My youngest child of six is heading into her last year of elementary school. I was pondering on what I have learned during the past 17 years of having at least one child in elementary school. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:
#1 As a parent, I have learned to be “present” by volunteering in the school. I have enjoyed and been enlightened by spending time in the schools. I personally like to help during scholastic time and not so much during parties. In the normal school setting it is intriguing to get to know the children that your child spends so much time with and observe the teaching methods used. Your time in a classroom helps your child see that school is important to you. It also allows you to get to know the teacher. (Public teachers have students with a wide range of abilities. They are doing their best to engage all the kids. Another adult in the room helps them immensely.)
#2 I have learned that a lot of times school is not about math, science, and language arts…it is about learning to get along with others. “Learning to play in the sandbox” is what my husband calls it. That is my number one reason for always leaving my kids in public school. Kids will be with “the public” all their adult life. I believe it is best to let them see some social issues early on. We have had kids get left out of a “club”, not get invited to a particular party, do poorly on a test that others did well on, hear crude language, etc. Working through each issue allows kids to be more resilient. Over time they learn and begin to have compassion for others. Guiding kids through these circumstances teaches them to be obedient, patient, observant, and kind. I have seen the different situations at public school teach life lessons to my kids.
(I honestly realize there may be times when home school is the best option for a child. In our case, it wasn’t.)
#3 I have learned not to immediately try to solve every problem that arises. It amazes me that “I am never going to be your friend” can turn into “We are best friends” within a few days. I have listened to many stories of hurt feelings. I have learned that giving a little perspective to your child actually eases a lot of concern. You can make comments like:
- Maybe _______ said that because he is having a hard time at home or having a bad day
- Maybe you could talk with your friend; she may not even know that you feel bad
- Maybe you could invite him over to play
- Tell her you are sorry she feels bad; tell her you were wrong
- Give them another chance. Sometimes people say things that they don’t really mean.
A parent’s wisdom can guide kids to be good friends. There are times I have quietly emailed the teacher to make her aware of a problem. Teachers can guide and step in as needed, if they know the back story.
#4 I have learned that asking kids the right questions can yield great dividends. I have learned that from listening to my husband interact with our kids. A lot of times our dinner conversation goes like this:
Dad: “Did anything exciting happen at school today?”
One of the kids: “I had a substitute teacher with an eye patch.” (This is a line from the movie “Bedtime Stories” and is a family joke. ?)
Dad: “Really? Which eye?”
Then we start into the real conversation…my husband asks questions that require thought and show what the kids are really thinking.
Dad: “What made school good? (or bad?)” or “Who did you help today?” or “What did you learn today that you thought was interesting?” or “Who did you play with at recess?”
That usually gets things going. There are always follow up questions, but if they know you are listening and are honestly interested in their day, they will talk.
As a side note:
- Don’t forget to ask your child if he/she can see the board! Five of our six kids have corrective lenses, and we didn’t catch some as early as we should have.
- Remember to ask questions about the bus ride. Sometimes children may need to change where they sit on the bus to avoid some troubles. Maybe driving your child to school once a week will alleviate a struggle.
#5 Complaining about how poorly the public school does this or that is not constructive. I have learned that if I want my child to better know a certain concept, I can teach it at home! We love to “invite” a historical character to dinner or pretend to Travel the World. (See posts: Who’s Invited to Dinner? and Traveling the World at Home.) If school is too simple for your child, stretching them with musical instruments or another activity might keep a desire for learning alive in them. Sending your child to school with a favorite book or a drawing pad for their spare time may help during down time. Be sure that your child knows you will help them learn anything that is confusing for them. If you don’t know the new CORE ways of doing things, ask the teacher!
#6 This is my favorite lesson learned; I have learned that occasionally picking my child up for lunch is a perfect diversion from school. We generally just eat in the car. Some of my kids eat quickly and head to recess and others want to linger in the quiet of the car away from the noise. Each of the kids have felt they are loved, though. Taking a special treat that doesn’t fair well in a lunch box lets them know that they are my focus. Also, sometimes putting notes in their lunch will help them know someone is thinking of them.
#7 Lastly and most importantly, I have learned the benefits of praying for my kids and of teaching them to pray. There is so much peace in asking for help from our Heavenly Father who knows all.
- “Please help _______ to remember what she studied for her test.”
- “We are grateful for the opportunity to get to go to school.”
- “Please help each of us see someone that we could help today.”
- “Please help _________ relax and do his best.”
All of my elementary kids have gotten worried when they have lock down or earthquake drills at school. It has been so helpful to listen to their concerns. Then let them know that if they are ever worried at school they can talk to Heavenly Father in their mind. Knowing Heavenly Father is close helps them find peace.
As a parent, Heavenly Father will inspire you to do what is needed. Pray for your children individually and observe them. He will give you the insights. I know it. My family has been blessed innumerable times by “bursts” of inspiration.
May all our children be well and happy.