Monday, August 26, 2013

Waiting for kindergarten

This morning I did what thousands of parents across the country did.  I dropped my baby off at kindergarten.  My baby.  The little boy that I am positive I brought home from the hospital only a moment ago and only minutes ago was rocking to sleep in his little footie pajamas. Today I packed him a lunch, watched as he hung his dinosaur backpack in his locker while I choked back a tear, (okay sobs) as I left him in the care of another woman.

This isn't the first time I've dropped one of my babies at kindergarten.  Our daughter started fourth-grade today, and to tell you the truth, seeing her with the kids she started school with five years ago, some of who are as tall as me, broke my heart almost as much.

But there is something about the day you take your last baby to kindergarten that is a unique kind of heartache.  

Because he is our youngest, sending Ryan to kindergarten feels like a chapter in our lives has ended. Like he needs me just a little bit less now.

Except that couldn't be less true.

Our kids' school is amazing. Their teachers are amazing.

But, their job is to teach my kids reading and math. Their job is to teach my kids English and science. Their teachers' job is to cultivate their love of learning by helping them explore art and music and technology and leading them as they run and jump in PE and check out books in the library.

Their teachers' job is not to be their parents.

That is still my job.

And yet, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. from Monday - Friday, in addition to teaching reading, and history, and foreign languages, and band and choir, and art, and algebra, and biology, and government and special education, and economics, thousands of teachers across the country will teach students how to be kind and generous.  They will teach them how to work together. They will help teach them how to make good choices. How to listen. How to follow rules. They will help them understand the consequences of not following rules.

They will comfort them when they get hurt.  Or when someone hurts them. They will protect them.

I know there are people who may not believe this, but thousands of teachers have been praying for their students all summer and will continue to pray for them all year.

But as parents, we can't check out once school starts. We can't let teachers take the burden, not only of teaching our kids, but of raising them as well.  I am so thankful for dedicated educators who value character as much as knowledge. But that doesn't abate me of my responsibility.  With everything our kids have to navigate these days from extra-curricular activities, to bullying and social media, I can't imagine a time in history when it has ever been more important to be plugged to our kids' lives.

Understanding the heartache that comes with sending your baby to kindergarten, people begin asking you if you are okay about six months before the first day of school.  With that in mind, I've been collecting advice from moms and dads that I think are doing an outstanding job of raising great kids (including my parents, who I must say raised two pretty awesome kids).

Here is a collection of some of the best advice I've heard for staying involved in your kids' lives:
  • Talk about stuff. 
    • Ask open ended questions, especially with older kids. Don't give up if you get a one word answer. Start with kids' favorites like, "Who did you sit with at lunch?" or "What did you play at recess?" 
    • Talk about anything and everything when they are young.  Let them know that nothing is off the table. Talking about crushes on boys when they are 8 will make it more likely they won't keep things from you when they are 16.
    • Take any opportunity to use teachable moments. Watching a movie where the main character treats his best friend badly, use that moment to ask your kids how that made his friend feel or if there has ever been a time when someone in his class made him feel like that.  
  • Do homework with your kids. 
    • Even just a few minutes a day shows interest.
  • Volunteer! 
    • Check your campus/school district website for opportunities. If your kids are at an age where they are embarrassed of mom and dad find opportunities to volunteer in different areas of the school (making copies in the office, shelving books in the library).
  • Sit down and eat.
    • With busy after school schedules, try to make at least one night a week where sitting down to eat dinner isn't optional.  Even if you just order pizza, have everyone sit around the table and catch up. Having a "no technology at the table*" rule helps establish that this time is a priority for everyone.  *This rule goes for mom and dad too!
  • Know your kids' friends, both real and virtual.
    • With the constant onslaught of social media sites it is hard to keep up, but knowing which sites your kids are on, and who their friends are is key. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you are following your kids and your kids' friends. Check here for the Five Golden Rules of Keeping Kids Safe Online (it is from the UK, but still good information). 
  • Keep an open house. 
    • Invite your kids' friends over and make your house the kind of place kids (and teens) want to hang out.  Your house doesn't need to be fancy.  In fact, sometimes being kid-friendly means just the opposite. It means it's the kind of place where being loud and spilling on the carpet or breaking something isn't cause for alarm. 
What are your best tips for staying involved during the school year?  Whether you are starting school or have a few more years to snuggle in footie pajamas, I hope your year is blessed.

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