Wondertime. Rotating Header Image

Back to School

First Day of School

While it seems like summer is finally getting underway here, it’s already back-to-school time. Yesterday, both girls started their new classes at their Auckland primary school. It was Holly’s first full-day of school, ever.

I was so looking forward to it. All of us were. We were all a bit tired of bumping into each other on the boat and looking forward to this week, when we could each head out into the city on our own to learn and explore. I was anxious to get started on writing down some of the stories that have been bouncing inside my head. Both girls were excited to see the friends we hadn’t been able to see over break again.

Today, after dropping them off at their new classrooms for the second morning in a row I came back to our empty, silent boat. I made myself a latte and sat down, the whole settee to myself. And felt the unease that had been looming settle in.

Yesterday after school I tried to coax the girls into telling me how their first day back at school was. “Oh, it was good,” Holly answered. “Fine,” was Leah’s response. They both had had fun at recess and were glad to be able to play together this year. After a little downtime with a snack and an audiobook, the girls threw on some ratty shorts and t-shirts. They grabbed their life jackets and jumped down to the dock and peered down into the water, their small fishing net poised to snatch any unsuspecting fishes that would soon swim by. I had dinner on the table before I was able to coax them back on the boat, each girl talking at such a rapid pace I could barely follow them: they’d seen tiny jellyfish with bright red middles, spent some time scraping invasive fanworms off the dock, caught some more shrimp, were certain they’d seen a nudibranch (“but it was dead”).

The memory of this wants to break me apart today.

Day 1 agenda

Year 1, day 1 agenda

I remember all that we experienced over the school break: hiking out at Great Barrier, Leah’s fascination with carnivorous plants (resulting in a pile of books from the library and our very own Venus Fly Trap that we miraculously haven’t killed yet), afternoons at the swimming pool, Holly singing along to friends jamming on ukeleles late into the summer’s night. It seems cruel to stuff them into these classrooms that seem boring even to me: a few books on a shelf, a couple buckets of blocks, a table of computers and some ipads stuck in the corner. Teachers that seem rushed and busy and overwhelmed, already. The days of dressups, sand boxes, fingerpaints at school gone for good. I can’t help but wonder: what are they actually learning? How to get along with others? How to sit quietly and wait your turn? How to sit in your cubicle and get your work done as told? The cynic in me sees what the end goal really is.

Leah’s hope for school this year is that there is more science this year than last. In my heart I know she’s got years before they move on to the type of knowledge she regularly seeks out on her own, before they move on from the basics of reading, writing, and maths. I just tell her, “I hope so too. But we can learn about science on our own too.”

At the age of 8, I watch Leah invent projects for herself, get interested in subjects and want to research them to death. There’s a pile of notebooks in her bed that is filling with notes and drawings. She plans outings for us, museums she wants to go visit. She asks for certain books from the library and spends hours reading in bed to herself. Maybe this is all that learning is about. After years of feeling overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling, I think I finally understand that my main job would be to just get out of the way.

Then again, it’s been eight looooong years since I’ve had this many hours all to myself so maybe it’s just something to get used to. It’s always difficult sending your last baby off to school. But now I’m writing this at 1 in the afternoon, not at 11 pm. The girls’ primary has allowed us to immerse ourselves in the community and culture here in ways that keeping them to myself wouldn’t. Everything comes with frustration, at some level. We’ll settle in. And then it will be time again for something new.


  1. Trevor says:

    Sara, you really have a way of capturing emotion when you write. Every time. We’re struggling a bit with Kiera at her new school (Alki) this year; it’s still not clear to me whether it’s Kiera or her parents who are actually struggling. I often leave for work before dark and get home after dark. My queries on how the school day went for Kiera are equally abrupt and non-informative. “I want to know what you’ve been doing all day, Sweetie – TELL ME!”. “Oh, I don’t know, just school stuff.” Trying not to be cynical too – sometimes it’s hard. Cherish that family time where you are all learning about the world together. That’s what it’s really all about, right?

    1. Sara says:

      Thank you for the nice words, Trevor! 🙂 I hope things get easier at Alki for all of you. I have invented the “perfect” school in my imagination but can’t seem to find it in the real world. (Yes, it is the one that gives me at least 4 hours a day to myself!) P.S. When I asked Holly after school yesterday what her favorite part of the day was she said “playing in the mud we found on the playground.” Sigh.

  2. agnes & dieter says:

    hello from Switzerland Sara,
    surfing towards our ‘last call to live aboard’ in 30 month in Mexico we came to your post. Our children started out public elementary school in ’91 and ’92, the time we became busy travelers in ’94 around Italy our solution was neither make them attend several schools, nor private teaching by our own. We employed privately a teacher who came along twice a week or travelled with us and would in two year’s tuesdays and thursdays of teaching not only run the whole stuff with exams taken by a state-commission but still make our daughter catch her 13 month older brother in the same class, this was ideal so when we went to Greece both attended as a team AmericanComunitySchool Middle-school (new country, new friends, new language as they grew up italianspeaking) You may find interesting what we discovered yesterday ‘surfing’ http://www.myhomeschoolsoftware.com
    grateful for Your passion, Agnes & Dieter p.s. the ‘shaken’ junior today is performing at Ernst&Young:)