“Back to School,” Aug. 6, 2018

Do you remember your first day of school? Did you think your life was over, or that it had only just begun?

I recall my first day of second grade. We had recently moved and I started a new school. I walked into a classroom of kids, all clucking like chickens with a fox in their henhouse, waiting for a teacher to show up and shoot the fox. I took a seat, put my head down and got to work. Then a girl came over and sat on my desk, covering my paper.

“Whachadoin’?” she said.

“Practicing my numbers.”

“Is that all you can do?”

“No,” I said, “it’s not.”

What happened next was not intentional. I got up to sharpen my pencil. The desk flipped and broke her nose. She became my best friend, and never let me forget how we met.

School starts soon for children around the country, including five of our six grandchildren. Randy will be in second grade. Charlotte and Henry will be in first. Wiley is starting kindergarten. Eleanor Rose will be in preschool. And Archer, going on 2, will stay home.

The first day of school should be celebrated, so my husband and I gave the kids a few small gifts, shoes or pants or a backpack. But most of what children truly need for school can’t be bought.

Years ago, in another column, I listed 20 things kids need for school. I am often asked (thank you) to repeat that list. Here it is:

1. A No. 2 pencil and a willingness to erase.
2. A healthy respect for themselves and for others, especially their teachers.
3. An awareness that the world does not revolve around them and they alone are responsible for their actions.
4. Parents and 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. A clear understanding that school is their “job” and 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 consistent time to do homework; a daily chance to read aloud and to be read to.
8. A plan for getting to and from school safely and on time.
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 home, laugh at their jokes, answer questions and listen to what they say and don’t say.
12. The power of how it feels to help others 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 deal with bullies (stand up straight, look them in the eye, don’t start a fight, but don’t back down); to ask questions (raise your hand and wait to be called on); and to never stop asking “why?”
16. To feel they’re best (or very good) at something, and it’s OK not to be good at everything.
17. To spend more time with humans than with machines.
18. To have nothing to do once in a while but daydream.
19. To know school won’t last forever, but learning is lifelong.
20. Most of all, they need someone to love them; to make them do their homework and brush their teeth; to tuck them in at night and beam at them each morning; and someone to pray for them and their friends, their teachers and their schools.

I wanted all those things for my children. I want them now for my grandchildren, and for all children, yours and mine.

I hope you want them, too.

They are gifts that can’t be bought. But together, God willing, we can give them.



  1. I want all teachers to respect boys and girls both. I learnt good lessons from my teachers and we did not look into the eyes of teachers and touched their feet when we grew up and they grew older. No teacher dared to touch our hair or dress. They came to serve and we went to learn.
    I feel sad sometime when teachers do not play their role as guide. Only a few take this job as a source of entertainment. I know million of teachers do their job well. But I do believe that parents teach their kids some moral values so that they learn to respect their teachers sitting well in their space. Listening more and talking less.

  2. Sally Brown says

    Once again, you nailed it! As a retired EC teacher, I wish I could wave a magic wand and assure that all kids got all 20…But, as a blessed “Mimi”, I am beyond grateful to be there for my 3. So glad for all of you, that you are now close enough to share in their everyday lives. They are lucky to have you!

  3. I hadn’t read your first day list for kids previously and agree so heartily with all 20. #4 especially resonates with me today. As a retired teacher, I’d be curious about your first day list for teachers and the other adults who staff a school. The current pressure on tests and technologies along with increasing class sizes might make a different list than when I taught.

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    Amen. I would add to the freedom to fail a clear understanding that they are not “amazing” at everything they do (or try to do) the first time. And as they age, understand that people can have different opinions about issues – and that’s a wonderful (not scary) thing.
    Three of my grands will return to school at their kitchen table – six others will walk into new classrooms (and two new schools) – prayers for mine and yours ?

  5. Cath Tendler says

    This week’s contribution of yours is right up there with milk and cookies…to be savored and shared!

  6. Awesome article Sharon!! You have this gift of always tugging at out heartstrings!!
    Keep them coming!!

  7. Doris Hudson says

    Love this-such wise words. Joining you in prayer for our nation’s children.

  8. Dick Daniel says

    A very good list. Children that are provided these are much more likely to succeed in school (and life.)

  9. Fred Hernandez says

    I love you.

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