Is your first-born starting school this year? Or maybe it’s your last baby who is making the leap? Whichever it is, even though it’s an exciting time, it’s not easy! What on earth will you do with yourself between 9am and 3pm? (Yeah, right!) How can you be expected to concentrate at work while you wait for a phone call from school to say that something terrible has happened? What if they get picked on/won’t eat/wet themselves? I’ve been there – twice – so I do know the kinds of worries that go through your head as a mum. I wrote this post last year, a few weeks into the term, when I saw some of my mum friends worrying. But, of course, it is completely normal to feel concerned, apprehensive, excited and all those other emotions you’re probably experiencing right now.
But, before you even get to that first day, you need to make sure you – and they – are ready. If you’re running around like a headless chicken trying to get everything prepared, then STOP! Take a deep breath…. and read on. I’ve come up with eleven starting school tips to help you prepare and get you through the first few days (weeks, months…!).
Starting School Tip #1: Get organised
Sounds obvious, but making sure you have everything your little one needs now will give you much less to worry about in a few weeks’ time. I’ve put together a handy checklist (sign up below) so you can see at-a-glance if there’s anything you’ve forgotten. Oh, and label everything. Then bask in the glow of the satisfaction of knowing you won’t be running around the shops on Bank Helliday weekend trying to find pumps and P.E. shorts.
Starting School Tip #2: Double check your calendar
In fact, buy one of those big family planners – you’ll need it. Write down all the important dates – you can usually find them on the school website. Make sure you have the right inset days (although sometimes these aren’t confirmed until later in the year. Annoyingly.) I had no idea how many things happen during the school year – non-uniform days, cake sales, charity days, fayres, WOW weeks… There’s so much to remember, you’ll need to know what’s coming up and when so you’re not the mum at the gates whose child is in uniform while their mates are all in World Book Day outfits.
Starting School Tip #3: Check your arrangements for drop offs and pick ups
Make sure you and your child know what they are doing after school – whether they’re going to a club or if someone different is picking them up. Find someone you can call in an emergency in case you get caught up somewhere and tell your child (and the school) who that person may be, just in case. Double check travel times to and from work or home, then add on some more time to allow for traffic, particularly in the morning rush-hour hell.
The Night Before
Starting School Tip #4: Get into the habit of preparing everything the night before
Put out uniform, book bags, lunch bags and anything else they might need the next day. We put a big box in the hall so that when Big comes home, he dumps his coat, bag, shoes and tie and we know exactly where it will all be the following morning. It’s probably saved hours of searching time! Or you could buy one of those clear plastic drawer sets and label each with the days of the week. Put a set of clothes in each so your little one (or bigger one, let’s face it!) knows where to find what they need each morning.
Starting School Tip #5: Keep the routine as normal as possible
Try not to make a huge fuss about starting school in the morning, or you risk a disturbed night – it’s amazing how our little ones can worry. A nice bath, a bedtime story and cuddle and no mention of school is probably the best way. If they mention it to you, then by all means talk about it, but try to be a bit blasé.
The Big Day
Starting School Tip #6: Give yourself plenty of time
Make sure you set your alarm early and, if possible, grab yourself a peaceful cuppa before the kids get up. It’s a big day for you too, and a few minutes’ contemplation time without being pestered will set you up for the day. Then, once they’re up, make sure they’re fed, washed and dressed in plenty of time to leave for school.
Starting School Tip #7: Keep it light
If your little one is excited, it’s easy to get caught up in it all. However, their perception of what will happen and the reality may be poles apart, which could lead to a difficult second day (and beyond!). Or maybe they’re really nervous and anxious? Whichever it is, chat to them about what to expect and what to do if they’re not sure about something, but keep it light. Make sure they know they can always ask a teacher for help and that they should speak up if they feel there’s something wrong. If they’re starting Reception year, there’s still a lot of playing, so make sure you tell them that too!
Starting School Tip #8: Find something to do
You will be totally preoccupied with wondering how they’re getting on, so try to book yourself something to do. Maybe meet a friend for coffee, or book a hair or nail appointment. Or go to the cinema – it won’t be so easy to check your phone every five minutes! Your baby has just started school – that’s a huge deal, and you deserve a treat for getting them to this point successfully!
Starting School Tip #9: Don’t hound them!
It’s natural to want to know what they did on their first day, whether they enjoyed it, if they ate their lunch… Try not to hound them for the details straight away. They will probably be feeling a bit overwhelmed and very tired. Let them decompress a little first. Give them a drink and a snack, let them watch a bit of telly or play on the iPad. Then, maybe at dinner time casually ask them what they thought.
Starting School Tip #10:Be specific: don ‘t ask “what did you do today?”
It’s common knowledge that if you ask a child that question, the probable answer will be something like, “I can’t remember,” or, “I don’t know.” If you ask more specific questions, you’re more likely to find out the information. Try, “so, what was your favourite thing you did today?” or, “was there anything you didn’t like at lunch time?”. This is much more likely to get them talking. Of course, they might come running out, bursting to tell you all about it and, if so, you’re winning!
Starting School Tip #11: Don’t plan too much out of school
As I mentioned above, they will be tired! I couldn’t believe the change in Big when he started full-time school. And he started sleeping through the night, which was a rare occurrence until that point. Going to school all day, using his new skills and learning new things really wiped him out at the end of each day – for a while at least. It’s probably a good idea to keep after-school and weekend activities to a minimum, for at least the first term, to allow them to adjust and find their rhythm.
I hope you find these starting school tips helpful. Whether it’s your first or your last – or somewhere in between, starting school is an emotional time, so anything you can do to make life a little easier has to be a good thing!
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips or hacks for starting school – and don’t forget to grab your checklist on the form above!