Family life

Five things I learned from the first year of school

Tracy made some rookie moves this year, but in the end, she and her daughter both survived to face second grade.

By Tracy Chappell
Five things I learned from the first year of school

With a triumphant grin, Anna crosses off and replaces the number on our chalkboard noting the days left of school. Just 14 more to go. It’s funny that even a child who adores school as much as she does still eagerly anticipates the final countdown.

Anna has done an amazing job of grade one, and I couldn’t be more proud. She’s snuggling up to read in her bed on her own (though still prefers us to read to her, which I’ll enjoy as long as she lets me), she’s printing up stories and notes and letters (and has suddenly become very neat when she does), she’s asking us to create "hard" math quizzes for her, and has a good grasp on counting money and telling time. Anna has also made good friends and gained the confidence to volunteer to do readings at assemblies and during morning announcements. Her enthusiasm for school is the thing I hold most precious, and hope with all my heart will continue.

So Anna has learned everything she needs to move on to grade two in the fall. But what about me? I’ve learned quite a lot from her first year of all-day school, too.

  1. There are a lot of P.A. days.

I had no idea. Basically, there is one every month, even in March and December, when the kids already have weeks off. Because I don’t work Fridays, this wasn’t usually a problem, but when they fell on a Monday, I found myself muttering through clenched teeth, “A P.A. Day again?! You've got to be kidding!”

Speaking of P.A. Days, twice I looked at Anna’s agenda late in the evening to see: “P.A. Day tomorrow! No school!” Ooops. How could I miss these things (and more than once)? I blame it on the fact that our school sends out monthly e-newsletters, so I end up reading them at work instead of at home, and you know how I’m tied to that ridiculously large wall calendar in my kitchen! So I promptly forget all about the newsletter and all of its “dates to remember.” My friend also texted me several times this year to ask me if I was going to such-and-such event at the school that day and I wouldn’t know what she was talking about. #momfail. I’ll do better next year. Promise.

  1. You have to speak up for your kids.

It’s definitely not kindergarten anymore. Last year, Anna’s teacher walked out to the courtyard with the class and waited at the gate for parents to pick their kids up, and was there to chat about whatever you wanted to discuss, or to bring up any issues that came up that day. This year, I was lucky to catch a glimpse of Anna’s teacher most days, and I missed that ability to communicate casually, instead of always trying to catch her. There were only two parent-teacher “meetings” all year, and even they were so rushed. Anna’s teacher was fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But when something came up last month that really bothered me, I did end up calling to complain just so I could talk to a real live person about the way it was handled. I was reminded that Anna is a little fish in a big pond, and I have to be the one to keep myself informed of what’s going on, because no one’s necessarily going to do that for me. I’m considering joining the parent council next year, though I hear so many different perspectives on it that I’m not sure (would love to hear your thoughts!).

  1. They aren’t learning what we were learning.

“Don’t write in your fancy cursive, Mommy!” Anna would say when she was trying to read one of my notes on our calendar. Though she’s only in grade one, I now know that cursive isn’t taught in some schools anymore. What? Hard to believe that handwriting is going to look like Greek to our children, unless we take it upon ourselves to teach them. Anna’s teacher also informed us that spelling is no longer in their grade one curriculum. For real. Spelling. Luckily, Anna’s teacher was similarly appalled with the directive, and still gave the kids weekly spelling tests, though she wasn’t allowed to include these marks in their official grades. I was grateful she was “old school” enough to understand the importance of teaching kids to spell. Seriously.

  1. Kids can surprise you.

As I said, Anna has had an amazing year. Last year she did well academically, but had some behaviour and social struggles and I worried that sitting in a desk all day would drive her up the wall, literally. I wasn’t sure how things would go. But she has shown a real love of learning and a great attitude. School is definitely a happy place for her. Her teacher, Mrs. G, told me she has to keep Anna busy — that she tends to finish work quickly and can be disruptive if she’s bored, so Mrs.G just made sure she didn’t have the chance to get bored, and started her on grade two work earlier this term so she was feeling challenged (we lucked out again with teachers this year). I was talking to Anna the other day about all the things she learned in grade one and she said, “I know, I know, you’re proud of me. You don’t have to say it.” But I am, and I do have to say it. She’s worked so hard to manage her impulses and focus her energy and approach things with positivity — and those are tough that skills that no one can teach, it’s all up to her. Amazing to think of what grade two will bring. But first, that countdown to summer. Let's not rush things.

This article was originally published on Jun 11, 2013

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