Tag Archives: School

A School Supply Rant

When I was a kid, one of the few things that took the sting out of going back to school every fall was getting to pick out new school supplies. Finally getting to use markers in fourth grade was the epitome of excitement until I found out they would only be used to diagram sentences.

And for my kids, this tradition of choosing a special notebook to scrawl their math work in is no different. So when we get the list of supplies, buy them, and fill and label a bag of supplies for each kid every August, I expect my kid to use what I bought.

school supplies

School supplies for my kids. Some were carefully chosen.

Every June I get a little miffed when my kids bring home what they’ve used all year and it wasn’t what I paid for. It wasn’t the special Tinkerbell notebook my daughter picked out. Some other kid got that. And look, that’s not the red folder I bought because scratched out in the tattered bottom corner is some kid’s name from the previous year.

Our school tries to encourage pooling supplies like crayons, glue, markers, and pencils. You buy it and bring it in and the teachers divvy it up for the kids. It’s a system that “works best.”

I can certainly understand that not every family can afford to buy school supplies. I’m OK with buying extras, contributing to a fund, anything. But if I splurge and spend a few extra dollars on a white three-ring binder that won’t fall apart the first month of school and Susie So-and-So gets hers from the dollar store, guess who ends up with the cheap binder and who gets my nicer one? If I put my kids’ supplies in a bag with their name on it, why don’t they end up with it? Do little elves decide who gets what? Do they run around the room and pick an item from Susie’s bag and put it on Johnny’s desk? Would Johnny like a Tinkerbell notebook? It’s like those Christmas swaps. You spend the $10 limit on a gift and end up with the gift someone grabbed from her yard sale bin, where it should have stayed.

As for the pooling, for half of kindergarten my son had only orange, brown, and gold crayons. I’m certain I bought him an entire box with a rainbow of colors. Why could he only draw muddy pictures? I volunteer in the classrooms. Pencils are never sharpened and are strewn across the floor. Glue sticks are always empty. The kids don’t care about those supplies because they aren’t theirs. But their scissors are labeled with their names, and I’ve seen kids panic when they misplace those for more than twenty seconds. So doesn’t keeping up with their own things make them take care of them better?

Kids can’t take ownership and responsibility if they aren’t required to keep up with their own things. When I was in school, we had our own bins filled with our own supplies. We had to keep things neat and in control. We learned organization. A pooling system doesn’t encourage that kind of responsibility. I’m sure it’s supposed to encourage sharing, but kids can share their own supplies. I’ve seen that in action.

Next week we take in our bags of brand-new supplies, ready for someone else’s child to get. I hope they like the notebooks my kids spent an hour picking out.

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The Writing’s on the Wall: My Kids May Never Learn Cursive

For most of third grade, my son begged me to teach him cursive writing. It’s no longer part of the state curriculum and I feel it’s a skill that shouldn’t be tossed aside just yet. Even with the advancement of technology, people should still be able to sign their names on documents, unique signatures that no one else in the world has. And cursive writing just looks so much better, so formal. It should never become a lost art that people have to ask their grandparents how to do.

I told my son I’d teach him the loops and curves of cursive this summer when we had time to sit down and practice and enjoy it.

It’s summer. My daughter, who will enter second grade in the fall, wanted to learn to write her name in cursive too. So we began our lesson the other day with much excitement. I have vivid memories of practicing letters daily in my third-grade class to precision. And because I’m a lefty, I had to turn my paper a different way from everyone else. Since I would be teaching, I could forgo the idiotic paper slant and concentrate on the basic script.

cursive writing, mominthemuddle.com

Let’s write H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E.

The kids watched as I formed a cursive a. Both formed theirs with ease. A few letters later I demonstrated how to join letters to form words. I glanced at my son’s paper, shocked to see that he had already moved on to write the rest of the alphabet without me, using our guide as a reference. Some of them weren’t right. I had lost control over one of my students and I’m not sure where I went wrong. I taught my daughter how to write her name. My son wrote his and I pointed out a few errors. Things were getting tense around the table and he tried again.

“Let me show you how to do an r,” I said. “And an n shouldn’t have a straight line.” I tried to demonstrate.

