Graduation gifts: The moving boxes of elementary school days
Graduation gifts for elementary school? The most meaningful mementos come in the "moving boxes" full of experience that we take from one school year to the next – the cumulative fun, growth, fascination of art projects, friends, social studies and language arts.
Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for Teachers.net. He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.
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Into these boxes we place the carefully wrapped, delicate (or sturdy) sealed packages of language arts and science and social studies. Don’t forget the box of P.E. and art and band and music and sports! The box of recess, lunch, and homework club too. The box of friendships. The box of meetings and parent-teacher conferences; conviviality, joy, consternation, frustration, and even heartache – but mostly triumph and fulfillment.
In June, the schoolhouse begins to fill with these real and imagined boxes that come in all sizes. They are the vessels for all we have experienced, learned, made, sung, acted, danced, run and cherished between September and June, and they begin to pile up in anticipation of the big move to a new year.
It’s like moving a house we’ve grown accustomed to. There are book boxes and china boxes and wardrobes – small boxes for a few heavy items, and bubble-wrap and tissue paper for the breakables; wardrobes for all those costumes that are put to use every day, plus the extra-special costume day we call Halloween. Sometimes they are disguises, sometimes just character or scene changes. Everything we need for the next place is being prepared for loading. The truck is here, idling.
We are only moving around the corner to a new neighborhood: September 2012, and a new school year. It’s not far, but nonetheless all of these boxes must be carried home, or loaded onto the school bus. Some go into storage, and some just get immediately reopened in a new location – at your house, at camp, grandma’s house, tree houses, boats and minivans.
Perhaps new things will be added in July and August? Good! There’s always room for the box to expand. Just be sure to bring it back to school in the fall, when it will be time to unpack and move our belongings into School Year 2012-2013.
New room? Same room? New teacher? Same teacher? It’ll be different for each of us. But there are always new costumes … and always new boxes to fill. The new kids in this neighborhood might look familiar – even the same names as the old school! – but I guarantee they’ll be different. We’re all going to be new kids by September – it’s just one of the laws of summer.
If this move is like all the prior ones we’ve experienced, September will mix new discoveries of old things, reunions with favorite toys and experiences, and perhaps a few insurance claims for broken glassware that the movers packed inconsiderately or that fell off the truck.
The unpacking script might go like this: Now where are those math skills I put in an easy-to-find place? I know I put the comma rules in here somewhere … I just hope the box isn’t under the box spring mattress! The French vocabulary was in a big box with “Français” across the top in big letters. Ou est-il? Uh-oh: the science box is leaking. I wonder what I packed in there? Perhaps it should have been double-sealed? And the papiér maché mask and puppets I worked so hard on in art class? Crumbled. No worries; time to make new ones … I’d choose different colors this time anyway. It’s the making of it that’s the most precious cargo.
Our belongings are ourselves. We are what we pack and unpack. For a while in June it feels as if we are living in two houses or in two years at once; departing and arriving at the same time; to and from the same destination. Packing up the present school house is inextricably bound to our expectation of unpacking in the new one, next year’s, particularly since so much of what we have packed was chosen with the new one in mind. We may even find that some of the things we most cherished have lost their value over the summer, during the move, and we’re ready for entirely new, unanticipated treasures. It’s one of the benefits of moving, of changing, of growing: finding that we can be new and old in knowledge at the same time.
We're packing the house of friendship too – which is much harder to box up. It goes on the truck last. It wants to stay unpacked until the last minute, but even this most sacred belonging needs a little time away from school to rejuvenate and grow. The new kids in this neighborhood might look familiar – even the same names as the old school! – but I guarantee they’ll be different. We’re all going to be new kids by September – it’s just one of the laws of summer.
You know the forwarding address. See you at the new place.