Category Archives: School

This is what irks me about back to school season

School is just starting on our district, and I’m very happy to not be participating. But even when my son did go to school, the following issue bothered me.

Why is it so well accepted that parents can’t wait to be rid of their kids?

When school's in parents win

Why isn’t it okay to want our kids around? Even when my son went to school, I missed him. I like him, and like spending time with him.  I know there are parents who do miss their kids at school, and aren’t cheering that school has started.  But there are just so many who are literally cheering that they are finally rid of their kids again.

Then there’s this horrendous handout given to a friend’s children at meet the teacher night.

So not only are we supposed to be thrilled they are gone from our homes, but we should also giggle at their back – to – school anxiety? Why would teachers or parents find this handout humorous? Because who cares what our kids are feeling?  We felt this anxiety, too, as kids, and now we’re glad our kids have to feel it, too?  That whole, “my kids should have the same painful experiences I had to endure” thing?

When School’s in Parents Win

Frankly, the chip bag in the picture above just makes me glad my kids can’t read yet. How depressing for our kids to be reading everywhere around them how glad their parents are to be rid of them again.  Why do we have to be so disrespectful toward children?  If we’re truly glad for our kids to be back in school, why can’t we focus on the good things we think our children are gaining and experiecing there?  Is it because many parents don’t truly care about what happens at school as long as their kids are gone all day?  Is it because it’s “cool” to complain about our kids, and makes us feel like part of the group? Or because we aren’t really sure what our kids are experiencing at school?

How about you?  Are you bothered by the back to school cheering?


This Is What Happens When You Ignore Your Conscience

I grew up as an unschooler and I planned for my children to never go to school. Here I am, living in Mexico, and my children just finished their first week of school. I’ve ignored my conscience and it sucks. Yes, I feel like a hypocrite of the highest order.

Why and how did this happen?

Continue reading This Is What Happens When You Ignore Your Conscience

This is why bodily autonomy at school matters

One day my son chose (very purposefully, I might add) not to wear a coat on a day that was sunny and in the 40s. We walk to school, so there is no way this choice could be construed as forgetting or a mistake. They had recess that day, which they don’t every day. My son’s teacher forced him to wear a school coat on recess. Even though he refused, in tears, and told her that I would say he didn’t have to (which is true). There is nothing in the school handbook that says coats are required at a certain temperature. The teacher also forced a boy who wore a sweatshirt as a jacket that day to wear a school coat. The sweatshirt instead of a coat was also clearly a decision okay’d by the parent, to my way of looking.

So my question is, without a rule to say that a coat was a requirement for recess that day, why did his teacher feel it necessary to force a coat onto his body? Couldn’t she have easily said, “I’ll take a coat out in case you change your mind.” Or she could have listened to him, and if he was cold, he would have learned to take a coat next time. It was not a situation where he was in any danger. She also told him he’d get sick from the cold, to which he replied to me, “does she really not know that’s not how it works?”

What’s the big deal over a coat?

A long time ago, I decided that learning to make decisions was one of the most important skills I wanted my children to learn. I am not a great decision-maker. It’s a skill learned just like any other. Kids need a chance to make decisions and have control over their bodies so they are well prepared as they get older.

My kids decide if they will wear coats. My 6-year old checks the temperature, and then goes out of the front porch to help himself decide. And if it is really cold, I’ll throw his coat in the car or our bag as a back-up in case he changes his mind. We all change our minds sometimes, right? Even adults regularly change their minds. And this is an easy decision to let him make, with very low risk. He is learning to listen to his body and trust himself. He is learning to make decisions and to know that his body is his to take care of.

Forced food

The coat incident was preceded by an instance where the teacher forced him to eat canned pumpkin even though he said no. How can forcing food on anyone ever be okay? We don’t force food on our kids at home, because we want them to listen to their bodies. We offer a range of foods and model eating healthy foods. My daughter would have thrown up if forced to eat something against her will, so I guess the teacher was lucky that didn’t happen.

