I think I have an idea how you’re feeling, new school parent…..as much as anyone can have any idea how somebody else is feeling that is. You are probably busy labelling uniform, laying it out for one last look, realising you still need to buy plimsolls, wondering whether you have enough polo shirts……that sort of thing.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be feeling anxious and excited and a little bit heartbroken and….well, like life is about to change hugely. Which it is – but in good ways, honestly. So, as you embark on life as a school parent, here are ten little things I’d like to tell you:
- Reception teachers and TAs are some of the kindest, most patient people imaginable. They are full of smiles, encouragement, songs, reassurance and wise words. They are fun but instructive, firm but gentle. They will wipe away children’s tears and, quite possibly at some point, yours too. There is nothing they have not seen, and they won’t make you feel bad for sharing your concerns. You will want to tell them every day what an amazing job they do…..and you should, because they do.
- Reception itself is a wonderful year. It is all about stickle bricks, songs, junk modelling, mud kitchens and dressing up. Yes, it is school but it is gentle and fun and nurturing. It is a period of new friends, broadening horizons, and increased confidence. It is a truly special time, not just for the children but for parents too – developing new routines and getting to know this community of children and parents who will, most likely, be part of your lives for the forseeable future. It will fly by and, as you approach the summer term, you probably won’t want it to end. Having said that……
- Learning to read is painful – all of it. The books are painful and the process itself is painful. Hence my point about Reception teachers being angelic miracle workers – they do this all day and every day with 30 children. Helping your child to understand that the sounds C, A and T join together to make the word CAT and not GOAT tests a parent’s patience to the limit; and finding a good time to sit down and do it at home can feel almost impossible – before school is too rushed, and after school everyone is too tired. Be as gentle as you can on everyone, including yourself. It won’t be this hard forever – at some point, something clicks and CAT does start to become recognisable as CAT rather than just looking like a series of symbols. When that happens, it is magical…..it might just take a bit of time.
- You have probably worried about your child since the moment s/he entered the world….possibly before. This doesn’t change once they start school. Sometimes though, you can feel like you’re the only one with worries – everyone else looks like they’re getting on fine, but you’re fretting. Is your child on his/her own too much? Are the other children getting invited on all the playdates? Is it normal how tired your child gets after school? Should you be doing more x, y or z with your child at home? It is only by talking to other parents that you discover that everyone is worrying about something; and if they’re not…….well, I’d be interested to meet them. Find your tribe (don’t worry if not everyone is in it) and share your worries. A good tribe will be your rock over the next few years.
- If there is a knack to feeling like you’re on top of everything then I’ve yet to master it. The non-uniform days, the assemblies, the reading mornings, the bake days, the change-reading-book days, the school trips……there is A LOT to keep up with. Everyone has their own way of attempting to manage it, but if you feel like you’re drowning then refer back to your lovely tribe – they probably feel like they’re drowning too. Which is reassuring.
- For many children, school is exhausting. Whether your child has been at nursery full-time or just for a few mornings a week; it doesn’t seem to make much difference. A school day might be shorter than a full day at nursery, but it is more structured, more stimulating, and definitely more tiring. Expect your little one to be hideously exhausted. And for this reason…..
- After school can be….well, challenging. Most likely, your precious little one will hold it together at school but crumple the moment s/he gets home. If your child decides to take all his/her frustration and exhaustion out on you, try not to take it personally – I know it’s hard. Home is their safe space, you are their safe person – this is how it should be. They need cuddles, loads of food and sometimes just to have a good cry. Structure can be good (I sometimes find an after-school activity helps to take their mind off how exhausted they are) but other times they need to put their pyjamas on and do nothing. Go with it, and try not to worry if you are achieving very little from 3pm onwards.
- Don’t expect to get any information from your child about what has happened between the hours of 9 and 3. They have spent six hours at school and they have no intention of talking about it when they get home. Occasionally, I find an ‘opposites’ approach works, ie. if I say ‘Ah, I know who you DIDN’T play with today…..’ and reveal the name of the child they play with every single day, they will be desperate to correct me. But generally, I have to accept that what goes on at school will remain largely a mystery, to be drip-fed to me over the next few months as and when they feel like sharing.
- On this note, some of what they share may well break your heart. Things like ‘I sat on the buddy bench today and no-one came to get me‘ / ‘X didn’t want to play with me today‘ / ‘Y said she wasn’t my friend any more‘. Keep in mind that these are little children, and we have absolutely no idea what goes on or what is said in those playgrounds. I always think of that programme ‘The Secret Life of 4/5/6 Year Olds‘ when imagining life in the playground. Children’s words can be cruel; but unless my children seem unhappy or their behaviour changes dramatically, I tend to assume that everything is as it should be.
- I know it feels like you are losing something huge. Like a big part of your life has gone. Like their life (and yours) will never be the same. Like they are growing up, moving on. All of that is true. BUT, they are still little, very little – you realise this when you watch them shuffling about awkwardly in the front row of school assemblies. They are tiny and innocent. They still want to hold your hand on the way to school. They still want your cuddles and a goodbye kiss. You are still more important to them than their friends. Than music. Than films. It doesn’t all change just because they’ve started school. This is a magical time when a whole new world will open to your child – you will be amazed at the huge strides forward s/he takes this year, from whatever their starting point. Embrace the good bits, laugh at the funny stories, cry with pride at the assemblies and, during the hard times, just remember that you’re not on your own.
Good luck, stay strong…..and don’t forget to buy those plimsolls.