BY LIZ CASE- SEARL |
What do our children really need as they head back to school?
I’ve been pondering this question over the past few weeks, as a mother, educator and now as a founder and co-executive director of Peconic Community School.
Just how has this back-to-school time we find ourselves in become a consumer experience? This is the part that has troubled me lately.
My son, nearly six years old, heads into first grade this year. At his back-to-school haircut, the barber asked him, “Are you all ready to go back to school?” He nodded earnestly and replied, “Yes.” Then the follow-up question: “Have you done all your back-to-school shopping?”
I gulp, thinking quickly, should I intercede? Should I say that we don’t really plan on doing any back-to-school shopping. Before I have the chance, my son states, “I pretty much have everything I need from kindergarten.”
Whew. I dodged it this time, but how long will he feel this way? How long will it be until the back-to-school consumer bug gets into his brain? How long until he feels he needs all new backpacks, lunch boxes, sneakers, clothes, binders, folders, pens and pencils — the works — before school starts? But more important, what does my son, and all our children, really need as they head back to school?
Of course they need some supplies. And yes, a strong pair of shoes that fit is a good idea. But it seems to me that outgrowing shoes should be the reason for buying new ones, not simply that a new school year is around the corner.
But here’s what we really need to provide our children with as the school year begins, without that trip to the mall.
1) A good night’s sleep
Endless summer days bleed into late summer nights, and our kids tend to get to bed later in the summer. So when the alarm rings on that first day of school, the lack of sleep can hit pretty hard. Therefore it’s a good idea to make sure your child gets enough sleep in the days leading up to the start of school. You might even want to consider doing a few trial runs on the new schedule. Sleep is so important for all of us it might be a good idea for mom and dad to get to bed a little earlier, too. In our family, an overtired child or parent usually translates into grumpiness. So as these summer days come to an end, we’ll do our best to make sure we all get a few extra winks.
2) A pause
In recent conversations with parents for the newly created Peconic Community School, we’ve been discussing how we dread the back-to-school morning rush.
There is little way to avoid it completely no matter how much you do the night before. There is still the breakfast preparation and eating, the getting dressed and the gathering of lunches, backpacks and more. It seems it is always a mad dash out the door, and sometimes lunches, or even “goodbyes” are forgotten. I recently read a tip that we will try in our home this year.
Take a pause. Every morning just before you head out the door, gather with your family, perhaps in a huddle. Come together for a moment and breathe together. For just a few seconds stop, breathe and then break. Pause so that you might go out into the day mindful of the love you have for each other despite the craziness. Taking this moment after the morning rush seems like a great antidote to the morning madness that harries even the most organized among us.
3) A tradition
When I was a child there was the requisite picture by the mailbox, and yes, I had on my brand-new back-to-school outfit and strong new shoes, plus a new lunch box, my hair in braids, and a crooked smile — all ready to go off to school. My stomach was in knots over the unknowns to come: How would I like my teacher? Would I have any friends? Would there be too much work?
But after that first stressful day, upon my return home I would be greeted by my mom and her homemade chocolate chip cookies. It sounds idyllic, and it was. But it’s the ritual of it that matters most. It happened every year, and it was a reliable routine. Lunch boxes came and went, shoes wore out, but the tradition remained.
Those cookies helped mark the momentous occasion, the start of it all. It was a little gift for making it through that first tenuous day.
It can be a simple tradition — pancakes for breakfast or a note in the lunchbox. With all the newness that the beginning of the school year brings, a reliable, albeit low-key, tradition offers much comfort, which, I promise, will not be forgotten.
4) A shopping trip to your local small business
We live in a small town on the North Fork and are fortunate to still have a mom-and-pop pharmacy replete with back-to-school supplies.
When we get the list from my son’s teacher we’ll be heading there to see what we can get from a small local business. And what we can’t get there he may just have to do without.
This might sound contradictory to number 3 — I stand by the simple tradition idea — but it may be best to consider doing little in the way of preparation for heading back to school. Maybe making a big deal about the transition just increases stress, nervousness and anxiety.
Perhaps if we take a low-key approach to going back to school we honor it as a normal passage of time that needs little pomp and circumstance. And maybe by doing nothing, we can bypass the co-opting of this time by big-box stores and rampant consumerism.
What else do our children really need as they head back to school? And more important, how can we take back this childhood rite of passage and realize that perhaps we already have everything we need from kindergarten?
Liz Casey Searl is a Southold resident and co-founder of the independent Peconic Community School, which is operating for the first time this school year. The school is located on the grounds of East End Arts in downtown Riverhead.