately, the goal of any of those battles is to protect her joy. If evidence of unhappiness starts to appear, then perhaps it will be time to pick up my mama warrior armor and defend her right to love learning.

Until then, I’m taking the opportunity to breathe and remind myself not to get so caught up in the battle that I forget what I’m fighting for.

7 Things I Want My Child to Know Before She Starts School

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 4.06.05 PM

For seven years I worked with some of the most amazing educators I’ve ever met—teachers, principals, paraeducators, professional development specialists, secretaries, school psychologists, and technology gurus. People who devote their lives to the task of giving young people today the academic tools they need to succeed in the world.

That job experience not only changed my perspective on my own life, it changed my perspective as a parent, especially when it comes to my child’s learning.

With this new perspective, there are some things I want my child to know as she heads off to school each year.

You can learn anything if you believe you can.

Everyone has a learning “mindset”.  A “growth mindset” means you believe that your brain can learn and grow. A “fixed mindset” means you believe that you are born with a certain level of intelligence and you can’t change it. For example, if you are a growth mindset, you believe that, even if you are not good at math, you can get better. If you are a fixed mindset, you believe that you’ll always be bad at math.

Research shows that some of the people who excel at what they do–professional athletes, authors, scientists–do so because they have a growth mindset. That means they might not have been very good at what they did when they started, but they knew if they worked hard they would get better. So they did.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Don’t forget that.

The most important thing you will take to school with you is a good attitude.

You get to choose how you “show up” at school each day. No one else can make this choice for you. You may not always get to choose everything about your school day, but you can always choose your attitude. You have the power to make assignments that might be boring be fun. You have the power to make classes that feel hard feel exciting instead. It all comes down to your attitude. Choose wisely.

You can do hard things.

Sometimes learning will feel easy. A lot of the time it might feel really hard. That is perfectly normal. Don’t give up just because something isn’t easy at first. Learning how to do hard things is one of the greatest skills you could ever acquire.

I will be happy as long as you are doing your best.

Please don’t cheat yourself out of learning by not trying. If you are going to do something, do your best. If you do this, you cannot fail. Because if you did your best, then you learned something, and that is never failure. Yep, you heard me right. If you do your best on a test and you fail, I will still be proud of you for giving it your all. And we will have learned what it is that you still need to study. If you don’t try and you fail, then you wasted your own time and energy. Don’t do that. Time is precious. You owe it to yourself to see what you are capable of. So do everything you do with your whole heart. If you do this, I will be happy.

School does not measure your worth.

In school, you will take tests. Tests are a way to measure what you know and what you still need to learn. THAT IS ALL THEY ARE. You should do your best when it comes to tests so that they can be an accurate measure of what you know. But never forget that that is all they are. They do not measure what a good learner you are. They do not measure what a good person you are. Don’t give them more power than they deserve.

The same is true of grades. Grades are a way of measuring progress. They show us what we are doing well at and what we still need to practice. If you have a lower grade in science, it does not mean you are bad at science. Grades are information we can use to learn about how we learn best.

Schools use tests and grades and levels and scores to measure a lot of things. But there are also a lot of things they don’t measure. Tests will not measure your passion or your drive or your determination. Grades do not reflect what a kind and thoughtful person you are. Don’t believe for a second that any letter or number could measure your worth. You are more than the sum of your scores.

Your curiosity is your greatest strength.

Your curiosity is what drives your best learning. It drives you to question things you don’t understand. I hope you always keep your fierce curiosity. It is when we stop being curious and think we “know” things, or when we simply give up and stop asking questions, that we stop learning and growing.

Others may not always appreciate your curiosity, but don’t let that stop you. You may have to learn to hold your curiosity until an appropriate time to seek your answers. You may have to learn a respectful way to express your curiosity. But beware of anyone who tells you your curiosity is bad. It’s not true.

The thing that will make me more proud of you than anything else is your kindness.

School is important. You will learn things that will open doors to more things and more doors and so on. But there is so much more to learn than science and math. If you graduate and you don’t know algebra but you have learned how to feel empathy for another person, I will be immensely proud. If you can’t remember what the scientific name for rain clouds is, but you know how to be kind to others, even when they aren’t kind to you, then I will know you have succeeded.

Learn as much as you can from school, but don’t limit your learning to the information in your textbooks. Because the things that matter in life are so much bigger than that. Let your sweet light shine and do all the good you can for the people around you. As your mother, I love to see your brilliant brain in action. But I am never more proud of you than when you show the world your kind heart.

The Last Week of Summer: To Prepare or To Savor?

Playing on the slide

It’s officially the last full week of Summer. Next week, school starts.

Sigh.

It’s no secret that I’m enjoying the lazy Summer days at home with my little people. So I’m dragging my feet about restarting routines and schedules and all other forms of “busy-ness”.

Yet this is the time when we should start adjusting bedtimes and wakeup times so that we can function on the school week schedule again. And it’s not just the schedule. It has come to my attention that there’s probably more I should be doing to help her prepare for this transition. For example, it might be time to teach her to sit at a table to eat food again. Actually, just sitting still for more than two minutes at a time might be a good goal. And I suppose a little (or a lot) of screen time detox probably wouldn’t hurt.

Honestly, we did try to keep up with our academic endeavors over the summer. We read each night before bed. We practiced sight words sometimes and handwriting sometimes. We played school with weekly spelling words (that we remembered to work on a few times a month).

But it’s obvious this week that Summer has taken its toll. When I ask her to read me a book, we get a page in before the “I’m tired of reading” starts. When we work on counting coins, before five minutes has passed she is giving me an apathetic stare like I’m torturing her.

So it seems like a no-brainer to me that we should spend the coming week in “transition bootcamp”. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to shape our days to more closely resemble a school day schedule in hopes that the transition to the school year will be as smooth as possible.

