The letter came home on purple colored paper as it probably does every year: words of wisdom from the director of the school where my twin boys have just begun preschool. “September is a transition month…” it begins and reminds both parents and staff that children need time to adjust to new surroundings, new schedules, new experiences. Even for returning students this can be hard, the change from the unbounded, endless days of summer to the rigidity of the M-F school schedule.  This September marked a new school experience for me as well as I moved into life as a full-time, on-campus graduate student. As I contemplated the transition of both my children and myself into new school environments, it occurred to me that I had more to learn from them than the other way around. After all, to paraphrase Robert Fulghum, “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there at the sand pile at school.” And so, with apologies to Mr. Fulghum, I give you what I’ve learned this week from having newly wise preschoolers in my house.

First days of school are exciting.  No matter how many times I’ve started a school year, I always find it exciting. There is a hum of anticipation in the days before school begins, and the night before it is always hard to sleep. Both my boys were up earlier than usual, and were crestfallen when I told them that we couldn’t leave for school for about 4 hours.  I am not sure I noticed the same level of excitement on the faces of my classmates on our first days of classes, but I like to think we were all secretly pretty happy to be there. At least I was. Sometimes I worry that as ‘very serious academic’ types we lose some of the inherent joy of learning.

Pack a healthy lunch.  One of the most common grad school jokes I hear is about how we are all surviving on coffee and sugar. But as the “Tips on Healthy Lunches” flyer from the preschool suggests, this is not always a wise way to fuel ourselves. When the work is hard and the stress is high, it becomes even more important to fuel our bodies well. On my first marathon day of classes, in which I conquered my seven hours of quantitative methods courses (every Tuesday! What was I thinking!), I did not pack a lunch thinking about all the food options on campus. But what I did instead was I drank way too much coffee and scarfed down a Brown Sugar poptart instead of actually finding something to eat. I don’t know why I tend not to find food in this way, but it happens every time I don’t pack food for myself. If I pack it, then I know I will eat it and have at the ready a range of healthy food options.

It’s okay to nap.  My kids are at an age when they are transitioning from napping to not napping. Some days they are absolutely fine to play all day long. Other days they are trying to go back to bed at 10 am. The attitude of their preschool teachers is that we should follow their needs at all times. In my own experience as a student, there are days when I tick through my to-do list at a fantastic pace. Not every day will be like this. There is no standard pace of grad school and some days are harder than others.  Recognizing when to keep up and when to slow down is an essential skill of self-care that I could do better with.  I need to remind my perfectionist self that it is really okay to nap.

Play outside every day (except when it is 20 degrees or colder).  Sitting at a desk is no good for anyone. Hours of pouring over journal articles and academic texts is just not healthy. And typing away all day can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems, and does nothing for aerobic fitness. Remembering to take breaks and get outside is important for avoiding burnout and other potentially more harmful side effects of the life of the mind (We have bodies, too! They need to move!) And I think that 20 degree rule is just good sense.

All of these ideas come down to the wisdom of finding balance and joy in what I am doing. I am sure that as the year progresses, I will gain more and more wisdom from my preschoolers. In the meantime, I leave you with my favorite of Mr. Fulgham’s insights, “Flush.”  Now to attend to that nap.

Please share your tales of balance and joy, or tips and insights on how to get there, in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user cafemama and used under the Creative Commons license]


3 Responses to Lessons from Preschool for Grad School

  1. Abby says:

    This made me laugh a lot… scarily it’s so true! During my last year in Uni I was all coffee coffee coffee and then one day, completely sleep deprived and devoid of good food… meltdown! I then ate bananas, oranges, carrots, cucumber, blah blah if it came from the ground I ate it! And I felt amazing! The month my dissertation was due I was in bed every night by midnight, I ate porridge for breakfast and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever worked better. Coffee and chocolate are great but those preschoolers really have the better life… little geniuses!

    Great post 🙂

  2. Julie Platt says:

    Great post, Andrea! I think these lessons are often forgotten and definitely needed for healthy grad student living. I myself have started to spend at least 45 minutes walking outside every day and it’s been such a benefit to me.

  3. Karen says:

    Great post Andrea! In my book, “Happy New Year” comes every September. I love school that much-both teaching and as a grad. student. What good advice for us to pay attention to our needs and not just the (self-imposed) demands! I’ll share my lunch with you…

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