I’ve noticed a prevalent thought among dads that education is a woman’s world. Sure we’re all for teaching our kids the practical things like changing a tire or setting your Fantasy Football lineup but when it comes to the classroom we tend to view that space as somehow less manly. I never understood this mentality and from early on I was involved in our boy’s school life as a board member of the Co-Op Preschool or a room parent for the Kindergarten class. Now that both of my boys are in school I’m the President of our school’s PTA. While I don’t think every dad needs to suffer through the meetings that decide what structure goes on the new playground, I do think there are a couple of easy ways for men to get involved in your kid’s school.
Start early in their education but showing up to read. Every school I have been involved with has spots open to read to the kids. It gives the teachers a break and it’s something I know you can do if your reading this post. Whether you bring in your child’s favorite book or grab one off the school shelf, taking 15 minutes to stop in and read to the class will allow you to see who your kids interact with, what the classroom atmosphere is like, and show your child that you value education. Once or twice a year on a lunch break is all it takes and you have built a connection.
Help Chaperone a field trip. This may take a little more time and more of a commitment but the time is very valuable. You can help provide a safe environment as the kids leave the school and explore the local Children’s Museum or Zoo. There are multiple adults that sign up so you are only responsible for your own kids and a couple of their friends but again you see a side of the kids that you don’t get anywhere else. Listening to my first grade son trying to make a couple of second graders laugh on the way to the Pumpkin Patch last year is one of my favorite memories.
These are two simple ways to get involved with your child’s class that don’t require a lot of time or effort but that make a huge difference in how your child sees your role in education. By taking an active role you are showing that you value school and want your kids to succeed. By spending a little time in the hallways and classrooms you will have a better understanding for the education your children are receiving and find new ways to engage in the process of learning. Our kids learn from watching us more than they do from listening to us and by showing up in their schools we are teaching them that education is important to us, and that they are important to us. How are you getting involved?
Come get some dinner, or a pint, or bet yet both. Money goes to Together For Trillium, the PTSA for Trillium Charter School. We raise money for Teacher and student grants that have included new microscopes, class room supplies, and summer school programs for students. McMenamin’s Chapel Pub has graciously partnered with us to help raise money but we need you to come.
Here in Portland there are a ton of ways to get kids out and involved in the land around them. Even our Max riding city kids are only a short bike ride away from forests, rivers, and working farms. Zenger Farm is a working urban farm that models, promotes and educates about sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, community development and access to good food for all. Through out the spring and summer there are Friday work parties where you can get kids into the dirt and learning where their food comes from, how it is produced, and what we can do to help that process. There are other events happening soon that you can check out here, including the opening of their farm stand on June 14th.
The events we are looking forward to are the Summer camps starting June 24th. These week-long themed camps are a great way to get kids some intensive time on the farm having fun while learning. I also think it might be a way for the farm to get some free labor out of the deal but that is all hush-hush.
Segundo has a clothes problem at preschool. This manifests itself in a number of ways from getting his regular clothes wet or dirty, to struggling with his pants during emergencies. Lately he has managed to keep most of the clothes on that he shows up to school in. Most but not all. When I show up at 3 to pick him up he is usually missing his shirt and socks. “I get hot daddy, and I need to get some freeze on me!” His teachers have been keeping track of when his shirt comes off and the nicer the day the earlier it happens. Here is one of the many reasons I love Trillium Preschool, their willingness to let Segundo be himself. They make sure he is safe but allow tons of space for him to navigate safety and danger on his own terms.
Yesterday when I rounded the corner into the school grounds I could see in the window of the preschool where the kids were getting one last story before heading home. there was Segundo in his bright yellow pants, no shirt, no socks, and covered in dirt. His pants were rolled up just below his knee and he looked like some hipster hillbilly wild man. A modern-day lord of the flies in skinny jeans. I just smiled as I walked past to pick Primo up first. I knew that this was a great day, that there was a story written in all that dirt on his chest and back. I knew I would get versions from each of the teachers and some impromptu reenactment from Segundo and his friends. He is the Oscar to Primo’s Felix and I am so thankful that he has the space to himself.
