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The first day of school in Russia

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September 1 is always the day kids start school in Russia, regardless of whether it’s a weekend or not.

The first day of school is a huge deal in Russia, but in a different way than in America.  In America, it’s more about “oh, thank God the kids are finally out of the house.” It’s taking pictures of little kids near the front door with backpacks. It’s about snacks and afterschool activities and the theater of back to school,everything except the actual school part.

In Russia, there is a huge focus, instead, on the significance and responsibility of learning.  A lot of it can be artificial at times, but if there was one good thing the Soviet Union did, it was to instill 99% literacy and a huge respect for knowledge and teachers which I don’t think is present in the U.S.

In Russia on the first day of school, every kid is dressed up to the nines and brings in flowers for the teachers. The girls all wear frilly bows.  There is something about pictures September 1 that makes me have hope for humanity again.  And that’s saying a lot, because you know how much I love Ze Mozerland.

Since the Internet has made the world a lot smaller, a lot of people have posted pictures of their kids on September 1 on Instagram,  where I’ve scraped them into my own little creepy collection.

        By @go_ncharova

By @gabifoxer

By @ollie07

Dat post-Soviet back-to-school. 1993. by @pillyulya

Another back-when one by @klumbina

St. Petersburg, by @krasniy1 

At RBIM in Chelyabinsk, by @elepshi

“With my godson”, by @sergiostash

It’s a tradition for an 11th-grader to take a first-grader and have him/her ring the school bell, if there is one:

 By @iosandrew

By @igorzhukov

“Happy kid! He doesn’t suspect anything yet ;)” By @inna_id

Older kids in Moscow, by @e_ru_de

Andrei, third grade, is not so super-excited to go to school. By @crabiik

By @proputing

But my favorites are the ones where kids absolutely DO NOT want to go to school, and this is the creme de la creme.  “I know how you feel kid,” said she, crying into her accounting homework.

9 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Oh. Wow. The thought of trying to get little Mr. Guy into a suit (or really anything except shorts and t-shirt) on the same day I have to get him out the door to school is terrifying.

    I bet that boy’s crying because his clothes are so uncomfortable.

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  2. So cool! They do the same thing in Lietuva. Those pictures are priceless, especially the last one. And the dude posing with his godson? Reminds me of every guy I’ve ever seen at the Russian tea room here.

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  3. I absolutely love the outfits. Ira has a couple pictures of her in that same post-soviet french maid outfit and sporting some serious pigtails when she was 9, and it’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

    On my first day of school ever, I sported some shorts my mom made (from fabric with jets on it) and a bright red shirt. Also, I had recently broken my humerous, so I had a dark blue full arm cast.

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  4. I still have that anxious “it’s first day of school” feeling the night before Sept. 1. Love it!

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  5. Ever since I found out about this tradition (after I started learning Russian), I’ve wondered what happens if 1 September falls on a weekend. Thanks for finally solving that mystery for me! :)

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  6. Being a child of a school teacher and a college professor meant that school was ‘family business’ for me in the USSR. Nobody saw me or my brother off to class on September 1; my parents had their own students to welcome. But that was OK since it was truly a unique and special day and we as kids looked forward to it by the middle of August. After all, when you are 10 or so, summers seem so long! Your observation about how the return to school is here and how it was in the USSR is spot on! Activities and hubbub vs. focus on engagement in learning. I find it sad in a way. The best September 1 memory I have is from 1st grade when Mama picked me up at school (the one and only time she ever did) at the end of the day and we went to have our portrait taken. That was a truly special thing. I adore that picture to this day. I am not sure if my kids will ever appreciate the driveway pics I take of them every late August as they march off for the bus stop.

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  7. It was a huge deal, with all parents coming to school, and all the traditions, etc. I doubt the 99% literacy figure, though. Sure, in the cities everyone can read competently, but I have my doubts abut the country as a whole.

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