“Your body is mine to control”

And since day one at school, the kids have been forced to hold hands and shake hands at a hello song. They are required to “hug themselves and hold a bubble” any time they are walking in the hall. This means they are to wrap their arms around themselves and puff out their cheeks. If you don’t do those things, the entire line stops and you are corrected, even if you are quiet and keeping your hands to yourself.




The teacher assigned seats even when the kids are sitting on the carpet in front of the smart board. She marked their spots with tape on the floor, until they can be completely quiet.

Why does it matter?

The issue is twofold. First, bodily autonomy is an important issue. Article after article tells us why it is important to fight rape culture, to fight against normalizing other people being in charge of your body. We are teaching kids that no doesn’t really mean no when the authority figures in their lives don’t accept no as an answer.

Bodily autonomy is about kids learning decision making skills. It is important for kids to learn to listen to their own bodies, minds, and comfort levels. Kids learning to speak up for themselves is an important skill, and if they are willing to speak up, especially to an adult authority figure, it is important that they are heard. Consent always matters, even when adults like to pretend it doesn’t.

Secondly, why the tight control? It really comes down to a lack of trust for children, which is the saddest thing of all.

My daughter says she hates school

It happened again recently. A well-meaning family friend looked at my six-year-old daughter and asked THE QUESTION: “Do you like school?”

My daughter looked over her shoulder at me and I could see the concern in her eyes. With her look, she was asking me, Is this someone we can trust? Should I tell the truth? Or do I say what I think most adults want to hear?

I looked at my daughter and said, “You can answer her question honestly. You’re allowed to make up your own mind about school.”

Still uncertain, she looked back at the family friend, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. It’s okay.” This tepid response is a stark contrast to her first days of kindergarten and earlier in her first grade year when she would loudly exclaim, “I hate school! I never learn anything there! They never let you move! They never let you get messy! You can’t talk unless you raise your hand and the teacher calls on you!” Based upon her more neutral response, I can see that she is learning that adults want kids to like school.

The family friend turned her eyes from my daughter’s face to mine with a look that read, “Your kid doesn’t love school?!” I could see the anxiety in her expression. What will happen to this small child if she does not learn to love school? Is she headed into a life of delinquency? Will this girl ever find success in the workplace? Ever know the ease of financial stability? Ever recognize her academic potential? What will become of a child who does not love school? After all, the vast majority of us have been raised to believe that education is the pathway to success, the great equalizer that allows all of us a chance at the American dream.

The conversation went on with the friend prodding, “Well, do you like your teacher, at least?”

“She’s okay,” my child responded. Yet again, the family friend looked at me with eyes growing wide.

“Your teacher is just okay?” she said, the concern growing in her voice.

On that day, with that particular person, I left the friend’s concern hanging in the air between us. I let my daughter run off and find her sister to resume their play. I didn’t try to smooth over the rough edges of that conversation. I’m learning that it’s okay for my daughter’s truth to make others uncomfortable. I don’t need to silence her or justify her feelings in the hope that adults will see her or her school in a particular way. After all, it is possible that a school environment that does work for many kids does not work for my daughter. Additionally, I have realized that her dissatisfaction with school does not mean that there is something wrong or broken about her.

Strong words and the meaning behind them

When my daughter started kindergarten and began her litany about why she hated school, I listened to her reasons and didn’t pay much attention to the initial part of her statement: I hate school. In our home, we often hear strong words from our kids that are meant to communicate their big emotions about a situation. Sometimes those words have been, “I hate you, Mom!” Given that I try my best to react to those moments by listening to the feelings behind the words (though sometimes the words do sting and I fall short of my goal to let it roll off my back), I didn’t think much of my daughter’s word choice. Instead, I paid attention to the words that came next and heard her asking for a different type of educational environment than she was given.

  • “I never learn anything” became “I am not being challenged or learning about the topics that most interest me.”
  • “They never let you move” became “I need more opportunities to use my body during the school day.”
  • “They never let you get messy” became “I have sensory needs that are not being met. I feel controlled when I am given creative tasks and outdoor recess time because of the focus placed on remaining clean.”
  • “You can’t talk unless the teacher calls on you” became “I have ideas about the subjects we are learning that I am not able to communicate. I want to be able to talk about the things I’m learning.”

