Picture yourself in your car – driving to work, running errands, or picking up your kids. Seems like you can’t go anywhere around here without encountering a roundabout. You look to the left, watching for cars already making their way around the circle. You ease your foot on the brake, checking out who’s already in your path and who might jump in, potentially cutting you off. You then figure out how to merge into your lane of traffic while looking to the right and left to make sure you don’t side swipe another car. Awkwardly – sometimes skillfully – you dodge the other vehicles and find a clear lane that jettisons you on your way.
How do we guide our kids as they face these roundabouts, particularly as they begin a new school year? Here are some Back to School tips that I offer as we head off to a new year.
Imagine sending your child off to school with these instructions: Today is a new day; try cruising into it. You’ve done this before, but each time is a little bit different. Gently step on the gas, and approach the day with an open mind. Try to be nimble and enter into each situation boldly, prepared to ease the brakes when needed. Don’t forget to exercise patience. Then, exhibit humility as you wait your turn. Recalibrate your position, looking for signals from others. Give a wave of appreciation when someone includes you, and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment, zipping ahead.
One of the best things about the cycle of the school year is that each one is a brand new experience. It’s a cycle…an interval of time in which one set of events or phenomena is completed.
Like the roundabout, the school year has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Students come to school in the fall wide-eyed and exhilarated about what lies ahead. It starts with student orientation and fall backpacking trips, then moves on to winter concerts, cross country skiing, the science fair, and the musical. Before you know it, you’re gathering with other parents to watch the end-of-year slideshow. For students, changes in friendships, increased academic challenges, erratic sleeping and eating patterns, and new extracurricular pursuits create an interesting nine-month cycle.
A few months later, it starts over again, only it’s a whole new experience – for children and parents. Sometimes we forget that each school year is different from the one before, and the one before that…and so on.
What if we all intentionally approach the beginning of each school year as we do the roundabout? What if we encourage our kids (and remind ourselves) to leave behind the bumps in the road from last year, or years before that – the spat with a classmate, the struggle on a social studies project, or a misunderstanding with a teacher? What if they wipe the slate clean, giving themselves another chance to get it right, or to try again and perhaps stumble, and to learn from the experience?
Or what if our kids forget about their top finish in the Geography Bee, the ease with which they memorized a poem, or the solo they had in the concert? Of course these experiences are important, and we wouldn’t want to forget them, but let’s invite our kids to put them aside for now so they can focus on the things they want to achieve this coming year. Encourage them to avoid relying on past victories to predict future ones, and instead start over and see what else they might conquer.
If we allow our kids to start fresh in late August – or, better yet, each day – imagine the power they’ll feel. If they can reinvent themselves over and over again, they’ll find freedom to explore who they truly are and what motivates them. Before you know it, they’ll connect with friends and mentors who inspire them to be better people and teachers who challenge them to think for themselves.
Let the roundabout serve as a reminder that our children have a lot to navigate, yet each day brings opportunities to build upon past experiences, develop new ideas, and look ahead to limitless possibilities. With our guidance, patience, and support, they’ll grow into amazing adults.
Brenda Stockdale is beginning her third year as the Middle School Head at Aspen Country Day School. She remembers her own childhood in the Roaring Fork Valley when there were no roundabouts.