August 16, 2013

Fostering School Identity at Home : Uniforms

I promised to follow up my school crest post with a post about why we wear uniforms (most of the time) for homeschooling.  I know.  It sounds ridiculously stuffy and uptight.  I wouldn't have even thought to do it if they kids hadn't apparently had a meeting without me in which they decided to rally together and ask for them.  That was about 2 years ago and we've stuck with it on and off, as much as we stick with anything around here.

I was willing to give uniforms a try, even though they involved a small investment, because of all of the research I had been hit with as a teacher on how dress impacts behavior.  Schools that I worked in as a student teacher that had uniforms usually made Fridays a day to wear anything appropriate to school and get a break from the uniforms.  Teachers would complain about how bad the behavior was on Fridays and how the uniforms just magically made the kids more focused and on task.  While that seemed pretty simplistic, there were some numbers to back that observation.  

The kids were sold on it enough, and I thought If they actually want to look presentable and pulled together, why on earth would I fight that? Well, I can tell you why I might be inclined to fight it.  Because it makes me look like the world's most uptight homeschooling mother ever and I'm completely insecure about that.  If we had no rules, no schedule, no anything that would create order in our home, two of my kids would dress nice and read textbooks on their own.  It's just who they are.  My other little guy would wear sweats all day and catch bugs, so I make allowances for him to be a little more laid back than the rest of the crew.  Anyway, my insecure mom voice was telling me that my smarty pants kids already make people assume that I'm a tiger mom and that uniforms at home would just solidify that idea.  But they wanted them and we went for it.

I found some unexpected benefits of uniforms that I would never have guessed, and for that reason, I think there's a good chance that we'll always come back around to them.  

Before I tell you why I love the uniform thing now, let me tell you what we consider our uniform.  For all three of the kiddos we have navy blue polos, solid colored turtlenecks and t's, and oxford shirts with khaki, navy, or plaid bottoms.  Hannah Jane also has a small second hand collection of jumpers.  They also had an assortment of blue, grey and cream colored cardigans, sweater vests, and cable knits. That's it. Now, on to why I've come to love the uniforms.

First of all, navy blue polos - the real polo fabric and not t-shirt material with a collar sewn in - are virtually impossible to stain.  In my head, as I type that fact, I see the clouds break open and a shaft of light fall on an unstainable blue polo as the angels sing.  Yes, that's really how I feel about navy blue polos.  It's the grease stains that always get us, and on a highly textured dark fabric, they just feather out into nothingness.  If you're a mother of messy boys, blue polos are a dream.  Plus, they're comfy enough that my more laid back kiddo doesn't mind wearing them, while being collared and spiffy enough that my dapper dressing little fashion man also doesn't mind.  They're a win all the way around.

Second, they're cheap!  Every second hand store has ample uniform-like inventory.  Our town doesn't have any schools that require a uniform, but still our second hand stores are rich with French Toast brand plaid jumpers.  Probably because nothing screams innocent school girl like a plaid jumper, and so moms buy them even when they aren't' mandatory.  And polos can be purchased at Wal-Mart new for under 5 bucks.  If you're a Wal-Mart hater, I see them at other department stores for something closer to 9 bucks for the store brand.  That's good too.  

Reason number three to love uniforms, when you do go out in the middle of the day and your kids are in uniforms, no one asks, "Why aren't you guys in school?"  Never, when in uniforms, have my kids been asked that question.  They look like upstanding little citizens who must clearly only be at the store to buy supplies for a science project at their fancy private school.  None such fancy private school exists in our valley, but seriously, no one bugs us when they kids are all matchy matchy in their school duds.  

School time gets nicely separated from play time with uniforms, too.  When school time is done, they change into play clothes before they run outside and get dirty.  This means nice clothes stay nice and I don't ruin their fun by insisting that they keep their clothes clean.  They know what they can wear out and what they can wear in.  It's kind of nice.  

Finally, the numbers are spot on.  They really do act differently when they're wearing a belt and a collared shirt.  I can't explain why, but it's reality.  It's why when Joe starts feeling unmotivated at work, he starts wearing ties every day until he gets his mojo back.  It's why the Fly Lady's first step is "getting dressed to your lace-up shoes" even when you're just staying home to clean house.  We are more productive when we look like someone who is about to be productive.  Even a 5 year old can feel it.  I think that contributes to the whole school identity thing that started this thread of posts.  Their school identity becomes one of being part of a group that works hard and play shard.  

Still, even with all of the benefits, we seem to be incapable of being completely consistent at all times.  Just like we aim to stick to a daily schedule and constantly fall short, we also vacillate on the uniform front.  We have a cycle that usually looks a little bit like this:  New school year = new enthusiasm for dressing up for school.  Productivity is great and spirits are high.  Something comes up, like the van needs to be in the shop for a few days, so we drive Joe to work and so that we can have the truck for getting to gymnastics or something like that.  This puts us home late for our usual school schedule, so of course I don't make anyone go change into school clothes.  And then the next day might be Friday, and we're pretty laid back on Fridays.  Pretty soon we've forgotten about uniforms for a week, people are schooling in jammies, whining about being asked to redo something that no one on earth could read, and I'm getting frustrated at our waning productivity.  Then I remember how great things go when everyone dresses up for school.  The next day it's uniforms all around and almost like fairy dust, the clothes have made the man and everything is sailing along smoothly again.  We ride that uniform wave for about 3 weeks, and then something comes up again that knocks us off track for a few days, maybe a week, and then we hit energy bottom and get back on the uniform train.  Wash.  Rinse. Repeat.  

So that's how and why we work the school uniform thing in our house.  It's probably not for everybody, but if you're hitting a wall where your kids aren't taking school seriously or they aren't as productive as you'd like, this might be the mental boost you're looking for.  And the odds are good that you already own what you need to give it a try for a day or two.

Stay tuned for a post on our family fight song and school cheer.  Those really top off the whole school pride thing.  Plus, they're super cute to hear the kids do!


  1. Tracy16.8.13

    I never would have thought about that; great idea!

  2. I have been dying to read this post ever since you mentioned some weeks ago that you were planning it. I thought I was sick of uniforms after attending schools last year that required them, but now that we're on our own, I actually think my little guy looked pretty sharp in his polo shirts. And since he is neither averse to the idea, nor yet very skilled in the art of fashion, I think we will do it. The drawback is that if I require him to look nice, I might have to start caring about my own appearance...

    1. Haha! Cara, I've often thought of whether or not I should be uniforming it up as well. My usual style is a bit on the relaxed, bohemian side and polos are SO not me. That said, I've considered throwing together a little something more formal for myself just to show I'm ready to dig in and work too. I haven't figured out what it would be, though, that looks academic and still allows fro scrubbing floors while the kids read. Ha!


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