“I just want to learn to write my name!” he yelled as he tried and tried again, determined not to watch any of my examples.

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to show you. You asked me to teach you.”

He said he was right and then he cried because I wouldn’t help him. I was ambushed by homework flashbacks, a killer mood swing, and possible hormones. The lesson needed to end.

When he showed my husband his cursive writing later, my husband bluntly said, “Your n isn’t right. It shouldn’t have that line. It looks like an m.” My son suppressed a grin and tried not to look at me.

Validation. Sort of.

If for no other reason than the sanity of moms, this is why they should still teach cursive writing in school.

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I Volunteer

For the past four years, I have volunteered weekly in my kids’ classrooms. I usually only spend an hour or two there but I am exhausted when I leave. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a teacher.

This year seems to be my last year of weekly classroom help. Second-grade teachers don’t need parents like I need them. Next year I’ll have to find other classes to help in or other ways. I’ll miss the routine.

When helping in my daughter’s first-grade class this year, groups of kids rotated every fifteen minutes. I got four to six kids at a time. They rolled on a floor covered in chunks of dirt from their shoes. They fought over who was supposed to have what book. They wrestled, took off their shoes, talked, needed pencils sharpened, sucked up strings of snot that hung to their chins, told me they didn’t need a tissue, used pencils as Wolverine claws, sang, did a little work, went to the bathroom for fifteen minutes, ate boogers or scabs, tattled, and argued over how they would pair up to play a game.

I refereed, told the kids what books they were supposed to have, told them wrestling moves were not part of their assignment, pointed out the tissue box, sharpened pencils, told them to do work, helped them read words, told them to stop singing and talking, told them to get out from under my chair, told them that pencils are for writing, listened to stories about their cat, dog, or baby brother, and said “Good job.” Then the next group came and the cycle repeated.

Every class I’ve helped in has been different. Some groups have been more challenging than others, but I did it every year because I simply love it.

English: This is one of the kindergarten rooms...

I’ve enjoyed every minute in the classroom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started volunteering when my son was in kindergarten as a way to adjust to long days without him. My son rarely cracked a smile when he saw me, much less said hello. But I quickly loved helping the other kids read sight words, figure out an addition problem, or just giving them attention.

I worked with kids who had trouble learning their ABCs and sight words. The teacher had me quiz them on sight words. They’d squirm. They’d all but panic. I wasn’t allowed to help them. I knew they hated it. I hated it. But I’d say nice job or find a way to compliment them during class.

Those kids who had the hardest time hardly ever talked to me. I couldn’t blame them. At the end of the year, those were the kids who came up and squeezed me around my waist on my last day. No words. Just a surprise, quick hug. I left with a lump in my throat. I knew it was worth it.

In college, I volunteered in a pre-kindergarten classroom. The teacher told me that some of the kids didn’t get much attention at home. I could tell. They all wanted to show me everything they could do. They fought over who would hold my hand. I learned more in that classroom than I did in many of my college courses, and I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

I volunteer because I know what my kids get at home every day, but I don’t know what another kid’s home life is like. Even though I had loving parents as a kid, it was always nice when someone else took an interest in me. When someone other than your parent takes notice, you take notice in yourself. Sometimes all it takes is a positive comment. “You did a great job reading today.” “Wow, look at you reading those big words.” “I’m proud of you.”

You just never know. So you do it for all of them.

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My Second Chance at the First-Grade Play

My daughter had her first-grade play last night. After what felt like a disaster at my son’s first-grade play, I wanted to make sure this one went smoothly. I took what I learned from my son’s play to make sure my daughter’s was a success…for me.

As the parent of a second child, I sometimes feel mine gets gypped. When all of those first experiences happen with your first child, you run through every extreme of emotions in a way you never thought possible. That first child that you waited forever for? All eyes were on him. The first day of kindergarten? Two weeks worth of tears finally cleared up my battered heart.

When my second child was born, I was breathless. She was a beauty. But I couldn’t help but be concerned about how my son would react. Her first day of kindergarten? Not a tear. I knew what to expect and I held it together. I could be excited with her.

As a second child myself, I never really felt gypped. This gives me hope.

