Starting School by Treading Water Mum
As September and starting school is upon us, the long summer holidays have slipped quietly away, and thoughts turned to school again. Child one is going into Year 2, and child two, not quite school-ready yet, will be starting his new preschool before he joins reception next year. At this new preschool he’ll wear a uniform, and follow a vague timetable – so he’ll experience little bit of preparation for starting big school. Of course, there are lots of things parents can do to help ease your child into school, whether starting for the first time or going back a veteran. Depending entirely on your style of parenting, and your child’s ability to cope with change and adapt to new things, there is a wide-ranging spectrum of ideas to delve into and try out. Here are some, and in particular the ones that worked well for my family.
Talk about school to the child. Explain how the day works, from teacher taking the register, to playtime, lunch in the school hall, putting a hand up to talk, doing drawing and writing, story time, and home time. There are plenty of books to help with this, too. Child one has a much-loved Topsy and Tim start school story, as well as a sticker book all about school things.
Rehearse the school routine. Spend a day playing ‘going to school’ – get up, put on school uniform, and walk to school and back together. Point out where the entrance is, where you’ll walk in together. As soon as the child is familiar with the school they feel much more at home there anyway. Practising is a great way to help ease them into the real thing.
Tears at the school gates. Some children skip in with barely a backwards glance, while others need handling with kid gloves. And let’s be honest, some of us parents get a bit teary-eyed seeing little Johnny skipping into school for the first time with what looks like other ENORMOUS children! It’s ok if your child cries – many do. And most reception year teachers are pretty nifty at handling a sobbing child, so get your child’s teacher to help you with parting. I remember hearing child one’s fabulous reception teacher dealing with a little boy who was sobbing his heart out because he thought his mum had gone without giving him a cuddle. The teacher sat him on her lap and wrote a ‘note’ to take home to mummy – to remember to give a cuddle when she said goodbye. It worked a treat, and he was off playing happily in a matter of moments. And if the partings are particularly hard, any decent school will happily ring you later, or have you ring them to tell you all is well. (Usually all is well within a couple of minutes, but that’s no consolation when you’ve been feeling sick with worry for an hour!) My biggest daughter was always an in-betweeny – some days she’d run into class without even giving me a kiss, other days she’d linger ad cling to my leg, saying she felt ill. Once, she had an utter meltdown outside the classroom and literally clung to me like a koala. I’d never seen anything like it from her, and it threw me totally. A teacher had to physically pull her off me and into class. I felt shell-shocked and sick with worry, but the school rang me (as promised!) 15 minutes later, and all was fine. She’s stopped crying within 30 seconds!
Label EVERYTHING. Honestly, do it. Do it now. It makes everyone’s life so much easier. If you haven’t seen a row of school pegs in a corridor yet, when you do you’ll see why. Everything is identical. No wonder teachers silently weep at yet another PE kit mix up, where nothing is named and the contents could be any of 30 kid’s clothing. I’m the laziest person alive for things like sewing, and thankfully there are enough products on the market to cater for people like me. I used to use those iron-on fabric name tapes, but I found they kept falling off (my lack of ironing skills, perhaps?) so this year I’e gone for sticky labels that go on the clothing wash-care label – and don’t come off, woo hoo! And the normal sticky name labels are great for shoes too, which is another things that is better off labelled, what with most parents shopping at Clarks for school shoes!
Keep school uniform as simple as possible. Avoid tricky buttons and laces if you can. PE lessons for 30 children soon becomes an exercise in taking off and putting on clothes, with 2 minutes in the middle to do star jumps! With child one, I went for polo shirts rather than proper cotton shirts, and jersey pinafores and skirts. This is my big top tip – jersey. It’s soft, stretchy, and best of all, easy to put on. And often doesn’t need ironing – bonus! I know it’s harder with boys, but if you’re sending a little girl to school, try out jersey. And shiny patent shoes – again from experience, I know now that patent school shoes look in better condition for longer, despite the playground bashing they take, and are SO easy to clean. I’ve often been caught cleaning her mucky shoes with a baby wipe outside the classroom door. Spare pants are a must too, as there are few little ones who make it past reception year without a little accident.
Sleep well, eat well. I haven’t yet come across a single teacher that doesn’t extol the virtues of good night’s sleep. Certainly a good weeknight routine involving bed at a decent time does wonders for a child’s ability to learn and develop. I can tell when child one isn’t sleeping as well as she should because a day a school leaves her frazzled a weepy. Get a good sleep routine going and you’ll be laughing. Breakfast is also vital. A hungry child can’t learn, as they’re listening to their tummy not their teacher. It’s like fuel in the morning to get their brains fired up and ready. Go for wholegrains (Weetabix, Shreddies, wholewheat toast, and the like) as they release their energy more slowly. Likewise, studies have shown that exercise in the mornings help children stay focused and learn better, so walk to school if you can. If that’s not possible, at least park 5 minutes away so your child gets a little walk in the fresh air first thing.
There are loads of online forums and help pages on the subject, so just google starting school for a squillion more pages of info. Try not to worry about it (if you’re not one of the mums hanging from the chandeliers with excitement at having some FREE TIME!!) because your child needs to feel supported and confident – impossible if you’re weeping at the school gates! Save the tears for a bit later, get it out of the system, and then use the opportunity to actually drink a coffee while it’s still warm, and go to the toilet without an audience. I still have child two and three at home, but I can tell you now these are the things I will do to celebrate when all my little ones are safely in the arms of the state school system! (I don’t get out that much, can you tell?)
Written by guest blogger Treading Water Mum