If you’re making a transition to mainstream education, keep these things in mind …
Some of it was lovely. My bigger kids remember art class in the apple-y late-fall afternoons; easels in the backyard to record the last bursts of color before winter; wiry black-eyed Susans, the russet king maple in the neighbor’s yard; gingery winter carrots pulled from the cooling soil.
I’ll never forget favorite read-alouds with voice acting; crazy journal prompts; religion class live-streamed the day Pope Francis was elected; ice-skating at the arena alone because everyone else was in school.
But as my family grew into the shape meant for it, our direction changed. Four years ago, I enrolled my oldest in school. Soon after, I tucked away my homeschool materials. My second-youngest begins Kindergarten in a matter of days.
Transition can be exhilarating and exhausting. Here are some things I noted along the way …
Anxiety and exhaustion are all normal
The first day my eldest was in school, I packed up the other kids, bikes, and double stroller and walked, walked, and walked until they pleaded with me to stop and we ended up getting iced teas half across town. I was so stressed at what might be happening — maybe he hated it, maybe missed me, maybe forgot where we put his Spanish folder. It would take weeks of walking and sporadic jumping in the car to get out of the house to deal with my guilt and anxiety about the change in our lives that I had brought on. I canned 28 quarts of applesauce in one day that year.
Later, when my other kids also went to school, I felt a certain completeness to the decision that made me a little sad and very tired. I took a nap for the first time in ages. I drank coffee and had a hard time waking up anyway. The emotions that come with change are unpredictable and this kind of change is no different.
Kids may take awhile to adjust
Yesterday, I wrote down my daughter’s first day what-ifs: What if I don’t know the answer? What if I have a bellyache? And the dreaded, what if I don’t have any friends? Kids tend to expect themselves to know things already and are hard on themselves when they don’t. Each of mine took almost that whole first fall to adapt to the new rhythms of life, but no matter the trouble, most things ironed themselves out by Thanksgiving break.
There will always be days that you wonder
Towards the end of the year, when homework is trickier, bag lunches bland, and the lengthening days call for clover-frolicking, I wonder if I should have placed them in school at all. When one of my babies speaks timidly of fears, concerns, hopes – I wince at what bruises could come if I am not around to help. But this is heartily balanced with the majority of days, when their abilities and struggles are scaffolded by their teachers. This leads to …
Teachers are good at what they do, and don’t want to judge
When my daughter entered first grade from homeschooling, it wasn’t pretty. She lived in the shadows of our previous academic year, while I melted and froze over my older boys’ lessons. I’d done my best to teach her letters, but at her first parent-teacher conference, her teacher told my husband, “it’s just so interesting, she knows the sounds all the letters make, but not their names!” I’d managed to squeak out that “A” said “ah,” but not that it was actually called “A.” And you know what? That teacher gently taught her the names, and so much more … in a smooth, structured way that I couldn’t have done on my own. Every child has gaps in their learning. Teachers take us where we are at.
You did some things better
It’s OK to mourn long family hot lunches in the middle of the day, or the way your big kid read stories to the little ones mid-morning, or even to say, I’m a better handwriting teacher than Mr. So-and-So. Those things are true, and should be honored. Let them meld with the reasons you entered school to see what the whole picture looks like.
Today is all we have
You’ve navigated the rocky terrain of making a decision in love. If your choice has led you to a brick-and-mortar school, and you still struggle with anxiety — today is all we have. Choose this for today. If you find the fit too tight or too loose, it’s just one year, and the Spirit will lead your next step. You may also find that this is the fit that your family needed. Either way, let that peace of the Lord that surpasses all understanding be with your new school year.
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