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Getting kids ready for school

(Editor’s note: Sharon Randall is on vacation. The following column is an often-requested republication.)

In the drugstore, when I got lost looking for shampoo and ended up on the “Back to School” aisle, I saw a mother with three young children picking out school supplies.
The girl wanted everything pink. The boy wanted anything “Spider-Man.” The baby wanted something to chew on. And the mother wanted a break.
“That’s it,” she said, “we’re out of here!” Then she popped a wheelie with the cart and made a run for the checkout counter.
I wish I could’ve seen what she had in that cart. The last time I went back-to-school shopping, my three were not much older than hers. But they were still doing homework with pencils, not computers. Things have changed a bit since then, in ways both good and bad.
Still, it made me wonder. What does a child really need for school? To find out, I asked a panel of “experts” — parents, teachers, grandparents, students and a few folks I met on the “Back to School” aisle.
Here, in no particular order, are 20 things kids really need for school:
1. A No. 2 pencil and a willingness to erase.
2. A healthy respect for themselves and for others, especially for their teachers.
3. An awareness that the world does not revolve around them and that they alone are responsible for their actions.
4. Parents (or grandparents) who teach by example a love for reading, learning and life.
5. An assurance that school is a good, safe place; their teachers will like them; and their parents won’t leave town without them.
6. An understanding that school is their “job” and that no one else can or will do it for them.
7. A system for exchanging communication between school and home; a backpack for notes that need to be signed; an emergency phone number that always answers; a quiet place and a consistent time to do homework; a daily chance to read aloud and to be read to.
8. A plan for getting to school on time every morning and back home every afternoon.
9. A pet to care for, clean up after and come home to.
10. A public-library card and regular chances to use it.
11. Someone to welcome them when they come home from school; to laugh at their jokes, answer their questions and listen, really listen, to what they say and don’t say.
12. The power of knowing how it feels to give anonymously and sacrificially to help someone less fortunate.
13. The encouragement to try new things; the freedom to fail; and the chance to try again.
14. The gifts of being well-fed, well-rested, well-mannered and well-covered for medical, dental and after-school care.
15. The confidence to know how to deal with bullies (stand up straight, look them in the eye, don’t start a fight, but don’t back down); how to ask questions (raise your hand and wait to be called on); and to never, ever, stop asking questions, especially “Why?”
16. To feel they’re the best (or almost best or pretty good, at least) at something; and it’s OK not to be good at everything.
17. To spend more time with humans and less with machines.
18. To have nothing to do once in a while but look at clouds or make up songs or daydream.
19. More than anything else (almost everyone who responded to the question said this in one way or another), they need someone to love them unconditionally, no matter what, regardless of their grades; someone to “beam” at them; someone to light up when they walk into the room.
20. Finally, they need to know that school won’t last forever (despite how it may seem), but learning is a lifelong process.
Even if you’re just looking for shampoo.

Contact Sharon Randall at www.sharondall.com.

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