As I've mentioned a million times, we have tried nearly every form of schooling that is out there. We make changes when they are necessary, and we try to learn from the adjustments we've had to make. The biggest change was going from home school to the classroom. Here are ten things we learned the hard way.
(Please note: this post is intended to help parents who have some trepidation about starting their kids out in school. All of the "lessons" in it come directly from my own family's experience, and are not intended to mock, belittle, or stereotype anyone. If you insist on assuming that my motives are foul, just remember what they say: "assume" makes an "e" out of you and your, um, ass. Or something.)
1. A kid who is old enough to go to school is old enough to pack his own lunch. However, an adult must inspect these lunches regularly to make sure they have more nutritional content than the bag in which they are packed. No, checking how heavy the bag is does not count.
2. Teachers do not want tea lights or magnets or paperweights or wreaths or adorably decorated clothes pins. They want gift cards to office and craft supply stores; and they want boxes of tissues. Or, they would settle for a thank-you letter. They might actually prefer a thank-you letter.
3. Being a Catholic means you're going to be different, and kids need to learn, sooner or later, that it's not the end of the world to be different. If your kids are going to be in an environment where they are the only Catholics around, they need to have constant reminders (in word and in deed) that Christians are bearers of Good News, not bearers of hostility and smugness. Also, If you are a serious practicing Catholic, you're just as likely to stand out in a typical Catholic school as you are to stand out in a secular school. The wearin' of the plaid is not a guarantee of an excellent faith formation and a wholesome environment, so pay attention.
4. Skip the personal bottles of hand sanitizer to be used every time your snowflakes come into contact with the outside world. Try and remind them to wash their hands before they eat, but just resign yourself to some sniffles and pukies, and get on with your life. But don't let them share hats or hairbrushes! Trust me on this one.
5. Most teachers are not the enemy. We've run across a few teachers who genuinely don't like or understand kids; and sometimes a situation really is unendurable, and you need to switch teachers or even switch schools. But generally, if a teacher is in the classroom, it's because he wants to do right by your kid. So if there is a problem, start by believing that you can at least partially solve it together with the teacher, rather than by believing that you need to protect your child from the teacher. It's much easier to communicate with someone when you go into it acting like you're on the same side.
6. If you're going to believe everything your kid says about what happened in school ("Mrs. Fleishhacker says that she was going to beat me with barbed wire if I didn't wear matching socks tomorrow!"), then it's only fair that your kid's teacher should believe everything your kid says about what happens at home ("Here is my picture of my family eating breakfast! All those whiskey bottles are my mom's").
7. Yes, your kid will probably change somewhat when they're put into a new situation. This is just human, and not necessarily a bad thing. Be ready and open to embrace positive changes, as well as being on the alert to ferret out bad changes.
8. Do be concerned about a kid whose behavior changes drastically -- a cheerful kid who becomes quiet and withdrawn, ir a cooperative kid who becomes defiant and obstinate. Some changes are normal when kids are adjusting to a new environment, but if you're worried, trust your instincts and look into it. There could be any number of things going on: a bad teacher, a good teacher who is approaching your kid the wrong way, a bully, a character defect in your own child, not enough sleep, hunger, or any of dozens of physical, emotional, psychological, or situational problems that don't have anything to do with school. Most kids go through rough patches at one time or another, so if this happnes to your kids, don't assume he's lost or ruined or that you're a failure; but do take it seriously if your kid is unhappy.
9. Remember that you are still in charge of your child's education. If there's something they're not getting at school, you give it to them. If they're hearing something that's not true, correct it. If you need someone else's help to educate your kids, that is not an objective failure on your part! Remember that they're still your kids, and you can and must be the primary influence in how they see and respond to the world.
10. You're not going to get an ideal education in a brick and mortar school. You're also not going to get an ideal education by home schooling, or by unschooling, or by semi schooling, or co-schooling, or private schooling, or charter schooling, or attending-all-the-conferences-and-working-yourself-into-a-damp-spot-on-the-carpet schooling. Some schools are better than others, but since we are dealing with finite time and human nature, there will always be gaps. Expect this, fill in what you can, and remember that your kids are people, not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We're making people, here, not soup.