Lessons Outside of the Classroom

September is always special in our house, not just because it’s my birthday month. The crisp Fall air brings with it a sense of new beginnings as the summer heat loses its tenacity and families start to wind down in anticipation of school schedules.

I feel an acute sense of a fresh start as the first day of school approaches and we prepare our kids, 7 and 4, for a new school year. Last year, as my daughter entered first grade and my son started kindergarten, I carefully chose their outfits for the first day, hired a local photographer to do a first-day-of-school shoot and had special signboards made for the kids to hold. I went all out, and a bit overboard. But milestones are important, and nothing gets me more excited than the possibilities and promise of a new school year.

I remember days from my childhood when we spent time covering and labeling notebooks, taking in the freshness of the white sheets of paper and the crispness of its edges. While my kids are still in younger grades, I can’t wait to buy exciting stationary with them while reminding them how privileged they are to be able to afford new things. When my daughter started kindergarten three years ago, we participated in a donation drive where ‘Elsa’ came to our home in costume and we gave her a backpack filled with school supplies to give to a child in need.

I’d like to ensure in the coming years that we aren’t wasteful. Sometimes, back to school shopping can get a bit much, with aisle upon aisle of colorful markers and the fanciest of erasers calling out to us. This year, before the first day of school, I hope to have a conversation with my kids about how nice it is to make do and reuse things from last year that still has life in it. After all, who really needs a new backpack every year? The focus really must be on school as a place where kids learn the value of education and become better human beings, cherish friendships, understand and accept differences.

I love a saying that I read in a teacher’s classroom once, and I hope to remind my kids of it before the start of each school year:

“Thirty years from now, it won’t matter what shoes you wore, how your hair looked, or the jeans you bought. What will matter is what you learned and how you used it.”