Some timely advice for children going back to school

We're all lining up to head back to school.
We're all lining up to head back to school. Photo: Quentin Jones

 As I gaze upon the kindergarten photos of my children, pinned here on my desk at work, I wonder where those years have gone. Two smiley little cherubs, chubby cheeks and pigtails, heading off to school brimming with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder.

I was a bit like that too. That kindergarten mother bursting to help with reading and canteen, volunteering for excursions and sports days. I was as keen to make new friends as my children were. Happy to chat to anyone at the school gate, invite everyone over for playdates. I embraced the whole idea of school wholeheartedly.

And now, as my daughter enters year 11 and my son year 9, I realise that my school days are not far from being over. And that makes me a little sad. And as much as they can't wait for it all to be done, it's only with the benefit of hindsight that you know they'll miss it too.

I wonder that advice I gave them on that first day of school. Be nice, make friends, eat your lunch. Still good advice now.

But now, I want to tell them all sorts of things that probably go against what it is I should be telling them. Don't get me wrong. School is about effort and application and learning and spending a good portion of your day doing something you might not necessarily want to be doing and giving it your full attention.

But there are so many more important things to get out of school than learning geometry and the table of elements and how to conjugate verbs.

Learn who you are. Be confident with that. If you find out you have trouble writing essays that doesn't mean you're useless or stupid or incapable of anything. Get help. Find your strengths. Go with your strengths. Present things in a different way.

Learn to be a nice person. Be kind to your friends, make new friends. While you think you're a tight bunch that will be together forever, you probably won't be. Sure, school friends become some of the dearest of your life, but it's rare you stay in each other's lives so tightly. Some of your best friends may even end up being parents of the kids your kids end up being at school with. Find friends who bring out the best in you. That might be a different friend for different things. That rugby teammate who knows how to lift you when the chips are down. That girl you rarely speak to who's in a class you're having trouble with who knows how to explain things so you understand them. And be that friend for other people around you. Lift people up.

Learn how to deal with people you don't like. Whether that be classmates, teachers, or, heaven forbid, your parents. Life is full of people like that. Work colleagues, teammates, family. Be the bigger person. Step up.

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Give everything 100 percent effort. But cut yourself some slack. Too many people burn out trying to do too much. Sometimes good enough is enough. Just now there will be times when you'll have to give more than 100 percent. In life, in class. Don't be a slacker, that's a completely different thing. Only a lucky few people can cruise through life. The rest of us have to give it a shot. Take that shot.

Learn to be open. To information, to ideas, to opinions. Listen to people. You don't have to agree with them - not even if they're your teachers - but everyone has a right to speak their mind. And you do too. Just do it politely and back yourself with evidence. Only your mother can use the word "because" as an excuse.

But open yourself to things like Shakespeare and Pythagoras and sports you might think are lame. Read more. Read as much as you can. History isn't really boring. It's what made us who we are. Learn about the planet, how you can do your piece for it. Learn about poetry and music, power and love and passion and desire. Learn about all the things that make the world go around.

Because that's the important thing. Learn how to step outside the school gate into that world and be a part of it. That's when life really gets interesting.