When dropping off one of my kids at grade school many years ago, I noticed my son’s shoe was untied. In a rush to get to class, I bent down to tie it when I heard a voice above me say, “Don’t you dare.” The voice belonged to a beloved veteran educator who had developed her own teaching style over the years—it just happened to clash with my less rigid parenting style.
In her eyes, I may have been doing the parenting thing all wrong. However, not everyone learns best by falling on their face, literally or otherwise. And despite the insinuation that I was hindering his development, he’s now an adult who is not only kind and successful but who excels at tying his shoes.
That sounds silly, but when our kids are young, we worry about a lot of things that turn out to be of little or no consequence.
Education Is More Than Just School
This school year is different from any other, and I know a lot of parents are stressing out about helping their kids with online learning. In my household—which still includes two K-12 kids—we’ve had our fair share of frustration over app logins, internet outages, and confusing assignments. But will all the glitches, skipped assignments, long-distance friendships, and cancelled events shape who these kids grow up to be?
Some of that likely depends on the kid, as well as their family’s circumstances and stress levels. Academically, most children can overcome a few months of crappy schooling. However, many parents and students worry about long-term damage because school authorities have scared us into believing in the idea of a permanent record.
I’m old enough that as a student, I imagined my “permanent record” as an actual manila file folder. In reality, it’s really a mythical concept that represents the threat that your youthful shenanigans (as well as incomplete assignments) will haunt you until you take your last breath. And maybe even beyond since it is “permanent.”
You can lessen the long-term effects of missing traditional school by supplementing a kid’s education with other forms of learning. Baking, nature walks, and even YouTube videos can provide important education. And don’t dismiss the value of watching adults problem-solve their way through today’s challenges. Some parents seem to forget that school is supposed to educate and prepare young people for life—not get in the way of living.
With my youngest in grade school, I have a much different perspective than I did when my first of 5 kids started school 21 years ago. Since then I’ve been the parent of honors students, anxious students, theatre students, chem lab students, and so much more. I worked for a short time as an on-call substitute teacher and served in many volunteer and PTA positions. For many years I was the editor of a parenting magazine and would often write about education. I’ve learned to relax and let kids be who they are. There’s no need to worry too much about each and every school assignment and requirement that may or may not be arbitrary anyway.
Your School Experience May Have Been a Lie
Encourage younger kids to make some sort of effort in their schoolwork and they’re pretty much guaranteed to pass because—as you may have heard—school doesn’t “count” until high school. But what about high schoolers? Well, it turns out that even once school “counts,” there’s more flexibility there than we thought. Standardized tests used for college admissions, like the ACT and SAT, may currently be optional.
Of course, gaining knowledge is supposed to be the real goal, and you get to keep that whether it “counts” toward your permanent record or not. But who made all these education rules and why? Even though it may be the right decision in an emergency, we’re allowed to question everything once we learn medical students can graduate without taking a final exam. It’s ok to wonder where these rules, requirements, and expectations came from in the first place.
We place so much importance on grades and performance even though we suspect that ‘A’ students aren’t necessarily the most successful. Our definitions of success may vary, but experience has taught me that a lot of what we fret about as parents is unimportant—whether it be first steps, shoe tying, or test scores.
Decide What Matters
What matters is that we keep helping our children grow to be kind, confident, capable, resilient, flexible, and skilled. Support their interests and encourage their passions.These investments pay off in ways that may not result in scholarships, college degrees, higher salaries, or public recognition, but may be manifested in areas like tranquility, confidence,and relationships.
The lessons that will stay with kids from these times of crisis won’t come from official lessons but from the feelings, stressors, and priorities within their homes. When my kids are worried about an assignment or class or whatever, I ask them: Do you think you’ll remember this in 5 years? Do you think this will matter when you’re my age? Does it even matter now?
If the answers are no, why waste time worrying?