I Kissed Packing Lunches Good-Bye: A Summary of Recent Life Changes

If there’s one household chore that bogs me down the most, it’s packing lunches. It’s the end of a long day, and I’ve just completed the great struggle of getting the kids in bed while trying my hardest not to lose my temper. I certainly don’t want the words “You drive me crazy!” to be the last thing they hear me say before they fall asleep.

I wearily stumble to the kitchen. Unable to organize my thoughts, I absent-mindedly check email before I start packing lunches. OR maybe I decide to read for 10 minutes… then I’ll pack the lunches. Well, checking emails turns into writing emails; and reading for 10 minutes quickly becomes an hour. Pretty soon I’m ridiculously tired, and those darn lunches still aren’t packed.

You may have noticed I’ve been saying “lunches”—plural. Yes, I pack two lunches each night (not that that is a big feat by any means!). And yes, as noted from the title, my days of packing BOTH lunches are over (at least for a good while).

First, let me tell you about the end of packing Daniel’s lunch. Well, it may come as a shock to you (because it sure has been a shock to me) that Daniel recently started a new job. Oh, no need to worry… he’s still reigning in Geekdom. It is just that Geekdom has become even more prevalent around here as he is now working from home for his new position.

“Are you going to like this?” a lot of people have asked me with raised eyebrows as we’ve leaked the news to family and friends. There’s a lot of positives to having Daniel work from home, most of which involve the convenience of having a person here to chaperone the kids while I run quick errands or exercise. (No more 5am runs in the dead of winter – Whoo Hoo!)

But don’t be fooled. If you envision Daniel and I sitting on a blanket in our backyard on a beautiful summer afternoon while the kids run around, me soaking my feet in a tub of cold water as Daniel programs and we intermittently joke about our neighbor mowing his lawn twice in the past three days, you’ve got the wrong idea.

The last time Daniel worked from home I rarely “bothered” him, meaning I rarely even saw him during a workday except for lunch. Yes, I do “bop” into his office to tell him I’m running an errand, but I don’t try to engage him in small talk… or any talk for that matter. (Remember  The ZONE  from “things I’m trying to love about living with a geek?”) So please don’t imagine this to be some euphoric marital bonding experience in the making.

And because when we change things around here, we like to do it big time, I will not be resuming packing Alice’s lunches five days a week come the beginning of the school year. I never!! thought I would be saying this; but after months and months of consideration, Daniel and I have decided to pursue different schooling for Alice for second grade.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a very long and boring post dissecting our reasons for pulling Alice out of her current school. But it was, indeed, very long and very boring, so I never posted it. (While copious amounts of homework as I wrote about in my last post isn’t exactly on the “plus” side of Alice’s current schooling situation, it was not a major factor in our decision to change schooling.) In my boring post, I went on and on about the emotional, behavioral and physical problems we have been linking to Alice’s current schooling over the past nine months. And while I still believe all of our reasons are valid and our decision has been confirmed again and again over the months, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.

Hear me loudly and clearly…. We do not! dislike our school district. In fact, I would give it very high marks for caring about the students and academic rigor. Truth be told, I see Alice going back to this school district at some point in her educational career (possibly even for third grade if this year doesn’t go well). But when we knew in our heart of hearts that what appeared to be the very best school wasn’t the right school for her, we felt there had to be a change—simple as that.

So where does that put us? We are currently on a waiting list for a hybrid homeschool program, 2 days at a private school and 3 days at home with lessons facilitated by the school and myself. Again, I want to be clear—Daniel and I have nothing against public schooling as both of us are well-adjusted (at least we like to think so) products of many years of public schooling. In general, we do not believe private schools are any better than public; nor do we believe that homeschooling is superior to public education (nor do we believe homeschooling is a religious duty/Biblical commandment as seems to be a growing idea amongst “Christians”). In fact, I’ve even told Alice’s current guidance counselor if the school district were to offer this type of program, we would definitely be pursuing it. The bottom line—Daniel and I believe this new school will offer Alice a different model of education, one that is more suited to her current needs, not a better education.

Usually after I answer all the questions about what Alice’s schooling will (hopefully) look like for next year, the question about Ian’s schooling comes up. Ian has another year before kindergarten, and my answer has been “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” The sames goes for Alice; I’m sure we’ll re-evaluate next year as well.

But for right now, this present moment, we are enjoying the changes that are coming, hopefully for the better. And I intend to bask in the joy of no more packing lunches.

 

When You’re Forced to Lie in First Grade

first grade

Most likely, when you read the title of this post, you assumed I was referring to my current first grader. Surprisingly, the title does not involve my daughter at all; in fact, Alice wasn’t even present for my act of dishonestly.

