I have to be honest… when DorkySon left his infant school at the end of Grade 2, I thought I would never love a school as much as I did that one.
It had been such a perfect fit. The nurturing little community by the sea that helped us settle into Hobart; the place where we made our first friends; the school where a succession of kind, caring and thoughtful teachers supported DorkySon from the age of four through to eight.
It was the school where we watched him learn to read, to write, to make marvellously messy artworks that he would come running up to show us at the end of the day. It was everything you would hope for in a school and so, so much more.
But I have had to eat my words, because it turned out that his next school – the primary he has attended from Grades 3 to 6, ages 8 to 12 – has been every bit as good.
This school has belonged more to him than to us, which is exactly as it should be. Some of that has been the natural increase in independence that comes with DorkySon being older. In Grade 2, many parents – me included – walked their kids right into the classroom every morning. By Grade 6, DorkySon was walking himself to and from school each day and we have barely seen the inside of his classroom – although I’ve rejoined him for part of the way some mornings now that we have the excuse of a dog walk.
But part of it has been intentional too. I got my school association duties out of the way early at the smaller infant school. As a family, we have been to a few school assemblies and social events at his current primary, but we don’t go to all of them. He has had the space and time to forge his own way and work out who he wants to be at school without much input from us – and he has done an ace job of that.
We cannot get over how lucky he has been with teachers. Everyone encounters a dud at some point, but he is still waiting for his. Instead, it has been four more years of educators who have felt like the perfect fit at the perfect time – focusing on social skills, extracurricular activities, or core knowledge as required, and doing so with patience, good humour and empathy. They are such a lovely, lovely team – and often make me wish I could go back to primary myself for a do-over.
(Yeah, nah… not really!)
One of my other favourite things about both of DorkySon’s schools so far has been their enthusiasm for getting kids outside. His infant school was right on the beach. His primary school has a bush reserve that they make excellent use of. DorkySon has grown from a boy who didn’t like getting mud on his clothes, to someone who comes home covered in bruises, scratches and mysterious stains from whatever cubby making activity they have been up to at recess.
“Meh,” he says. “I dunno what happened, we were just hanging out.”
A quick flick through all the photos from DorkySon’s time at primary show an incredible diversity of learning experiences. From hands-on science experiments to school camp; from innovative ICT projects to national problem-solving competitions; and from leadership opportunities to maths questions that make my brain ache… all that just in the last year.
But now DorkySon and his friends are on the move again, and the high school where he’ll be starting after the holidays sees him back down by the river. From everything we have heard so far, they make good use of that waterfront location, and it feels like it will be a perfect fit with his passion for marine conservation.
It will be another big transition. From the top rung of the ladder right back down to the bottom again. And from a school of 400ish students to one of well over 1000. There has been a lot of preparation and plenty of support – orientation events, mornings navigating the bus system, former primary students visiting to share their experiences.
Perhaps having switched schools before will help. He already knows that tricky balance of making new friends while holding onto old ones, taking the time to watch and learn the culture of a place before getting stuck in. I don’t think the school could have done a better job of preparing the whole cohort for what’s to come. What a strange and bittersweet job it must be, to gently usher these young people along and help them grow in confidence to the point where they are ready to leave you.
Before all that, there is the end of this term to get through.
DorkySon is literally doing a countdown, telling me each morning how many days he has left at primary – and we are almost down into single figures. Eeek.
He will be fine. He is a good kiddo, with great people around him.
But I am less sure about how me and DorkyDad are going to fare. We are currently wondering how we are supposed to sit through the Leavers Assembly without a wobble – dark glasses and a plentiful supply of tissues I reckon.
We surely won’t be the only ones.