On the other hand, though, it’s our last week of Summer. (Please read italicized text in pouting voice with foot stomping.) Shouldn’t we soak up the last little bit of sleeping in, eating snacks on the couch, watching too much tv, and playing whatever we want whenever we want to? Why waste any part of this precious time “preparing” for what will be here soon enough as it is?

So after reviewing the pros and cons of each argument, I’ve determined there is only one course of action to take.

We will be doing both.

Because seriously. How could we choose? One approach helps make a tough transition more manageable. Why wouldn’t I do that for her if I could? And the other approach is about savoring something beautiful, living in the moment, and making the best of the time we have. Isn’t that equally as important?

Really, it’s the age old balance of trying to live for the day and also prepare for the future. Is it possible? I freakin’ hope so. Because we’re sure as hell going to try.

We will wake up in the morning at a near school schedule-ish time. And then we will savor the slow mornings with heart-shaped pancakes with sprinkles. We’ll cut back our screen time. And we will replace it with mud kitchen adventures outside and swimming and field trips. We’ll sit down and practice our reading stamina and our math skills. And then we will reward ourselves for our hard work with dance parties and family board games. We’ll eat lunch at the table using our best manners to practicing sitting still and cleaning up our own plate. And then we will have pizza and movie nights on the couch in the evening.

Because finding this balance isn’t just about the last week of Summer. It’s about how we approach every day. It’s about finding a balance in how we parent our little people. And how that balance will help them to find balance in their own lives.

And honestly, it’s about finding balance in our own lives as parents. I’m constantly trying to find the sweet spot between enjoying this moment and thinking about what I should be doing to prepare my children (and myself) for the future. I need to correct her manners so that she learns, but I also need to find time to appreciate her silliness and laugh along with her. I need to help her learn responsibility, but I also need to let her savor this time of still being a carefree child.

And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? I can’t choose between preparing and savoring because she needs both.

We all need both.

No, Calendar. Just No.  

  
We are to the point in the summer where today and the first day of school fit on the same calendar. 

I don’t like it. 

This summer hasn’t been the easiest one ever. Trying to juggle swimming lessons and camps and a very active six year old with a toddler nap schedule while pregnant in the heat is kind of a recipe for “muddling through” rather than “savoring the moments”. 

But the truth is, even though it hasn’t been easy it’s been pretty great. And we have gotten used to having each other around. The toddler wakes up every morning asking, “Sis? Sis?” until sister finally makes her appearance. I’m not the only one who will miss her when school starts. 

And it’s not just a matter of missing her. I can’t help but be a little nervous. There are some great things about school but there are also things I’m not convinced about. The focus on testing. The limitation on recess. Kids are resilient but school in this day and age isn’t exactly a place designed for wildly curious and energetic children like mine to thrive. 

I don’t want her to think that if she doesn’t succeed at standardized testing then she has failed. I don’t want her to think that because it is hard for her to sit still that life will be hard for her. I don’t want her to think that a report card is a measure of who she is as a person. 

I don’t want to see her spirit crushed. 

It’s a hard adjustment to go from the free spiritedness of summer to the structure of the classroom. Summer feels like childhood and school feels like growing up. As a mama I can’t help but feel the bittersweetness of it all. I can’t help but feel a tiny loss when another carefree summer draws to an end. 

So I’m nervous. I know it will all turn out ok and that she will learn so much and have a blast with her friends. I know she will be amazing and I can’t wait to see her grow a little more this year. 

But for just a moment today, when I pass by the refrigerator, I will flip off the calendar. For reminding me that these precious, lazy, sun-filled days won’t last forever. 

  

Can We Talk About Report Cards for a Minute?

Report cards.

When I was a kid, I used to love report card time. I usually did pretty well in school, so it meant a chance to be recognized in my strengths. I knew other kids who dreaded them. It meant hard conversations about things that already felt hard enough as it was.

Now that I’m a parent, I imagine there are still the same broad spectrum of feelings about that little manilla envelope that I have to sign off on three times a year.

This is one of the times that I’m most grateful for the years I spent working in education, and for the brilliant group of friends I have who are still devoting their energy to teaching kids every day. Because those experiences and relationships have given me a different perspective from which to approach things like parent teacher conferences, grades, and–you guessed it–report cards. What I’ve learned has totally changed the way I approach these opportunities. Here’s what I’ve learned:

What report cards are NOT:

  • Report cards are not fuel to get angry at my child.
  • Report cards are not fuel to get angry at my child’s teacher.
  • Report cards do not define who my child is.
  • Report cards do not define who I am as a parent.

What report cards ARE:

  • Report cards are an opportunity for a conversation with my child.
  • Report cards are an opportunity for a conversation with my child’s teacher.
  • Report cards are a way for me to practice being curious rather than jumping to conclusions.
  • Report cards offer clues from a different perspective into my child’s possible strengths and challenges.
  • Report cards are made by humans. Humans who love my child and want her to do well. Humans who see a side of my child that I don’t see. Humans who may not see the side of my child that I see.

Bottom line: Report cards are an opportunity for me to impact the way my child feels about school and learning for the rest of her life, for better or worse. How I respond to those little numbers on that piece of paper can either fuel her excitement or dampen her spirit, can build her confidence or chip away at it.

And I know which path I want to choose. Because at the end of the day, it isn’t the grades that matter. It’s the person. The sweet little human who can’t wait to show me what she wrote in school, the one who brings home 6th grade chapter books on library day because she is so impatient to learn to read, the one who draws little curly q’s on all of her letters on all of her worksheets.

If I do anything at all with four report cards a year, it will be to use them as fuel in her brilliant fire.