My best friend just got back from New York where he helped get his oldest son set up in the dorm at NYU for his first year of college. Wow, how exciting. Just as my son prepares for his first day of kindergarten, so do many families in our community prepare for the first day of school. This particular right of passage, where summer vacation ends and the disciplines of the school year begin, is our country’s own way of honoring the seasons.
When the graduations happened in June there was much crying and melancholy. Now, there is a buzz in the air, an excitement and no small amount of anxiety for our transitioning children. At our new school, people go so far as calling the gate with posted lists telling kids which teachers they will have the “wailing wall.” Truth be told, I do not recall my kindergarten or first grade teacher. Some semblance of memory begins for me in second grade, and I even have a dear friend from that class still in my life.
I want my own kid to have plenty of playtime at his young age. He enjoys learning and even thrives under rules, routines and regulations, but I want him to be able to think on his own to some degree, and I am even okay with him questioning my decisions. He asks “why” more often than many of my older friends do, meaning he is not content to move on until he truly understands something.
Amongst the kindergarten parents at our school, reputations are already forming; one teacher is considered the “academic” one, while another is more playful and fun. The school administration puts kids together by age, sex, requests and sheer randomness. Now, instead of 12 kids in a preschool class with two teachers, my son will be with 20 kids and two teachers. Still, not bad, and a big thanks to the California voters for insisting on smaller classroom sizes through the third grade. Come on, Rob Reiner; get those classroom sizes reduced all the way through. Or how about you, Governor Schwarzenegger? And you, Mr. Angelides? I don’t believe you guys have been pushing for reduced classroom sizes.
But back to the kids. My son has always had a little backpack, but this year he has one of those huge regulation-size ones that I am concerned they will fill, fill, fill, and he will soon be dragging it home like I see all the other kids do. Bummer, I just hope there is a lot of drawing paper and cool comic books and a few gummy bears in there to lighten his load.
It is funny how school so shapes our lives. I had dinner with four of my closest friends from grade school the other day. Rodriguez, Rosenthal, Shafer and Shapiro. Guess how we got to know each other? Alphabetically, as that is how the school organized us. To this day, those kids I sat next to and swapped notes with, napped with in class, stood in line with and did drop drills and earthquake drills with, remain my best friends. How my friends Karen Bass and Pauline Hamada became part of the clique occurred much later – in the schoolyard where names mattered less than how interesting you were.
When you send your child to school this coming school year there are a few things to remember: feed them, clothe them, make sure they get a good night’s sleep, help them with their homework, make sure they still have playdates, make the backpack lighter, listen to them, meet the teachers, be involved. Let them watch some TV and play on the computer, allow them to decompress when they get home. Teach them how to read with comic books; that’s how I did it. Let them stay home “sick” now and again, and treat it as a mental health day. Don’t push them too hard. Help them enjoy learning. Make sure your kids know if they don’t go to school “they’ll become idiots” (it worked for my nephews). Love them unconditionally. Repeat as necessary.