the learning curve

My six-year-old started Italian first grade about a month ago. We had the first parents’ meeting with the teacher yesterday and as far as I can tell, six is doing great, but I am falling short of the mark.

In June of this year, the teacher gave us a list of materials he would need for the first day of school, and I had no clue what a few of them were. To give you an idea of what we are talking about, an abacus was on the list, as well as regoli, which are multi-colored blocks and sticks (the kiddie equivalent of a slide rule?).

I could have gone to one of our town’s many stationery stores and handed over the page-long list. The person behind the counter would have filled my order for me, but it would have been very expensive, and they might not have had everything anyway, meaning I would have had to run around town, so I opted for the one-stop box store and tried to figure it out on my own. Naturally, I ended up getting help from people who worked there and another, very kind mother, who turned out to have a daughter at the same school. There were all sorts of different kinds of notebooks to get, ones with half centimeter squares and ones with whole centimeter squares, ones with special lines with a specified amount of space between every second line, ones with certain color covers, and others that needed plastic covers to go on top. I was so focused on the squares and lines that I forgot to check the margins, and sent my kid to school with notebooks that, sadly, have no margins, only to have the teacher explain that their notebooks must absolutely have margins, otherwise the children will have trouble learning about spatial elements on the page, or something like that. Alas, she said, it is too late and my child will just have to continue with the wrong notebooks until all the pages have been used, and then I should be more careful about which ones I buy.

So that’s my first fail. And I have learned my lesson. Now I understand why the lines at the stationery shops are out the door. Next time we too are going straight to the stationery store for our materials, regardless of the cost.

My second fail was the astuccio. This is the elaborate pencil case, or in our case, three elaborate pencil cases with all sorts of special tools that my child needs for first grade. As it turns out, I am responsible for checking the pencil case(s) every single night (teacher’s emphasis) to make sure everything is in order, all the pencils, colored pencils, special half red/half blue pencil, etc. are sharpened and ready to go and nothing is missing. Because, as it was explained to us, not being prepared could set my son back behind the class. I am assuming this means I need to keep a small stock of erasers, glue sticks, pencils, colored pencils, etc. at home in order to refill his pencil case in a timely manner?

My third fail was the blue book. And I’ll come right out and say it, the blue book freaks me out a little, and not least because it so closely resembles those little blue books we used for college exams. It goes back and forth to school and home in his backback, in a special plastic sleeve and has all sorts of pages with elaborate forms inside to fill out when your child is absent or needs an early dismissal or if you need to report something to the teacher. We are supposed to check it daily for notices. I forgot to fill out the form justifying six’s absence because of illness when he went back to school earlier this week. And even if I had filled it out, I probably would have given it to the wrong person because it’s never clear who gets the blue book once the form is filled out – the teacher or the man who stands guard at the school entrance? Because some things go to one and other things to the other and I have yet to figure out the reasoning behind any of it, other than to keep us on our toes.

Miraculously, regardless of his mother’s shortcomings, six seems to be doing okay, and to be honest, none of the things I’ve done wrong seem (to me) like a truly epic fail. They are, as I explained to my son, just part of figuring out how first grade works. “I’m trying my best, but it’s the first time for both of us. Let’s facie it: we are going to make some mistakes, but we’ll learn, and your teacher understands.”

He’s probably resigned to having a clueless American mother by now. I don’t stand a chance up against a lot of these Italian moms who work full-time, dress impeccably, iron all their children’s clothing and check the pencil case religiously. And you know when they drop off their kids in the morning, they’ve got sexy underwear on under that suit, too, and it probably matches their bra.

Luckily, six has been doing much better than I have. He brought home a special certificate from his English teacher for being such an outstanding student, and he likes heading up the stairs on his own in the morning. Every night he makes sure I’ve remembered to put some crackers in his backpack to eat with the fruit they get for their morning snack, and he tells me to put an extra package in to share with his buddy whose mom often forgets. (YES! I’m not the only one! I love that mother.) I am happy to oblige.

Now that he’s been doing it for a month, when I see him trot off, down the hallway, towards the stairs, the backpack swinging this way and that doesn’t seem quite as big as it did in September, and I swear he must have grown at least one head’s length taller.

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About Jennifer

I'm a freelance translator and American expat. I live in Northern Italy with my two young sons.
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8 Responses to the learning curve

  1. Mauryn says:

    Wow! That’s a lot to take in! Yet another thing that’s complicated in Italy. Also, the other day I was walking behind some moms who had just picked up their kids (who looked about 8ish) and they were all carrying their kid’s backpacks for them. It struck me as odd…is that something Italian moms do? I mean, one kid even had a trolley backpack and the mom was pulling it for him! Don’t you think that’s a bit much?

    • Jennifer says:

      YES! Don’t even get me started on the backpacks. I was getting comments from the moms THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL when I made my kid carry his own backpack. All the kids with American moms held their own backpacks and all the Italian moms carried their kids’. It’s still like that one month in.

  2. rosemarie says:

    ha, ha, ha how your post took me back in time! Somehow it doesn’t get easier with the second one, you think you have it all sorted and then ‘they’ change the rules….I am so glad he is doing well and believe me you are too…
    un’abbraccio – rosemarie

  3. meredith says:

    Italian school sounds a lot like French school. Our equivalent to the blue book is the “carnet de correspondence” and I still haven’t figured out how to fill out all the little forms for absences, illness, lateness, etc…

  4. Sara says:

    Oh brother. Does anyone really wonder why Italian kids don’t ever leave home? I would not do well in that society. (Can you imagine what they would say to me if they found out I force my children to make their own lunches every morning?! 🙂 )

    I get lost regarding some of the things that go on in our school, too, though. There always seems to be a group of mommies who know what’s going on and I’m on the outside looking in. Reminds me too much of Junior High. Whatever. I just tell myself it’s another way I’m making my kids independent. They get to figure everything out for themselves without me having to do it. LOL!

  5. Hilary says:

    My 3 year-old had a list of things I needed to buy her for pre-school!!!! Hilariously, I went to the bookstore with my list and got in line with all the parents of big kids, such as yourself. I felt like an idiot, but I wanted to make sure I got the right things, partly because she is my eldest and partly because I am a perfectionist, but I also think on some level, I didn’t want to be the mamma straniera whose child wasn’t prepared! Thanks to your post, I will now start stockpiling glue sticks and colored pencils!!!!

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