But there are some ways that being the second child is a good thing. Like when I screw up something with my son, I make sure I nail it for my daughter. It’s like having a second chance at my parenting shortcomings.

When my son had his first-grade play two years ago, his teacher instructed us to arrive at 6:30. We did. Everyone and their grandmother and aunt, uncle, and cousin already had a seat in the school’s tiny cafetorium. We had to sit in the very back. During my son’s first, and I’m quite certain last, square-dance performance, I couldn’t see a thing. I even stood up. My daughter kept repeating, “I can’t see.” I couldn’t either. I could only tell my son later what a great job he did, and I couldn’t even be sure.

It had been a miserable evening for me. A late arrival. I had busted the heel of both shoes the moment we arrived and left a trail of rubber crumbs everywhere I went. I feared the entire heel would fall off in one big chunk and walking took extreme caution. I couldn’t see my son in the performance he had talked about for weeks. I fought a huge lump in my throat.

My saving grace was that someone recorded the play and gave me a copy a few weeks later. I never told my son that was the first time I was seeing his performance.

When my daughter performed, I was not going to allow a repeat. We would arrive an hour early for seats up front if we had to. And we did. Third row. We made faces at our daughter. I recorded her speaking part between the heads of the people in front of me. I got to see her every move, every toothless grin.

Finally, I nailed it. And I even wore shoes that didn’t crumble.

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Not the Sound of Music

While I initially feared the sound of a dying cat clawing its way up a blackboard, I was relieved at the sound of a more tolerable low, moaning whistle. My son brought home a soprano recorder from school last week. He needs to learn songs as part of a music grade.

Knowing my son, he will diligently practice. Already I’ve heard the choppy notes of “Hot Cross Buns” early in the morning, after school, and before his bedtime stories, but I have to give my son credit for making the effort without any prompting from me.

My son playing a recorder

"Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny..."

I fear the reason is because anytime my kids get a whistle, kazoo, or flutophone, I firmly instruct them not to blow that thing in the house or anywhere within earshot of me. The sound pierces my ears, and it doesn’t take long for a headache to sink in when my kid’s musical attempt sounds like a torture device stuck on repeat. For years I have confiscated these things at any sign of abuse, meaning one shrill note too many, and stored them high atop our refrigerator with other illegal toys. Having a noisemaker with permission from school means my son can basically huff and puff on it whenever he pleases, all in the name of pass or fail. It’s like they’ve given him their blessing to taunt me.

Well thank you, school system. Thank you for bursts of unhinged melody, constant squeaks, and boring repetition. Two more years of this, I might add.

The bright side? It could have been drums.

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Who Learned More on the Overnight Trip: the Chaperone or the Kids?

I recently chaperoned a two-night third-grade field trip and lived to tell about it. Previous field trips have left me exhausted and irritable, so I was nervous. Never having experienced an overnight camp as a child, I set out with another mom, our kids, and a carload of more crap than we needed not knowing what to expect. I felt certain we’d get no sleep, I’d be grumpy, the boys would be wild, and it would rain to the point where we’d need canoes to get around. I was wildly mistaken, pleasantly surprised, dry, hot, hungry, tired, and eager to learn.

Here’s a recap:

1. I learned how to read a compass and follow a course through a horse pasture. Each point we found led to another point and so on. Thankfully, we found nothing else.

Thanks to a compass course, at least I know what to do if I get lost in the woods now, or a horse pasture.

2. I learned there are more than 70,000 types of U.S. soil. The kids talked about viscosity, porosity, horizons, and permeability, which is not “when you get a perm,” in case you were wondering.

3. A field of geese is an open invitation to a gaggle of boys who just had to sit quiet and still for 30 minutes and listen to a cool bird presentation. They couldn’t upset the birds being shown inside, but no one said anything about the geese outside, who I’m pretty sure won’t return to that field for a while.

4. I learned that a dark, quiet, blow-up astronomy dome showing the night sky offers a perfect place to catch up on missed sleep. Just be aware when the instructor points the laser in your direction and you’re suddenly in the constellation spotlight.

5. I learned that I can’t sleep to the sound of 11 sleeping bags swishing and plastic mattresses scrunching all night after day one, but after day two, I can sleep through almost anything.

