Friday, June 17, 2011

What I Learned in Kindergarten

Today is the last day of kindergarten. I assume my daughter learned a lot, she is not one to come home and chat about her day. Mostly she just wants a snack. But I believe I have learned quite a bit about how to survive the daily onslaught that is our educational system. Obviously, this will change as my daughter actually adds say, real homework, to her daily routine, or a uniform, or a flow chart for her after-school activities. But for now, just for this one year, this is what I learned.

1. Backpack. Size matters. It has to be big enough to fit in a standard-sized lunchbox, but small enough not to overbalance them in a stiff wind (even though it will almost ever hold any books.) It must be checked daily. Water bottles, hair clips, the occasional small toy, and the never-ending stray crayons must be removed and put into their proper home.

2. Folder. She had a folder that came home every day. It contained every single piece of paper she had colored, cut, and pasted, as well as every note from the teacher, PTA, student council, cafeteria, superintendent, nurse, and room mom. It was also the source of birthday party invitations. This folder was a gaping hole of environmental destruction and had to be sifted very carefully, piece by piece to separate the actual useful information from the random art. Placement in this folder was very important: left side for home, right side for school. I intend to burn it in effigy.

3. Paperwork. In this day and age of e-mail, paper was still king in her elementary school. Nothing was sent electronically. Everything had to be signed, initialed, notarized, and practically fingerprinted. I learned the hard way to fill everything out and send it back immediately lest it get lost. (Putting it in a “safe place” just meant finding it two weeks past deadline.)

4. Money. There is no such thing as spare change once your child is in school. Quarters are a hot commodity. They buy pretzels. Small bills are also essential. No mother carries a twenty. What would we do with it? Fives and singles are the currency of the school yard.

5. Art. There is no craft as precious as the one you put in the trash yesterday. Random scraps are treasured gifts from friends. Everyone has a different way to deal with crafts. Find your own and stick to it. I employed a three prong method: fridge, playroom wall, or (after a suitable waiting period) trash.

6. Gossip. All the best gossip occurred at drop-off and pick-up. I made sure to figure out who had the best gossip and immediately befriended her. She had all the good stuff, not the water-down PTA version of events. I shall miss her. Luckily, I already know who has the goods at our new school.

7. Play Dates. Just say no.

8. Teachers. Nothing says “thoughtful parent” like the occasional gift of tissues, wipes, and sanitizer. I bought in bulk and deliver new supplies at the first outbreak of cold, flu, or stomach bug. A hand-pump of Purell a day could keep the doctor away.

9. Lunch. The school lunch is still a frightening thing. What are chicken fries? When did nachos become healthy? I let buy once a week on a pre-approved day. The rest of the time, she got water or milk, a sandwich, and fruit. No snacks, no cookies, no chips. Trust me, she got enough extra junk food during her school day, I didn’t need to add to it.

10. Volunteer. By doing what I could to get into my kid’s classroom as often as possible, I was able to get a much better idea of which kid to avoid, which teacher did what, and how well (or not) her classroom was handled. Of course, the downside was that once you go in once, you wind up going in for everything. The upside, lovely end-of-year gifts for being a good parent.

Next year, we are going parochial. God help us all.

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