It is December tomorrow, and while I’m excited because that marks the first official day of summer here, DorkySon is excited because it means he gets to open the first door on his advent calendar. I don’t think Christmas in summer will ever stop being weird.
There are just three weeks of the school term left, and they are packed to bursting with activities. DorkySon has a kindergarten trip to a marine centre, an all-school trip to a big outdoor playground, a family picnic day, a visit to a local old folks home to share some festive cheer, and a final school assembly with a Christmas performance from all the pupils.
When the new term starts in February, my boy will be moving up a grade – from three days a week of kindergarten to five days of prep. He is so excited at the prospect, but we are already anticipating a tired and quite crotchety first few weeks as he adjusts.
There is something about DorkySon’s school that really makes me quite emotional. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I often find that after I’ve dropped him there in the morning and I’m jogging back home, I’ve got a catch in my throat, or a not-quite-tear in my eye.
It’s not in any way because I feel like he is getting too far away from me, or growing up too quickly. If anything it’s the opposite. It’s the relief I feel that he is in a learning environment that suits him so well, and the pride I feel at seeing him become more independent. There is a real happiness that comes from knowing your child’s school is helping you steer him towards a sense of self and belonging.
A year after starting, he still gets excited when we are walking to school and he spots someone up ahead wearing the same school uniform as him. He loves that uniform and the security it brings him. He likes to chat on the way home about what has happened in the playground that day, and who he has shared time with. One of his buddies from an older year has recently joined his after-school swimming class, and the pair of them sit there at the side of the pool, chatting away about which Woolworths animal cards are still missing from their collections, or how windy it was on their beach walk that morning.
DorkySon has come a long way since last February, and the lovely thing about the style of learning in the school is that he has been encouraged to recognise that about himself. He has been talking a lot recently about all the things he couldn’t do this time last year, and he laughs now at the idea of not holding his pen the right way, or not being able to put his own backpack on. The boy who hated dressing up has now got a big bag of outfits that he rummages through to come up with ever-crazier costume ideas, and if he gets any more excited about the arts and crafts projects that he works on, he’s going to need his own studio. He has even started bringing home simple books to read with us each night, and his joy when he makes it all the way through one without assistance fills my heart up. One morning over breakfast the other week he made a picture to take into his teacher as a gift, and wrote across the top of it ‘Thank you for teaching me.’
Last week DorkyDad was able to come to a school assembly for the first time, and it was the luckiest timing because DorkySon got a certificate recognising his ‘new found confidence’. I’m not saying that DorkyDad is a giant sap, but I will say that I wasn’t the only one who walked away with a lump in my throat and a not-quite-tear that morning. As DorkySon’s teacher left the hall she teased that she needed two cameras rather than one, to catch the proud expression on the face of the big boy as well as the little one.
In that hour that DorkyDad spent at the school, he saw the same things that I see every morning. He saw the bags hanging in the entrance hallway, collecting food for a local charity in the run-up to Christmas. He saw the Christmas tree, with presents underneath for another charity supporting families in need. He saw the bright, beautiful artwork on every wall, and the new water play area, which lots of families gave up their weekends to build over the last term.
He noticed that when the Grade 2 peer leaders came into the hall, many of them looked out for their kindergarten buddies, to give them a wave and a smile. He noticed the grins and thumbs-up that parents gave each other when their children were performing in a short play. He noticed that when classes stood up to show some of their recent work, teachers would quietly place themselves near the students who weren’t quite so strong at reading, ready to give them a gentle prompt if it was needed.
It is hard to think of any other community that I’ve been a part of which has been so subtly but so strongly supportive of each other. And it becomes obvious when we go with DorkySon to birthday parties or playdates that it doesn’t stop at the school gates. The children in his year are so good at including each other in games, at sharing around sweets that have been scattered from piñatas, and at accepting each other’s quirks and foibles. Since those first weeks back in February when they didn’t even know each other’s names, they have all come such a long way.
DorkySon’s school would not be right for everyone. I am sure that some other children would thrive in a louder or busier environment. Some parents might get frustrated with the strict healthy eating rules, or feel concerned about the need to transfer into another school after Grade 2.
But for our family, our sweet, shy boy and his slightly odd parents…. it is the perfect place. The ideal partner in his learning.
We are so grateful. We can’t wait for more.