Daily pleasures

Dear Parents: A Back To School Wish List

It’s Back-To-School Time in 3…2…1

I am a teacher.  I have been teaching for over 25 years.  I have taught most of my career in Elementary school.  I have also had the pleasure of teaching just about every age group you can imagine from mom-and-tot to 80 year olds.

I am currently home on leave.  Suffice it to say, I have seen many a back-to-school season over the years.  I, too, have crawled through the aisles to find all the things I need for my classroom.  I go, day after day, to check off my list of items, as it gets closer and closer to the long weekend.  I see all you parents out there searching for that ‘just right’ binder and the right number of duo-tangs to suit your needs.

Back to School Shopping

I happen to work for a school board that supplies children with the items they need for the classroom.  No longer do we send home an exhaustive list of things for parents to get for school.  We don’t require the parents in our community to scour through the checklist: buying 12 of this colour for a child in Grade 1 and 14 of that colour for their child in Grade 4, etc.

I think the idea of the school providing the tools students need is a great one…in theory.  I see that it can avoid the glaring disparity between the children who come from homes where all their needs are met, and those coming from homes where needs are not able to be met.  In theory, it evens the playing field.  I really am grateful for that.  I think the philosophy is sound.

Pressures of having the ‘right’ thing

The reality is, children and parents still rush off to get the ‘it’ items of the year.  Maybe it’s a special binder that has 8 subjects in one for your new Middle School child.  Maybe it’s the right new calculator for that student finishing High School.  Maybe you’re just all out getting notebooks, paper, pencils, and markers along with your haircut for the first day of school…frantically getting ‘ready’.

A back-to-school wish list from a teacher

From a teacher, who loves teaching and being with little ones, here is my two cents worth.  If I had a list for you, this is what I would ask parents for when they are getting ready for the new school year.

  1. A family calendar:

    Buying a back-to-school family calendar that goes up on the wall somewhere in your home can be an interactive snapshot of each month at school.  Your child, whether she be in Kindergarten or Grade 12, is learning to take responsibility for her own agenda.

    Students are asked to show a signed agenda each day at school (sign it please). This means you have both: looked through it, you have taken out any pertinent forms or notices, and you have logged the important dates for the future.  Your child will have to learn to do this on their own someday. Getting a large family calendar that you all help to keep track of things, means your child is learning the importance of school and the value of being accountable.

    back to school
    Family Calendar
  2. Indoor shoes:

    I cannot tell you how many times I have heard ‘my mom says I can wear the same shoes for indoor and outdoor’.  I am not sure how it works in the United States but I can tell you that I have never, EVER been to a school in Canada where this is the case.  The custodial staff at our schools have a ton of work to do each day. They have to clean the school from head to toe. In addition to that, they pick up all the errant soccer balls, toys that get thrown here and yonder, and clean up after children that have been ill.  I can tell you, cleaning the halls three or four times a day because students do not change shoes is not fun to add to their list.

    Wearing your outdoor shoes indoors means the classroom gets filled with mud and grass and gets all over carpets and clothes (yes, we do sit down on the floor and carpets…teachers included).  It also means scuffing and getting grass stains on hardwood gym floors.  And, most importantly, wearing the proper indoor shoes means no cuts, scrapes, snags, etc in inappropriate shoes. Please send your child to school with labeled, indoor shoes on the first day and leave them there!

    back to school

  3. Labels for everything:

    At my last school there were 475 students.  We had approximately 100 students in Kindergarten and another 50 or so in Grade 1.  Just using these 150 students as a guide, you can imagine how many pieces of clothing this entails.  Now factor in that they are all about the same size and in our town of 46,000, that they have a rather limited number of shops to buy from.  In addition to this, include the idea that there are ‘cool’ clothes that every child of a certain age wants, and we have a recipe for disaster. One child’s clothes looks identical to those of another.

    Your child needs to label everything that they wear.  Take a good old fashioned permanent marker with a fairly fine tip and go crazy.  Label, label, label, and label some more.  I know many parents don’t want names on the outside, I get it…but there are any number of places to label clothes…please, please, please do this one task.  So many of your child’s clothes look like about 50 other child’s clothing and we, as teachers, cannot tell them apart. We throw out literally thousands of kilograms of clothes every year (I’m not sure that donating the clothes would even be ethical).

  4. A big enough backpack:

    Your child’s backpack needs to be large enough to fit a lunch kit, water-bottle, and a pair of snowpants.  The latest comic book hero or princess theme is not important; these bags are often too small, made of flimsy materials, and the zippers are not strong enough and fail very soon into the school year.

    If I were a parent to young ones, I would take along a pair of snow pants and go shopping for back packs.  There will be days that your child’s bag will get that full.  Test it out at the store ahead of time and make sure YOUR CHILD can get them into the bag herself (this is a great thing to practice at home in the days before school for those entering Kindergarten to Grade 2). And remember…always pack school bags the night before…you only have lunch kits to pack in the morning!

