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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 09/ 3/2009

THE GROUP: Dreading the School Year

By Valerie Strauss

Peg dreads the loss of summer freedom; Linda, the homework and how to juggle her three jobs and her family. Jamie has found a way not to dread much at all, while Valerie (aka The Answer Sheet) is pretty much concerned about everything. Read on for much more...

On Thursdays, The Answer Sheet will convene a small group of moms (and sometimes dads, too) to discuss all things school--and since almost everything in life relates to school when you have kids, we have a lot to talk about. Please carry on this conversation in the comments section. And email The Sheet with issues you’d like us to raise. Tell us, too, if you want to join The Group.

The Group (this week, yes, they are all friends of The Sheet):

Peg Willingham works for a non-profit health research organization and she lives in Virginia, where her daughter attends a public high school.
Linda McGhee is a psychologist, school counselor and professor, who lives in the District and works in Bethesda. Her son is in fifth grade in a Maryland private school.
Jamie Shor founded and operates PR Collaborative in the District. She lives in Montgomery county, where her son is in elementary school and her daughter is in middle school.
Valerie Strauss is The Answer Sheet.

QUESTION: What do you most dread about this school year?


What I most dread about the upcoming school year is the loss of the freedom that summer brings - freedom from a regimented schedule, from homework, from late-night brownie making, and all the rest of it.

Summer has had some obligations (camp; the math packet; the sports team fundraising activities, which know nothing of summer’s respite, etc.), but in general it is so relaxing, so free of consequences.

If my daughter gets sick in summertime, we don’t have to worry that she is missing a school day. If she doesn’t read for thirty minutes one night, we don’t feel the reading contract deadline looming. We can spend the evening watching "Gilmore Girls" re-runs without guilt. We have stepped off the speeding train for a few months, and it’s great.

My dread this year is more robust than usual because my daughter is starting high school. We know we are lucky that she will be attending a great school, and she seems to feel no apprehension at all, but I feel like the academic work, sports, and socializing will ratchet up considerably.

Of course, I felt this way right before she started kindergarten and middle school, and she did just fine, and I’m sure she will this time, too. But am I ready for high school??!


What I am dreading the most this year as a parent of a 5th grader, is that this is when there is more homework and it is more challenging. There are also several projects. This is the first year of sports competition against other schools.

So, I guess my real challenge is organization of my son's schedule and making sure me or my husband can be at all of his sports events.

You know, the typical, juggling my three jobs (school counselor, private practice and professor) with making sure that my son does more in-depth work in school.


While I won’t say that I “dread” any part of a return to school (I am one of those mean parents who actually likes to have everyone on a schedule), I do not relish a return to our morning “shift” schedule.

My middle schooler is up and out the door a full hour before my fifth-grader and so our breakfasts together become a thing of the past.

I have also found that my nervousness about the new school year really isn’t shared by my kids. When my daughter now entering eighth grade was starting middle school, I shared with a friend my apprehensions about what a big change it was going be and how nervous I was — and in a moment of clarity she turned to me and said “...but you’re not going.”

And she was right. My daughter transitioned just fine (in spite of her mother). That has taught me to keep my own nerves in check.


My list seems endless.

Homework: How much, when it gets done and how much help to give, if any.

Tests and quizzes and “quests”: I know kids have to take tests so they can get used to life, which, as my husband keeps telling them, “is one big test.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t dread them for my kids.

Lunch: You can count on two fingers the number of things one of my daughters like to eat, so it is a great challenge to try to give her a lunch that is nutritious enough and different enough so that her teachers do not think I am a bad mom.

Social stuff: What nastiness will befall my girls this year? The general social environment in which they spend hours every day--especially regarding my middle schooler because that is an age when all anybody cares about is how popular they are.

I really thought the rest of you would be as panicked as I am about the homework. Why is it that homework isn’t a huge problem for you? What’s your trick? And while I’m at it, how much does the social swirl worry you? Do you think it is different when you have sons rather than daughters?


I do indeed dread homework. I still vividly recall last year’s science project, which involved comparing the efficacy of hair dyes. Guess what? Hair dye doesn’t work on synthetic hair, but by the time we realized that, it was too late to convene the school’s human experimentation advisory committee to let us use human hair instead, despite our pleas that we would obtain it ethically from Sally’s Beauty Supply rather than by scalping innocent passersby with tomahawks or similar. (We used wool instead.)

I used to worry more about the social aspect of school, but - showing that the apple can far very far from the tree indeed - my daughter actually had fun in middle school and seems excited about high school.


Although homework is a concern, I do not stress as much as other parents. I am more concerned about my son learning to think and answer questions more thoroughly and less superficially. I guess my concern is that he continues to pick up critical thinking skills. Also, his school stresses that the homework be his own work and that parents do not check over every single assignment. We do spot check homework at home, however.


My husband and I decided early on that they owned their homework, we would be happy to help but not as a daily participant or a crutch. If the homework doesn’t get finished we weren’t going to be the ones getting in trouble. The social side has only recently become a distraction for my daughter, the middle schooler. Unlike in our day when my parents could hear the phone ring and know whether that was starting to crowd out my study time, those text messages are silent (or at least a much lower ring). I have to work harder to stay on top of her distractions. My little guy right now is far less complicated. He and his friends are interested in playing sports -- “who is the best athlete” but that is really it. No phone or text, yet.

Thank you all. We have a lot to talk about. Gender differences. What to do when your kid’s third grade best friend starts acting out scenes from “True Blood,” and other conundrums.

Readers: Please carry on the conversation in the comments section. And email those issues you’d like to see discussed. Let The Sheet know if you want to be one of the members of The Group.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 3, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Homework, Parents  
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It's the social aspect that worries me - and my daughter is starting kindergarten! Last year in preschool I was shocked to find there were cliques forming among the girls. My daughter never made it in to the "in crowd", and it was hard to help her see that it was okay. I was very discouraged that the teachers didn't seem to notice any of it, or intervene when I brought it up. I've made a promise to myself that if this becomes an ongoing problem, we'll start homeschooling.

Posted by: mskidd | September 3, 2009 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Kidd -

My DD has just started K as well. Cliques do exist throughout life. I don't think opting for homeschooling is the right move-it only prolongs the inevitable. We all need to figure out our place in the world. Can you imagine adjusting to that when you're 18?

It sounds like you're more angry that she wasn't part of the "in" crowd. Teachers shouldn't intervene all the time as kids navigate their social growth. Bullying is a problem, but for girls at this age, it's usually bossiness.

Posted by: | September 3, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm actually thankful that school has started. I love the idea of summer as a time when you don't have to worry about sick days and can just kick back. But we still have two full-time jobs, which don't shut down when June hits -- unlike the school/aftercare system we rely on, which does. So the reality for the grownups in our family is that summer is a logistical hassle, as we rush for buses, scramble to find coverage during the three weeks all camps and schools are closed, etc. So it's somewhat of a relief just to get back to the relative ease of the school year.

But I still worry about the social and academic stuff. DD is very high-energy, borderline ADHD, loud, impulsive, distractable. All of which puts her in a sort of precarious position with her friends, so I'm not looking forward to the drama. Plus the G&T program starts this year; I'm a little worried about how much more homework there is going to be, and how much that is going to take over our evenings.

Posted by: laura33 | September 3, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Just looking at the descriptions...could you have found three more upper-middle-class people to ask about school?

I came here b/c the title was interesting...but I can see I'm not going to get a variety of opinions.

I'm moving on now.

Posted by: Kate15 | September 3, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

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