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First Day of School: Courage Matters More Than Crayons

White Color PencilRemember that big, 120-crayon sized box of Crayola crayons? The one with the sharpener on the back and colors like Tickle Me Pink and Macaroni and Cheese? I remember it too. I remember staring with envy while other students slowly pulled a crayon out, checked the perfectly pointed tip, sharpened it again just because they could. I remember looking at my box of 24 crayons. I remember that I never had that big, luscious box on the first day of school and I remember thinking that lack was quite possibly the most important thing about my school supplies.

My kids never get that box either. They don’t even get a new box with sharpened tips. They get a Ziplock baggie filled with a haphazardly gathered assortment of leftover nubs and mismatched colors from our used-crayon plastic bucket.

Let’s get one thing straight right away, this isn’t because I don’t love my kids. I am of the strong conviction that the number of new crayons in a backpack on the first day of school has no direct relation with the depth of love a mother feels for her child, regardless of what I may have thought in my own elementary school years.

They don’t get new crayons because crayons are obscenely expensive in Djibouti and the ones that are for sale (if you can find them at all) are poor quality and either break (or are already broken) or don’t actually color.

But when I think about these big boxes of new crayons, I think about one school supply that I believe is infinitely more important. A school supply I work all year round to slip into their backpacks.


The word courage comes from the Latin ‘cor’ which means heart. Courage is the heart to do what is right, even when that is hard.

Every kid, no matter their age, needs to start school with a massive amount of courage in their arsenal. They need courage to stand up to bullies, courage to not be the bully. They need courage to ask questions that might sound foolish, courage to not laugh when other kids laugh at someone else’s seemingly foolish question. They need courage to welcome the new kid, or to be the new kid. They need courage to try hard, courage to succeed with humility, and courage to fail with grace. They need courage to tell the truth and courage to bite their tongue from engaging in gossip.

Kids need courage to join a new club and courage to step out of one that isn’t working. They need courage to seek help and courage to be the one to help. They need courage to not give in to peer pressure and courage to stand up for what they believe is right.

Courage to pull a used crayon out of a Ziplock baggie.

Sending a kid to school without courage is like sending them to school with a 120-crayon sized box of all white crayons and telling them to color on white paper. Try as they might, they will make no picture.

I am not sending my kids to school with big boxes of crayons. I am sending them to a French school in Djibouti and an American boarding school in Kenya and I am, I hope, sending them with backpacks loaded down with the courage they have learned and gained over their lifetimes so far.

All other admirable traits, without courage, are just white crayons on white paper.

8 Ways to Encourage Courage

  • Jump 1 of 8

    Don't hesitate. Face the fear and take the leap. Enjoy the ride.

  • Do It Afraid 2 of 8

    Acknowledge the fear and anxiety and then do it anyway. Take that leap. Courage is not the lack of fear, it is doing it afraid. Thanks to Tara Livesay for the phrase: do it afraid.

  • Get Involved 3 of 8

    Don't stay on the sidelines, even if you are the odd one out or the new kid, even if you don't know anyone. Be part of the experience, not just an observer.

  • Know What You Believe. Maybe. 4 of 8

    Know what your convictions are, and not just about spiritual matters. Know how to articulate them. Read up, engage in discussions with people of diverse opinions. And have the courage to change your mind as well.

  • Know That You Are Enough 5 of 8

    You don't need to conform or give into peer pressure. You don't need to be perfect. You are enough, just the way you are. We all are gifted with some strengths.

  • Enjoy the Moment 6 of 8

    Be fully engaged with where you are, what you are doing, who you are with. There won't be time for fear if you give yourself over to joy.

  • Be Proud 7 of 8

    Tell your kids you are proud of them, especially when they step outside their comfort zones. Be proud of yourself when you do it. Not to boast, but to gather more courage for another attempt at doing it afraid next time.

  • Learn About Courageous People 8 of 8
    courageous women

    Read books about Rosa Parks and Ghandi, about female Olympians. Share your own stories, both of success and failure. Listen to others. Ask your kids about when they felt most courageous, or most afraid, and what they did next.

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