The sound is what you notice first, well that and the cold but we’ll come back to the cold. The sound, a cacophony of noise that ebbs and flows to seemingly random rhythm. There is a din of activity and yelling that is punctuated by high pitch screams and almost constant movement. I watched a couple of kindergartener re-enact the entire dance from the Gangnam Style video, and do a pretty great job too. Some of the hip thrusting was troubling but both boys had better dance moves than I ever managed. There was also a group of girls lineup in rows like a choir singing pop songs in harmony. They had printed out lyrics and while I recognized the songs I couldn’t tell if they had changes the words or not. They sounded lovely when I could make out the tune through the screams.
Kids pulsed through the space like one big living organism with comets shooting out of the central mass. I watched, taking my new job as recess monitor very seriously. For the next two weeks I will be on the playground monitoring the situation. Mediating conflict, keeping kids safe, giving the teachers a break. That’s my job, well that and bathroom, drinking fountain and coat monitor. That is actually the job I do, answer requests for one of the those three things on a constant basis. It’s like one of those SAT questions, or the count in the Black jack. I expect the principal to come up to me and ask how many kids are in the school at any given time and I will need to give him the count.
I enjoyed my first day but quickly realized that I need a few more layers of clothes to stand out in the cold. The kids are running around like crazy but I’m manning a specific zone most of the time and the gloves and hoodie were not sufficient to keep the cold at bay. Hours later as I type this my fingers are still cold. I will bundle up and get back out there in the chaos and beauty of grade school recess, but I need to check on that taser I was promised!
Our boys are at an age where they are becoming exponentially more capable. They can make their own toast in the morning and bring a borrowed pan back to the neighbor’s house, they order their dinner at restaurants and can wink and say words like “dehydrated” or “dramatic” or “cattywompas” in a sentence correctly. I mostly feel like they could do anything and that James and I are merely observers to their ever-growing independence, occasionally reaching something out of their range or explaining the way something works, but mostly just supervising.
There are still a few things that my boys cannot do, though. Things that require patience and a certain art that comes from practice. This weekend I called my mom for her sugar cookie recipe and assembled the ingredients with the boys as my assistants. They added teaspoons of baking soda and vanilla and dumped cups full of flour into the bowl with careful precision. But then we rolled the cookies out on the dining room table and the boys pummeled their ball of dough, adding more and more flour until the cookie cutter-ed result on the baking sheet had the consistency of dried paper mache. I tried to guide the use of flour and explain that the cookies tasted better when the dough is soft. This had little effect.
I scooped a large hunk of dough out onto the floured table, rapidly rolled it out into a thick slab and cut cookies from the still soft dough. I outpaced them with my cookies. As I did this, the memory of my mom doing this exact thing came to me. She would fill two pans with circle-shaped cookies cut with the rim of an inverted juice glass while we labored over a few intricate reindeer and angels. She let us participate and enjoy it while she knocked out the cookies we would eat later. We learned to make better, softer cookies as we grew up. I’m glad there are things that we learn this way. I’m glad everything doesn’t come from information or from ability. Some things come from a family recipe, and a feel for the dough and a mom who shows you the art of it until you know it yourself.
We have made the obligatory paper mache volcano as every good first grade family does. This was Mt. St. Talabo, an active Cone Volcano on a small island in the Pacific ocean. That mountain exists only in Primo’s mind and is closely based on Mt. St. Helens, pre-eruption of course. We sat down and sketched out what the volcano looked like and talked about where most volcanos are located. Primo wanted to make a mountain that would actually blow its top but we negotiated him down to baking soda and vinegar with dish soap and red food coloring for effect. It was still an awesome scene and there was much fun and learning for the whole family.