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?
Earlier this week I attended a training for manning the warming shelters that we are opening in St. Johns this week. With temperatures holding below freezing and snow on the ground as I type this there is a huge need for warm places to sleep for the homeless community in Portland. One of the things that struck me at the training was how similar the language was to other areas of my life. Settling disputes between folks at the shelter was oddly reminiscent of dealing with disagreements on the playground at the boys school. When it came to mediating arguments over stolen gear the same steps were ones I learned when dealing with drunk supporters in the Timbers Army. It seems that where ever i spend my time lately I am working with same mentality. A grade school playground is the same as a rabid supporters section is the same as a homeless shelter working with the chronic homeless.
Now I know that much of these tips for settling disputes are universally true and that common sense and a level head will get you far, i still thought it was funny how a like these seemingly different groups are. On the last game of the season I had to try to help a guy who was pushed by an older woman for not singing for the full 90. He was drunk and unreasonable and wanted her thrown out. It reminded me of the first graders that had taken all they could from an unreasonable kindergartener. In both instances I had to listen to the whole story, without interrupting so they could feel heard and vent a little. I found places to agree and connect before trying to find a middle ground. These were all the tips on the slides of the warming shelter training.
I guess the lesson is that people are people are people right. We all need the same thing when we are frustrated: someone to hear us, someone to help us make it right. I do find it funny painting all three groups with the same brush though. The timbers Army IS just like a school playground most of the time, and disagreements of the shelter are the same ones I hear at recess. We are all just frustrated little kids looking for our own justice.
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!
After a long wonderful summer the rains have come in force, just in time for all the trips to the pumpkin patch. First we had Segundo’s pre-school class where my back ground check hadn’t come through yet so I was only able to drive my kid. We called it the daddy rule since we all know men are not as capable with kids. We played in the hay maze, learned how corn and pumpkins were grown and got to take home a little gourd of our own. I played the monster in the hay maze and chased the kids around until the kid that made me the monster got so scared that I was really a monster that she screamed and cried. I had to reassure her that I was just pretending but it didn’t go a long way towards convincing the other parents that my background check would come back clean.
A week later it was Primo’s class that braved the rain and splashed around in the mud at the pumpkin patch. This time I was all clear and had two other kids to drive out to Sauvie Island. All three boys sat in the way back and whispered secrets to each other while I tried my best not to embarrass my six-year-old. On the hay ride out to the muddy field where the pumpkins were kept I convinced the boys that there were field gnomes that came out this time of year and we would know they were close when flocks of birds would go overhead. The mostly knew I was joking but flirted with the fear that it might actually be true and had a blast running through the vine tangled rows back to the barn.
I came home from both trips soaked and muddy but so happy that I have a job that affords me the time away. Getting to meet the other kids in my boys class helps me picture their days. I can ask questions about the kids in the lineup of “How was school?” and “What did you learn?” Plus as a native Cascadian I love getting poured on, the second trip was even shorts weather back when I was a kid.
Segundo wanted to go on an adventure. “Let’s take the bus daddy, when we go pick up Primo let’s take the bus!” He was excited and it was raining so why not. We could ride the bike and he could sit in his warm trailer dry and happy as a clam while I pedaled into the blustery mist of swirling seas, or something like that. No taking the bus sounded great so I checked in with the trip planner and found our best route. A simple matter of taking the 4 bus to the train and the train to the school, we can do this.
Step one, get on the right number bus going in the wrong direction. At first I was mad that Tri-met’s trip planner lead me astray but after thinking about it for a bit I realized my error. Getting on the bus that was going in the wrong direction from where I wanted to go should have been my first clue but I just thought it looped around.
Step two, Choose another bus that will get you there on time. The 75 bus would still get us where we needed to go and might even get us to the train on time. The bus was early picking us up but the driver waited at the next stop for 2 minutes because she was ahead of schedule. We made it to the train just as the max was pulling away. That train would have put us right in front of the school just as Primo was done but instead we waited another 15 minutes for the next train.
Step Three, get off the train one stop too early. Flustered and a little wet I thought we were at the school but we weren’t. We had to walk 8 more blocks to get to the stop we should have gotten off at and at this point we were 20 minutes late picking up the boy. He was not happy but at least I wasn’t the last parent there. His teacher had a good laugh at my retelling of the story and Primo soon warmed to the idea of a trip back home on the bus. We stopped for some lunch and by the time we were walking the last bit to our house we were all soaked but enjoying the adventure we had originally set out on.
This month I’ve taken over as the class room liaison for the Kindergarten class at Primo’s school and taken the opportunity to help in the class one day a week. Since Segundo is such a great kid he gets to hang out too and get involved with the bigger kids and their lessons. Primo’s school is Reggio Emilia based education so the students have a self guided curriculum and while I was there one of the kids wanted to make an airplane to see how it would fly. The rest of the kids were busy with snap cubes, blocks, and other activities while I helped the aeronautic enthusiast with her paper plane. Once we folded a couple of models we decided to head outside to see how they flew and a few kids joined us with paper in hand. Soon we had all but two of the kids folding airplanes and flying them from the top of the play structure. We made hypothesis based on the designs and then talked about what happened after we tested each plane. we decided that longer planes went farther so the kids started using giant paper to make planes that were over two feet long.
The morning blew by and we all had fun folding and decorating our planes before flying them. As more kids from other classes came out to the playground they joined in with planes of their own. The next week on my helper day the kids were ready to make planes again but it was a terrible rainy day out. We could make planes but we couldn’t go outside to fly them. The kids still had a good time folding the planes and talking about what they thought their designs would do in the rain and wind. While I’ve had a great time in the classroom the last three weeks I’m beginning to fall into a paper airplane rut. When the kids see me coming in with Segundo they head right over to the paper supply and start clamoring for new designs. I’m pigeon holed as the paper airplane guy but I guess there’s worse things.
This year I was on the ball and got started on Valentine’s Day cards for Primo’s class early on. I sent him to school with three kids names each day for him to find out what they love so we could incorporate into unique cards. Mostly I wanted him to engage kids in his class that he doesn’t normally interact with so that he could see them in a new light. I’m not sure how successful that was but he came back with some funny insights into the girls in the class. I picked up supplies at Office Depot and was ready for Valentine’s Day. Since we have a bag full of broken crayons we took a heart-shaped muffin tin and made colorful heart-shaped crayons out of the pieces. Then we cut up some construction paper and for the cards and Primo wrote each kids name in a card and then drew a picture of something each kid liked. For some of the girls in the class the picture was of them with a conflict resolution paper be handed out. He told me that so and so loves handing out conflict papers to the boys in the class and I couldn’t help but giggle. He seems to have girls all figured out at such a young age.
We brought the cards into Primo’s class this morning and he handed them out to each kid explaining what the picture was. He was so excited to find a kid and then explain the crayon he made and what the picture inside meant. Segundo and I needed to head to his pre-school so we tried to move Primo along but there was no rushing him. I handed him the last cards for the kids that weren’t there yet and told him to put each card in their box. He said he would just hold on to them so he could pass them out when they got there.
We had fun making the cards and the crayons and the practice writing his friends names on each card was a great learning opportunity but by far the best part was seeing the pride on his face as he handed out the cards. He thought of each kid when picking out the heart crayon on the front of the card and the picture inside and he told the kids “I made this for you.”