Unlike my slightly more aged colleagues here at McMillan Education, for me the elementary back-to-school frenzy is not a hazy memory in the rear-view mirror of my peacefully empty nest. With three children ages 7, 9, and 12 and a teacher husband, the end of August spawns a quickly metastasizing lump of queasy anxiety in my stomach. I brace myself for the screeching halt to my children’s carefree days of gradually waking mid-morning, shuffling to the kitchen to munch on a carb-loaded brunch feast, wallowing in unstructured play time outside until darkness falls and the mosquitoes emerge, and best of all - sauntering off to bed around 10pm after blissfully watching Ralph Breaks the Internet for the 37th time.
For, every year around September 4th or so, Fun Mommy - like a werewolf in the night - morphs into Drill Sergeant Momma, and our lives become dictated by outside forces: the clock, the first morning bell, uniforms, rules, homework, school supplies, sports practices, and a strictly enforced bedtime with all the flexibility of a Swiss train schedule. The only feeling more horrible than the light speed transition from summer vacation back to school was riding the Aerosmith 5G Rock’n’Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios after my husband and son coerced me to join them. I nearly tossed my Mickey Mouse Belgian waffles and met Jesus in the same day.
The stress of shifting gears from summer vacation back to school is nothing, however, compared to the deeper worries we all have about our children beneath the practical issues of lunchboxes and shoestrings and colored pencils. These are just convenient distractions from our real concerns: Who will my children’s teachers be? Will the teachers understand my children? Will they see their sparkle and specialness and gifts while also helping identify their struggles? Will my children make friends? How will my children meet the academic expectations of the curriculum? Will it be too hard, too easy, or just-Goldilocks-right? Parents of younger children are struggling with how to evaluate if they are ready for Kindergarten. Parents of older children might be wondering if they are really ready for middle school and all of the physical, social, and intellectual ambushes awaiting them as young teens. Watch out, dude. Puberty is lurking in that dark alley waiting to attack your vocal chords right when you land the lead in the school musical.
As parents, we feel like we are the experts on our own children. We know them better than anyone else, and they need our support and belief more than anyone else’s. But without a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, how do we know what a child is supposed to be like at 7 years old? Any time a teacher needs to point out any kind of bump in the road, whether it be academic, social, or behavioral, my question is always: Is this normal? I mainly need to know when my child is showing any kind of behavior or struggle - or, indeed, any kind of gift or advanced capability - that is outside the realm of what is expected for that age level.
Professionals are who we must turn to for that objective contextual perspective and expertise regarding intellectual development and age-appropriate milestones. I turn to the pediatrician, the teachers, sometimes my parents (although they were blessed with such an extraordinarily well-behaved and perfect little angel-daughter that they could hardly know what ‘normal’ children are like), and - quite frequently - my colleagues here at McMillan Education. They are the experts on educational development of humans at all ages and stages of life, and I am so lucky to be able to mooch free advice off them as we munch on our Caesar salads together. Keep an eye out for blogs from my friend Carolyn Nelson that will be helpful for parents like me in tracking their young children’s progress throughout their learning. I’m going to be reading her articles for advice to make sure my three little
monsters darlings are growing, exploring, learning, and making mistakes, just as they should be. Good luck, brothers and sisters! Hold on tight because Han Solo and Chewbacca are about to shift the Millenium Falcon into warp speed. I’ll see you on the other side of the galaxy.