6. When given the option, boys who don’t have their moms with them will not shower for three days, regardless of how sweaty they’ve gotten, how much grass and sand they’ve rolled around in, and whether they splashed around a little too much in the stagnant water in aquatics class.

7. When allowed to go through the dining hall line alone, boys will return with a plate full of carbs, cheese, and not much else. When you point out they could have made a salad with the lettuce, they tell you they didn’t see that.

8. When asked about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, half the kids say going to that camp, fishing for their first time while there, or catching their first fish there. I learned that for some, in their short lives, it was a lifetime experience.

9. Third graders are really smart. They knew answers I didn’t expect them to know and made conclusions I didn’t expect them to connect.

10. During the course of our stay, the parents struggled a bit to keep up, wished for better sleeping accommodations, cursed bathroom stalls that required feats of contortionism to use, and yearned for gourmet food. I didn’t hear the kids whine, fuss, or complain about the heat, the long days with no breaks or snacks, the gross food, or little sleep. For them, it was thrilling hands-on learning outside the classroom.

The camp may have been geared toward kids, but I know I learned a lot.

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Field Trip Anxiety: Two Nights, 80 Kids Equals Panic for This Chaperone

A father and I talked on the school playground the other day about an upcoming overnight third-grade field trip we are chaperoning. We both admitted to being a little nervous about it. We’ve both chaperoned field trips before. But as the conversation continued, I realized he had not thought this overnight thing through as much as I had.

I began to talk about kids who may not have ever been away from home before and homesickness and worry about how to get them to sleep.

“Gee, I hadn’t thought about that,” he said.

I talked about how exhausted I am after just a few hours on a regular field trip and what will two nights and three days of constant yammering and nonstop drama and incessant whining do to me?

Then I mentioned that I hoped the stomach bug that was going around didn’t plan a surprise attack in the bunks one night.

His face scrunched up. I’m sure he wanted to run from me.

“I was excited for this trip, but I hadn’t thought about all this,” he said. I think I took a pin and popped the air out of his balloon.

I think too much. There’s no doubt about it. I can think a topic to death. I think about every possible terrible thing that could happen and how I can possibly handle it, and then I’m pleasantly surprised when things go smoothly or things are just boring, as my life so often turns out.

But I must say I was surprised that this father hadn’t thought about these things because being with so many other people’s kids for two nights will be a challenge whether or not anything catastrophic happens.

The last field trip I chaperoned didn't require sleeping bags, just snacks evidently.

Doesn’t he remember what a normal field trip is like? The last field trip I was on, I had five boys in the rain for four hours with no snacks. In the end, I’m not sure who was grumpier, the boys or me. For four hours they griped, whined, complained, and fussed about being hungry. Like zoo animals, I really was not supposed to feed them. My blood sugar was getting low. I get headaches when I don’t eat. I had a snack. But I didn’t have enough to share with five boys and I felt too guilty to eat in front of them. So we trudged through mist and misery. The boys didn’t want to look at the historic buildings or listen to people dressed in colonial garb talk about life with no computers and no TV. They saw corn cakes cooking in the fire and wanted to reach their weak arms over and steal one out of the hot pan. The only respite of the morning: a paper-thin Moravian cookie that made our mouths water more and our stomachs pretty stinkin’ mad.

When lunchtime finally did approach, the boys had only strength enough to mosey across the entire colonial village back to the bus squatting, giggling, and cocking their rears side to side in an all-out potty-talk fest. “Pffft this” and “Pffft that.” “Oh, that was a good one!” I did not have energy or patience for this. My stomach had turned inside out and through a forced smile I begged them to catch up to me, stop that nonsense, and COME ON! My hands were shaking and food was minutes away. No silly boys and their bathroom talk would keep me from my lunch. I was ready to ditch them.

That night, my conscience got the better of me. “I feel bad,” I told my husband. “I kind of yelled at the kids today.” I decided that in the heat of their third-grade foolery, they probably hadn’t noticed or cared.

I hope this trip next week goes smoother, though I’m bracing myself for no sleep, cranky homesick kids, and whatever the days may bring. I’ll sneak snacks if I have to, for my own sanity. And I’m gearing up for lots of fart jokes. Please send happy thoughts my way.

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