The Most Important Questions Parents Should Ask Their Child’s School

Unsplash / Aaron Burden
Unsplash / Aaron Burden

Any parent who has a child in daycare or school has faced what seem like endless demands to “do more” in the already hectic world of raising a child in today’s society. In my son’s first year of life, we were provided a list of Christmas gifts the daycare teachers would like, were sent home with coupon books we must sell, and were requested to pay money for a special plaque with my son’s handprint for Father’s Day. Having just become parents and, as a result, barely making it through a given day, how could we be asked to do more? My initial feeling was anger about our country “doing it all wrong” when it comes to setting up successful families (don’t get me started on maternity leave).

Given that the back-to-school season just closed – where families are consumed by similar requests of things they must do or pay for such as new clothes, backpacks, lunch pails, and the most favorite of all: school supplies – I decided to do some informal research. I wanted to understand what people were being asked to do or buy, why, and how they felt about it. I fully expected to write an article filled with venting, but instead, I’m left with one question, a question we should all ask: why!?

Why does my kid need all this?

A friend was kind enough to share her back-to-school supply list for her private elementary school child and the list included:

4 Sharpie Ultra Fine black permanent markers.
4 regular black Sharpie markers.
1 package of Crayola broad tip washable markers.
1 package of Crayola Thin washable markers.
1 small box (24 count) of Crayola thin crayons.
Miscellaneous items like Kleenex, 3 types of glue, 5 types of paper.

Based on my research, the reaction parents have to a list like this is frustration at both the cost and sheer number of very specific, seemingly unnecessary items. In contrast, media outlets indicate teachers do need these exact materials for a specific purpose. I wonder if teachers’ requests would be better received if they included a message with the list explaining why the child needs these exact supplies and examples of their use. I also think it’s worth it for teachers to reevaluate supplies every year rather than sending out what seems like an automatic list. Lastly, parents should simply ask for the rationale prior to purchase.

Why doesn’t the school pay for this?

Whether a private or public school, it all comes down to finances. In one article written by Scary Mommy, I learned that teachers across the nation spend $1.6 billion of their own money annually on supplies for children. Friends shared that some schools don’t do fundraisers because they have a committee whose job it is to raise money to supplement what tuition does not cover. Other schools that do fundraisers often conduct them to raise funds for needy families but don’t advertise it so as not to embarrass the family. She shared that the principal opened up a closet filled to the top with donated supplies and said there are more families than one would think who have to choose between feeding or clothing their child and as a result, are able to privately “shop” in the closet to fulfill their basic needs.

While I do think our country faces a much bigger question around education and the appropriate levels of funding for it, I wonder if we can all play a small part in trying to better understand the situation at our own school. Perhaps we can educate ourselves and work with the school to ensure all parents are appropriately informed and even go back to assessing what is really needed, for whom, why, and whether it can be done in a better way.

Why can’t we say, “No?”

This is a hot topic in our household. In the age of social media and expensive technologies that become outdated the day after purchase, how does a parent effectively raise a good, confident child while not feeling the pressure of “the Joneses,” “Pinterest moms,” or parents who buy the high-end brands of Sharpie-like markers? If they were the parent that said “no” to a fundraiser or could not make it to a play, would their child be teased? As an example, when the daycare asked for money so our son could come home with a plaque of his handprint for Father’s Day, my husband questioned the rationale so we had a dialogue. I agreed with him, especially after spending maternity leave “Konmari-ing” my home. The last thing I wanted was more stuff (and I already had a handprint). After a few minutes, I became anxious about our leaning toward “no,” having felt left out of social situations my entire childhood. I suggested we find out from daycare what the overall activity is and the impact if our son was not involved. It turns out, the activity was five seconds long where the child would stick their hand in paint and it would be over. There was no big production. No child left in the corner. In the end, we told them, “No.”

At the end of the day, we all have 24 hours. With the multitude of demands being placed on today’s parents, I wonder if we all took a step back sometimes and simply asked “why,” whether we’d feel much less weight on our shoulders. Perhaps this might even help our children learn that as we grow up, we must make choices. Some are easy and others are hard. However, if we make them from the heart, they will always be the right one even if the choice is to say, “No.”

As you can see, this is a complicated issue. Most households only survive because both parents work. Today, transient lives make it challenging to have the family support earlier generations had, more people than we know are below poverty level, magazines and social media warp our sense of reality, and it feels like the 24 hours in a day is less than we had growing up. Our education system is suffering for a variety of reasons. I could go on.

While it may seem like taking time to step back to ask “why” seems overwhelming, perhaps my hopeful, naïve self thinks this could evolve into a conversation that removes us from life’s hamster wheel and instead, has us working together to raise great, educated kids and be empowered parents who don’t have unnecessary demands placed on us.

What is the most seemingly ridiculous request your child’s school has asked of you and what did you do about it? TC mark

More From Thought Catalog