Earlier this year, a New Zealand Herald columnist, Megan Nicol Reed, wrote a thoughtful column in the Canvas supplement about her son’s first days at college. I contacted her and asked if I could publish it in my newsletter and she graciously gave permission. She muses about what the eight years of him being at primary and intermediate schools have taught her.
Tick, started high school. This week my firstborn crossed off another rite of passage on childhood’s checklist. A little like a dinghy, usually my precious son just bobs about, sticking to the inner harbour, but increasingly, when the wind gets up, he is inclined to sail full steam ahead, filled with joyously reckless purpose. And while, for the most part, I am like a gull, circling helplessly above him, squawking fruitlessly of impending danger, on a good day I am a lighthouse, wise and unwavering, guiding him staunchly to safety. The next five years stretch before us, as unknown as the open sea, and I am as terrified as the day my husband dragged me away from the door to the new entrants’ class. This though, is what eight years of primary and intermediate schooling have taught me.
Do not worry if how they learn and what they learn is not how or what you were taught. Theirs is a new world, even more unrecognisable to you than perhaps the one you inherited from your parents was to them. Our children will work in different ways and face different perils; they will need these new strategies to prosper and survive.
Those lucky enough to attend schools enlightened to our changing world are being taught that gender is fluid, that diversity in all things is awesome. Do not poison their open minds and generous hearts with your old prejudices.
While school is key, it’s not everything. By and large, what they are and who they will become is down to you, to what you discuss at the dinner table, and how you behave towards, and talk about, others.
Sometimes your child will get saddled with a dud teacher. Don’t panic. Think of it as a good lesson in life, preparing them for how to manage that dud boss they will inevitably strike later on.
Encourage them to have friends outside of school. Cousins, neighbours, teammates; someone they can look to for companionship if things temporarily turn to custard with their classmates.
Don’t be too strict. If they are never allowed to play Xbox or eat Zombie Chews, they will grow obsessed with what is forbidden. Being conversant in pop culture is just as important at 6 as it is at 36. If they have never watched Nickelodeon or eaten an Oreo McFlurry it will set them apart from their peers. Other kids are quick to spot the social pariah.
Put in the hard yards with other parents. Make friends with your offspring’s friend’s parents. You never know when you might need to call on them.
Don’t treat the playground like a continuation of your own school days. You are too old for games of petty one-upmanship.
Don’t fill their every afternoon with activities. Leave a day or two to mooch about and hook up with other kids. Yes, they could be getting extra maths’ tutoring, but they could also be making and selling lemonade on a stall at the end of the driveway. Yes, they could be training for the cheerleading squad but they could also be practising flick-flacks under a sprinkler on the trampoline.
If you can afford it though, do enrol your child in extracurricular swimming lessons. Few schools these days have pools and a couple of days’ instruction during the year is insufficient.
Do help out around the school occasionally. Volunteer where you can. Actually being there provides real insight into how things work beyond the school gate. Besides, people will notice if you never put up your hand to sizzle the sausages, marshal the cross country or reshelf the readers. And, you never know, it could even enrich your life.