Given that I interpreted my daughter’s rant about her educational environment in this way, I was taken aback when my mother-in-law said this past summer that she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” that my daughter hated school. Until that moment, I was living in a world in which I believed my child was bringing forward intelligent critiques of the school system and advocating for her needs. Sure, her communication was a little rough around the edges, but for being only five and six years old, I thought she was doing a stellar job.

My mother-in-law’s comment sent me back to my own childhood with well-meaning grown-ups staring down at me and asking THE QUESTION: “Do you like school?”

I can still recall the look of approval and relief on their faces whenever I would say, “Yes.” In the beginning, I did like school. At some point, that changed, but my answer always remained positive. After all, I got good grades. I behaved at school. I had friends. What did I have to complain about? And, there was always that pressure from grown-ups to affirm that the current educational structure worked for me. Responding in the negative would have conjured up a kid who refused to complete her assignments or was frequently sent to the principal’s office. That wasn’t me. (I say that with no judgment toward anyone who didn’t do their schoolwork or who frequented the principal’s office, or has a child who fits those behaviors now. I say that just to communicate the judgments and misperceptions people have about kids who don’t like school. That’s all.)

My daughter can dislike school and be a model student who is above grade level in some subject areas. Just because a child plays by the rules of the classroom environment does not mean that the environment is a positive one for that child. Additionally, we look to see if a child can perform certain classroom expectations, like sitting still with their legs “crisscross applesauce” and their hands in their lap, but we rarely ask, “Is this the best way for this particular child to learn?” Sometimes we believe that all is well with the child and the environment when the child can jump through the academic and environmental hurdles placed in front of them. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes even the children who seem to be performing well are screaming, “I hate school” on the inside. As the adults in their lives, I hope we take the time to listen beyond our own beliefs and biases about school to hear the kind of environment our children are telling us they need.

Michelle is a former college administrator turned stay-at-home mom in central Ohio. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and a mom alongside her five and six-year-old daughters. Michelle attempts to knit, crochet, practice yoga, and read fiction in the midst of mothering.

“You’re tattling again!” A look at tattling from a child's perspective

Thanks to Michelle for this guest post about tattling!

“You’re tattling again,” my daughter tells me the teacher responded to her one afternoon. My daughter approached her first-grade teacher to inform her that a fellow classmate was opening supply cabinets.

“So, are we allowed to go into those cabinets?” my six-year-old questioned.

“No,” her teacher replied.

This is just one of many examples involving “tattling” that my daughter has brought home from her year and a half in public elementary school. For her, tattling is a new concept since it is not a phrase we use at home. When our two daughters come to us about another child’s behavior, we listen because our child has come to us with a concern. We don’t solve the problem for her. But, we do help her find language to address her concern with the other child.

In this situation, we might have responded with, “Thank you for noticing what’s happening in the classroom. I know that you can remind your classmates of our rules. Do you want me to stand near you this time while you let him know?”

Why do kids tell?

In this instance, my daughter’s immediate follow up question reveals her primary motive in coming to the teacher. She is asking, “Is that student doing something that is allowed? Am I allowed to go into those cabinets, too?” Her motive is not to cause the other child to have consequences or be punished. Rather, she sees something happening in the classroom that does not make sense to her and she is seeking out clarification from the authority figure in the room. How do I know this? Because I asked her and my daughter has a history of responding with honesty. There have been situations where she does want another child (usually her younger sister) to face negative repercussions and she is typically upfront about that desire.

My daughter attended a preschool focused on helping children stand up for their bodies, articulate their personal boundaries, and confront unwanted behavior from others. She is no stranger to saying, “No!”, “Stop!”, and “Respect my body!” She has also been raised in an environment both at home and in her preschool setting where adults have been her resources when others don’t listen to her boundary setting. Her first week of kindergarten involved a boy in her seating group calling her names and purposefully spitting in her face. My child did exactly what she had been raised to do. She repeatedly responded, “Stop spitting in my face! Don’t call me that!” When she got home, she told me about the incident and her reaction, and I felt reassured that she was able to look a new child in the eye and establish boundaries for how that person should treat her.