  5. A refillable water bottle with a drink nozzle:

    It is not acceptable, by any standards, to send your child to school with a plastic, single-use, water bottle.  First and foremost, most city drinking water is more than adequate for drinking (unless you have a boil water advisory). Single-use plastic water bottles are responsible for billions of tons of plastic waste in our oceans and is polluting our resources.

    A refillable water-bottle with a drinking nozzle is important because, as mentioned above, your child will carry it IN his backpack.  Getting to school with a soaked backpack, sopping wet sandwich, and wet spare clothes is not a great way to start the day.  Wide mouth water bottles mean that spills happen far more frequently.  Also, save the glass bottles for older children please.  Little ones just are not aware enough of their environment to be able to handle glass.

    back to school
    Refillable Water Bottle
  6. A commitment to read to your child at least 15 minutes a day:

    It has been proven that children these days are lacking alone time with their parents.  The advent of the smartphone has not so much hampered children’s ability to concentrate as it has stolen precious connection time with parents.  This generation of parents spends a lot of time on their devices, time that used to be used to snuggle up with a good book and teach your child about the wonders of the imaginary world that exists in books.  We do a lot of reading at school and it is a given that your child will spend time reading but we teachers cannot provide that jammy to jammy snuggle time that only a parent or loved one can provide.

    A love of reading at a young age is proven to increase the likelihood that your child will succeed at school and go on to higher learning opportunities.  Ditch the pokemon cards, the latest fidget craze, the crazy new fad binders that ‘everyone will have’ except your child and promise your child’s teacher that you will spend those 15 minutes at the end of the day to teach your child to love learning.  (All the day’s news comes out in the last 15 or 20 minutes before a child goes off to sleep…they need that time to release their day’s stress in order to start tomorrow off fresh). You’ll be surprised what comes out at story time…believe me…we get to hear all about home when we stop and take the time to read to your child too!

  7. A good night’s sleep:

    Please send your child to bed.  This is a time when parents need to be parents.  No devices, no games, no negotiations.  Set a reasonable bed time (you can read this article to find an age-appropriate time) and stick to it.  Summer is over…long nights out way past our bedtimes are for days when sleeping in is an option.  Start to go to bed earlier these next few days before Tuesday so your child is ready to face the week of school.

    Sleep is a major contributor to physical, mental, and emotional health.  It is during sleep that your child’s body will get the chance to process what is learned and to repair the physical toll the day has taken on them.  Adequate sleep is a habit that is essential to establish when children are young in order to set them up for success later in life. Believe me, I wind down at 8:30 PM, and physically in bed by 9:00, and lights out by 9:30 PM for a 5:30 wake up time.  Your child, no matter what age, needs a very good night’s sleep…and so do you.

    back to school
    Good night’s sleep
  8. An open mind:

    Your child will come home with stories from school.  Things will happen and your child will be super mad at a classmate, a teacher, or a peer.  Take it in stride.  My grandmother used to say to me, as I mentioned in my piece about Mothers: ‘Believe half of what you hear, and none of what you see’.  She said that because she knew that a school is like a small town.  You have things that look like they’re happening one way and you find out weeks later that things were not at all as they seem.  You hear someone’s side of an issue, only to find out that the other party did no such thing.

    Believe me, we hear all about how awful parents are too…only to find out that parent and child had a huge blow out minutes before they walked in the door.  Your child’s teacher got into teaching because they love kids.  Most teachers are reasonable and human.  We make mistakes.  We get stressed. And we also may connect with your child in a way that you may not.  That is just the nature of being a teacher.

    We have 25-30 students in a class that are all your child’s age.  You have one child your child’s age at any given time.  You may have done it four times…we have often taught the same age of child 1000 times.  We know different things but we are all after the same goal.  We want your child to feel great about being them and we want them to grow into responsible, loving citizens of the world. Work together with your child’s teacher so you can both achieve that goal!

I hope this is the start of a great school year

There it is…my personal wish list of back-to-school supplies for any parent.  Yes, I would love to have a classroom filled with every possible craft supply and book and binder or duotang in the world.  My dream would be to open my cupboard and feel like I was looking into a stationary store.  I do think it is very helpful if you thought about the group as a whole and contributed a few boxes of kleenex or some sanitary wipes because I buy those with my own money. But really, if I have to spend my own money on that stuff, that would be fine, if every parent could commit to these 8 things on my wish list for back to school.

I wish all my colleagues a super wonderful first week of school next week.  (Or second week for those already back at it). And to parents, I hope your child learns, together with you and their teacher, to become all they are intended to be.

I have to say….I think teaching is SOMETHING WONDERFUL….and I look forward to going back when I am better!

Love Ingrid x


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