It all started one afternoon when I was volunteering in a first grade classroom, helping students in different stations while the classroom teacher met with smaller groups of students to discuss their reading assignment from the night before. (Alice wasn’t in this particular classroom.)

The teacher opened the time with a reprimand for the entire class about not completing last night’s assigned reading. She explained that “I had softball last night” is not a good excuse for not completing homework. She explained that kids need practice outside of school; this is why she assigns homework. She told the class it makes her frustrated when homework is not completed. She said all this in a very stern, but not abusive, fashion.

Then she turned to me. “I think Mrs. Miller would agree that homework is very! important, right Mrs. Miller?” Taken somewhat off-guard, I stumbled through my response of “Yes… homework is important,” trying hard to sound convincing.

Little did the teacher know, she had picked the wrong battle… or maybe the wrong mother.

What I would love to tell this well-intentioned teacher (as gently as possible) is that my number one reason for being excited for summer is no more homework. BUT… what I’d really like to tell the teacher (and any other teacher who will listen) is that “I was playing softball” or “I went to the library” or “I was visiting my Grandma,” should be a valid excuse for not completing homework, at least for a first grader.

Our children sit for 7-ish hours a day—in the classroom, at lunch, and on the bus. To ask a six or seven year old to sit for another hour after school when there’s a bike to ride, a ball to bounce, or a friend down the street to play tag with is nothing short of a crime. (Oh and by the way, children are not made for sitting for long periods of time in case we haven’t noticed the antsy boy who needs to sharpen his pencil four times in one hour as I have witnessed.)

Now, Dear Teacher, I know you honed in on the phrase “sit another hour ” in the above paragraph because I have obviously exaggerated the amount of homework my daughter receives. Believe me when I say that I was hopeful last year that my neighbor’s stories of first grade homework were exaggerated. Maybe she was having her child exceed the requirements of the teacher(s). Maybe her child is a slow reader, etc, etc.

Sorry to say… the hour’s worth of homework is not an exaggeration.

In January, when math and spelling worksheets became regular parts of the weekly homework regiment, I began logging how much time it took Alice to complete her assignments because I knew she was already topping 30 minutes before the added worksheets. After several weeks of logging 40 min–1hour of homework several times a week, I quit. It was too depressing. (Nor do I make Alice do all of the assigned “practice” each night either, so she should actually be spending more time some nights.) I also happen to know that she isn’t the only first grader spending this amount of time on homework each night.

Each day, Alice comes home, eats a snack and has a small amount of down time after school (usually spent reading a book of her choice). Then she does her homework, eats supper with the family, and goes through the bedtime routine. By the time this is all finished, there’s very! little time left for playing. Earlier this spring, I laughed when Alice told me the principal encouraged the students to get outside and play in the nice weather. I thought to myself “When does she have time for that? She’s too busy doing homework.”

And no, there’s no music lessons, soccer games or girl scout meetings filling up her precious down time. I honestly don’t know how families do after-school activities unless their children are going to bed much later than 8pm. I’ve even given up taking Alice on the bi-weekly library trip, something she misses greatly.

Dear Teacher, I have nothing against you personally. As an educator, I’m sure you’re doing what you think is best for your students. I’m sure you’ve considered that you could easily finish the reading assignment, math worksheet, math facts, spelling words, & class book you assigned for one night’s homework in 30 minutes. But I’m also sure you’ve noticed that your students take twice as long as you do to complete any given task (sharpening a pencil, hanging up a coat, using the restroom, etc.)—but even more so after already being “brain-drained” from school work. It leaves me questioning if the “extra practice” being assigned for home after already completing 6+ hours of school work actually provides any reinforcement for already exhausted minds.

If there’s one lesson I remember from college as an education major (and maybe you’ll remember it too when you read it), it’s this: play is a child’s work.

Play… Think about it.

painting

 

tower

innovation

Let’s imagine what your students might do instead of an hour of homework. On rare nights when there is no homework, the first thing Alice does is grab a book and reads… and reads… and reads (precisely what you would love for her to do!). Then she’ll go outside to ride her bike (improving motor skills, practicing balance) or beg to fly her kite (science 101). Or she might ask to make a dessert (following directions, using reading & math skills), or write a note to a friend (developing writing and social skills), or use a broken backhoe, a “My Little Pony” stroller, a twistie, some tape, and a segment of a marble run along with some construction paper to create an entirely new toy (too many skills to list).

Believe me, Sweet Teacher, even without the formal homework, your students are working hard to learn about the world around them. There can be so much learning occurring after they leave your care IF they are given the time to do it. Let’s give them a chance to learn the lessons of play and the world, not just the lessons of school.