Children looking for help

In other words, my child does not run to adults to solve her problems for her. But, she does need to be able to turn to the grownups in her environment when someone fails to listen to her boundary setting, when a situation is confusing, or when she is uncertain how to appropriately handle a conflict. As adults, we have access to many resources. We can seek help from family and friends. When conflicts escalate, we can call the police or other emergency personnel. We can choose to get help from a counselor, therapist, or professional mediator. If we are uncertain about a rule or law, we can search for information on our computers and phones. We can even drive ourselves to the library and find entire books filled with information and resources that can help us. Now imagine if you were five or six years old and navigating a new school classroom environment. What resources are at your disposal? Who can you turn to in times of conflict or confusion? Naturally, your teacher is the first person that comes to mind.

No tattling

After a year and a half of wading through a school culture that is drastically different than our home and preschool experiences, I can’t recall all of the times the term “tattling” has been on my daughter’s tongue as she got into the car after school. In fact, I struggled with finding just one or two examples to write about in this post. In the end, I decided that what is most important in all of the incidents that we have experienced is that my daughter is looking to her teacher for guidance and it is not being given. My child’s teachers have not been the resources she has needed when peer conflicts have arisen and classroom rules have been confusing. Instead, she has received a curt response to “stop tattling.” During our fall conference, her current teacher informed me that my daughter is “a little police officer.” After a conversation in which my husband and I tried to articulate our point of view about why we don’t use the term tattling in our household, the teacher continues to use that phrase with my daughter.

Tattling vs telling

Based upon a Google search of tattling in the classroom, our school’s approach does not seem to be isolated or unique. Teachers are charged with the responsibility of helping children distinguish between “tattling and telling.” Telling is intended to be something that violates the physical or emotional safety of another. Some teachers seem to group all of the concerns children express about their peers and possible violations of classroom rules into the category of “tattling”. I believe this distinction is nuanced and difficult for a kindergartner or first grader to understand. Additionally, grown-ups may have a difficult time understanding what constitutes a violation of a five or six-year-olds “emotional safety.” “She won’t play with me at recess unless I give her my marker,” might feel like a small incident to a parent or teacher. For a child, this might be a difficult and emotionally threatening situation that requires the help of an adult to navigate.

Using the term “tattling” communicates that a child’s concern is not worth adult attention. When my daughter has received this feedback from teachers, she has articulated that she feels corrected, scolded, and silenced. When we use this language, we are shaming our children for having a concern that feels too big to handle on their own. How can we expect them to turn to us throughout their lives as their challenges grow if we cannot take the time to listen and help them now? As a mother, I worry about the long term consequences of my child learning in an environment where her concerns are communicated to be invalid, unimportant, and extraneous to the learning environment. In fact, one website indicated that tattling takes away from “real learning,” but isn’t learning to respond to conflicts with our peers one of the hardest, ongoing lessons of our lives?

There are better approaches out there

During my research, I was happy to find this resource from Responsive Classroom that argues for a more nuanced approached to tattling. It is important to empower our children to resolve conflicts and establish boundaries with their peers. As parents and teachers, we do our children a disservice when we intervene and do this difficult work for them. When faced with a child who brings us a concern about a peer’s behavior, we can role model how to communicate with others and help our children find the words to articulate their needs.  If we fail to do this, we communicate harmful messages that can have a long term impact in silencing our children. When we dismiss their attempts at communicating a concern as mere attention seeking behavior or a general nuisance, we are creating an environment in which adults cannot be trusted to be the resources our children need.

Resources:

A balanced perspective from Responsive Classroom: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-to-do-about-tattling/

Difference between tattling and telling: http://www.togetheragainstbullying.org/the-difference-between-telling-and-tattling

Managing tattling in the classroom: https://classroomcaboodle.com/teacher-resource/tattling-school/

Michelle is a former college administrator turned stay-at-home mom in central Ohio. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and a mom alongside her five and six-year-old daughters. Michelle attempts to knit, crochet, practice yoga, and read fiction in the midst of mothering.