This year heralds the last year of primary school for my son. Despite my reluctance, I have been forced to acknowledge this in a recent trip down memory lane.
Like most schools, our Grade 6 students have a graduation event at the end of the year. Already a group of us are beginning to organise it. Part of that organisation involves putting together a memory book for the kids of their time at primary school. Our job as parents was to go through all of our photos and pick out some that may be suitable.
What I thought would be a relatively quick exercise, took nearly a whole day. There was lots of laughter, some moments of sadness and a realisation that my son has done a whole lot of growing since being at school. And while searching through my archives and CDs full of pictures, I realised that even though I haven’t been an enrolled student in primary school for quite a number of years, I have actually learned some new lessons during my ‘second time around’ at primary school.
So if you have recently begun the primary school journey, or will do so in the next couple of years, I hope that my lessons may help you make the most of this incredibly special time.
Get involved: It can seem like a thankless task to be involved at school. And sometimes it is. But it’s important to be involved. By being involved you show your children that their schooling is important. It shows them that you value the school. By being involved (whether it be on a committee, helping out with excursions, school discos, stalls or being a class rep), you are taking an active interest in your child’s educational experience. And it’s one that they will value and remember forever.
Encourage your kids to be involved: Encourage your kids to play for a school sporting team, or join the environmental group, or go to the school disco. When your child is involved, they develop friendships and a sense of belonging. They feel connected to the school and it becomes a happy and safe place to be.
Help out: Teachers always appreciate help when needed (particularly in the younger grades). While going up to listen to kids reading every week wasn’t always my first choice of activity, I am so glad I did it. Not only does it help your children feel like you are interested in what they do, it helps you get to the know the children in their grade. One of my friends and I have some fond (and funny) memories of helping out during Grade 1 reading or with the Christmas craft. So there will be something in it for you too.
Get to know the teachers: I am really surprised at the number of parents who don’t get to know their child’s teacher. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should take the time to introduce yourself, particularly at the beginning of the year. When you see them in the playground, stop and say hello. After all, these people are spending most of the day with your child, so why wouldn’t you want to get to know them? They’re not intimidating and some of them are actually very nice people!
Support the teachers: On the subject of teachers, you really should support them. If you want them to give the best of themselves to the education and care of your child, then show them you’re on their side. If they are doing a good job, tell them — and the principal. Positive feedback goes a very long way. If you have a problem with them or their methods, then speak to them privately, rather than holding court in the playground and whingeing about everything you don’t like. If you don’t support and respect the person teaching your child, chances are your child won’t either — and that is only going to hurt your child in the end.
Make an effort when it’s time to dress up: Looking back, there were many ‘dress-up’ days throughout my son’s primary school life — all of which hold fond memories. I remember searching high and low for a green and gold shirt so my son could dress up as an “Australian Athlete” for the Prep alphabet concert. Letting him wear his pyjamas to school for the annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic for the Prep and Grade 5 buddies. There were days of running around looking for supplies so I could make a “Jack in the Beanstalk” costume for the Grade 1 Fairy Tale Ball. Off to the shops again to find some red pants so he could dress up as “Mr Strong” for Grade 1 Book Week or a red sheet for “Captain Underpants” for Grade 5 Book Week. And of course the annual Footy Day! Some days it was exhausting and my creativity ran dry at times. But the look on his face as he proudly displayed his costume was priceless. And it makes for some great photos!
Take pictures — lots of pictures: Speaking of photos, take them. Lots of them. Don’t just leave it for the ‘first day of school’ or them displaying a ribbon after winning the 100m dash. Take photos of them participating in sports. (I have a very funny one of my son in Grade 1 diving over the high jump rope. Yes, diving with this arms together and his hands pointing forward). The more photos you take the more memories you have. Take photos of them with their friends. Getting on the bus to go to camp. Getting off the bus to come home from camp. Sports days, Christmas concert, School production. Take photos at any opportunity. You don’t realise how much they change and grow during these seven years at school. When their primary school years are over, these photos will be among the few memories you have left.
On the subject of photos, take comparative pictures. Amongst my favourites are the First day of Prep and First day of Grade 6 photos. This year, we took the time to recreate the photos that we took all those years ago when my son started school. Same poses, same positions in the yard. And it is such a great way to see how much they really grow and change.
Go to sports days: It’s not always the most exciting of days. Standing around in the hot sun, waiting for your child to run or jump. And yes, there were many a time when I would have rather have stayed home. But I am proud to say I have made the effort to go to every single one. Sports days, Cross Country, District sports, Hoop Time — all of it. The same goes for other special events. ‘Open Day’ at school where you have an opportunity to look through your child’s class. Information nights, the multitude of concerts and performances throughout their young years. They will love you for supporting them, and you will love it simply because you are watching them shine.
Which brings me to the next point –
Cheer them on!: Sure, you child may not be the fastest runner, or the best reader, or the most creative when it comes to art. They may not even be very attentive when they need to be. But you have an opportunity to build them up, or pull them down. Always praise them. Don’t lie about them being the best. Instead, a simple “I love the way you tried your best and never gave up” or “I’m so proud of you for being part of the team” or “Your reading is getting better and better”, really does go a long way. That said, if they do win a race, or an award, then be proud. Don’t play down their achievements because others may be jealous. Congratulating a person on achieving something is an important part of life, particularly for a child.
Enjoy the experience: I’m the first to admit that primary school is not all roses. There are so many issues to contend with — concentrating in class, making friendships, learning to be organised, getting homework done, etc. But the time really does fly. One day you’re sending them off to the big world of school, and the next you’re prepping them to say goodbye to that familiar place. Primary school is such a huge part of your child’s life and your own. It’s precious learning and growing time, and time when your child will begin to exhibit natural gifts and talents. Make sure you take the time to enjoy it, rather than rushing from one thing to another.
Show an interest: Show an interest in your child’s school life. Ask them about their day. Sit with them while they do homework. Read some of their books with them. When they think you value school, then they will too. Not only will you have a handle on where your child is at, you will also open up the doors to a whole lot of different conversations and opportunities for learning.
Don’t cry when it’s over: I can’t guarantee that I will achieve this one. In fact, I know I won’t. My son’s primary school years have been so much fun. The school has been such a wonderful community and has provided so many opportunities for my son to grow and learn. He has achieved success in many things, and learned hard lessons in other areas. He has brought tears of laughter to my face with his various performances, both on the sporting ground and on the stage. Did I say it was fun?
I think it’s ok to be emotional about a phase of their life being over, but it’s not okay to let that overshadow their excitement and enthusiasm to enter the world of high school. We shouldn’t make them feel guilty for growing up or wanting to move to the next phase of life.
I know that it’s still early on in the year. We still have close to 10 months of primary school left. But if the rate at which time has already disappeared is anything to go by, the remaining year will be over in a blink of an eye. So with the lessons above in mind, my son and I are set to make Grade 6 the best and most fun year of primary school ever.
And the way it’s going so far, I’d say we are well on track.
Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based freelance writer at Write to the Point Communications. This blog is just one of the things she writes in her spare time.
She also specialises in writing for the health and well-being market. As well as writing thoroughly researched articles, she can provide assistance with press releases, copywriting, editing, proofreading and communication strategies.
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