I was in an airport when I realized how good my mother had been at raising me. I was 23 and traveling alone on business for the first time, and I had to find my way off the plane, over to the baggage claim and then to the local transportation area. I was going to hail a taxi, but I figured out that the shuttle bus stopped at my hotel, and the ride was free. I took the bus, got to my hotel and made it to my meeting on time. But if my mother hadn’t taught me not only the basics of air travel but also a few character-building lessons, I’d have wandered aimlessly around the Cleveland Airport in despair. Now my son’s third grade teacher wants me to give him the same gift.
No, his teacher didn’t suggest that I send my nine-year-old to Cleveland all by himself. Rather, she wants me to make the road ahead easier for him by teaching him something you can’t find in flash cards and summer tutoring: responsibility.
In her end-of-the-school-year letter to her students’ parents, she outlined five steps for making sure our kids are ready for fourth grade, and it’s got nothing to do with long division:
1. Help your child learn to make decisions and accept the results of those decisions.
2. Give your child the gift of organization and a strategy to develop it.
3. Share times that are creative, not expensive.
4. Encourage independence, but don’t expect it to be without limits.
5. Have fun.
Wait a minute. where are the science lessons at the beach? The spelling worksheets and the teachable moments for long car rides? The multiplication tables on the refrigerator door? Where’s the warning that kids lose their edge during summer break if you don’t keep feeding their brains?
But none of that was in her letter. Rather, the lessons my son’s teacher wants us to concentrate on this summer have less to do with school work and more to do with the very things my mother had instilled in me before I wound up all by myself in the airport baggage claim. I made decisions and dealt with them. I got organized. I was creative without spending a lot of money. I was independent. And I had fun. (Well, as much fun as you can have on a shuttle bus in Cleveland.)
I knew how to do all of that because of my mother. And now, thanks to my son’s third grade teacher, he will, too. This summer, I’ll oversee his days a little less and encourage him to make his own decisions a lot more. I will leave him to fill hours of summer break without stepping in to serve as his own personal tour guide. I’ll show him how to organize his stuff, but it’ll be his job to keep it up. I’ll expect him to be more independent, creative and resourceful. And most of all, I’ll insist that he have fun.
The multiplication tables can wait until the fall. I’ve got a future grown-up to mold. And if I follow my son’s teacher’s summer break guidelines, no doubt my mother will be proud.
Originally ran on GoodHousekeeping.com.