Thursday, August 16, 2012
In honor of my son’s first day of elementary school, I have been reminiscing about my own first day of school. Although it was 32 years ago and my memory is a bit foggy, I do have a photo that reminds me of a few things that happened that day.
I lived on a cul-de-sac just 2 blocks from my school, North City Elementary. In those days, anyone could play on the playground. My mother would take us to the playground or running on the track ever since I could remember. So I was very familiar with the school grounds. Two of the other families on the cul-de-sac had children who were already attending the school.
My parents dressed me up in a cute little dress. I had a letter attached to my jacket with a safety pin that was for the teacher. I’m not sure what it said, but I can guess it was my name and address or some sort of identification. We took pictures at the top of my driveway and then I was off to school. It was only natural that all the kids in my neighborhood would walk to school. My parents had arranged for the neighbor kids to walk with me on that first day, and I did walk to school with them on most days. The oldest two were in fifth grade and the younger two in third or second grade if memory serves.
My school had one kindergarten classroom and there were 35 – 40 students in it. We had one main teacher and about 3 teacher assistants. The class was divided up into different learning areas, each teacher was in charge of a different learning area. Our class was half day, but somehow we also managed to get a nap in while we were there. We played on the same playground the older kids used, although I think we went at a different time than they did.
When the school day was over, my mom walked down with my 2 year old sister to greet me. I don’t remember how often she met me. She was also pregnant the year I was in kindergarten and my baby sister was born on June 29th. I cannot imagine my mom with a toddler and in her third trimester of pregnancy coming to meet me after school every day that year. My mom also recollects that she was terribly sick during all of her pregnancies… again, not so sure she was able to come and meet me every day after school. I am positive that there were days I left kindergarten and walked home alone.
When I started school, a flyer was sent home for parents to order metal identification bracelets. I got one a few weeks later and It had my name, address and phone number on it. Just in case I got lost. I lived in the suburbs of Seattle in a little area called Shoreline. It was not the safest place in the city, but the schools had good marks and my parents purchased a nice large home, perfect for a budding family. I was the oldest, so I remember not being allowed to do things that, later my younger sisters did way before my age. My mom didn’t let me pierce my ears until I was 10 years old. We went to church religiously – several times a week even! I started Kindergarten in 1980, two years after Ted Bundy was caught killing girls in the Seattle area and during the same time that the Green River Killer was killing girls, mostly prostitutes in the Seattle area and leaving them for dead in the Green River. The times were not necessarily safe and the newspaper definitely had a lot of doom and gloom. Yet, it was normal for a child of 5 years old to walk to school and if needed, walk home alone.
Cut to 2012… My son is now 5 years old and entering school on Monday. Since day one, my parenting goal has been to help him become a happy, independent and responsible adult. Somewhere along the last few years, I was introduced to the "Free Range Kids" movement. I loved the freedom I had in my childhood, and I want the same for my children. I spoke to my parents about my first day of school and how I walked to school without an adult. They immediately defended the situation with, but you were with the neighbors, and we didn't live in a big city like... Encinitas. Let me just say, the current population of Encinitas is only about 15% larger than the population of Shoreline, WA in 1980. My parents could never imagine me letting their precious grandchildren walk to or from school with each other. At least not until they are much, much older.
Recently, I visited my son’s new school. I was informed that in kindergarten, if an approved adult is not present to pick up the child, the child will not leave the premises. I wondered, when can the children walk with a friend or sibling, to and from school? The principal’s response was: “it is not a good idea until at least 3rd grade.” He cited some stuff about them being legally responsible for the child until they return to their parents or guardian. Really? Wow, I never would have guessed that! I’m not one to buck the norm, but I really had hoped my son would learn some independence this year. I guess I will be turning to 4-H for some of that and later Cub Scouts. I really do love his school so far, so I will wait to see how things go. Things have definitely changed!