It’s that time of year. Summer holidays are over and the schools are back. I’ve seen the Dear Teacher poem doing the rounds on social media, read blogs by mothers distraught at the thought of their little one walking through the doors of “big school” and clicked past countless adverts for iron-on name tags. Parents all over the country are packing their babies off for their first day of school.
This year we joined them, watching our four year old toddle off for his first day of school. It’s a rite of passage, for parents as much as for the kids. One which is meant to come with tears and bittersweet longing for the baby you were holding only yesterday.
But actually, I wasn’t one of the sobbing mums having to be peeled off her child and bodily removed from the classroom. I found this next adventure exciting. I couldn’t wait to see him in his uniform and to share in his first day with him. Hubs and I walked out of the school that first morning beaming. Not distraught, but proud.
the build up to the first day of school
I hadn’t always expected to feel so positive on his first day of school. When school sign-up time came around he still seemed far too small for that to be looming already. I worried that school would be a scary and difficult place for our little guy who still needed us so much.
But there have been many steps up to the school gates. With each of those steps we’ve felt a bit more ready. When we signed him up, he and I were given a tour of the school. The nursery also took him to spend some time there, and the teachers visited the nursery. Then came a couple of sessions where the kids spent a few hours in the classroom without parents or nursery staff. The end of nursery was signalled by an adorable graduation day, and folders of all his work to bring home.
This all brought nursery to a gentle close, and opened the school gates to welcome our little man. It meant I could happily watch him disappear into the classroom with a herd of other tiny little people without wanting to break down. He was happy to go too, and has loved it every day since. He’s become a bit of a role model, taking kids who aren’t so happy to be dropped off each morning under his wing. He comes out of school grinning at 3pm, with his shoes all scuffed, shirt untucked and tie skew-whiff as if he’s been on the go all day!
help prepare your little one (and you) for the first day of school
I know we’re quite lucky that our transition from pre-schooler to primary school kid has been so smooth. And I know that not every child will find it so easy to make that leap. Even children that have been through the exact same settling in process as our boy struggled on the first day of school. A week later some are still crying and having to be coaxed through the gates.
I thought I would share some of the things we did to prepare our son for school. I hope it will help even one other parent avoid the school gate heartbreak:
- Talk about school
We talked about school every day over the summer. Sometimes it was just a comment – “you’ll get to do that at school.” At other times we read books about school, or just had a chat about how he was feeling. We also pointed out some things that would change too, like having to wipe his own bum!
I took his lead – if he wasn’t interested I didn’t push it. I wanted school to be a positive topic.
- Make school familiar
We drove past the school whenever we could, and pointed out children in the uniform. To give him ownership we referred to it as “your school” and we didn’t call it “big school” either, to avoid it seeming intimidating.
- Try on the uniform
I bought my son’s uniform way back at the start of the summer. We tried it on at the time, but it then lived in his wardrobe for weeks. I tried it on him again the week before school started, more to make sure the trousers didn’t need taken up, but I think this made him more comfortable. I wasn’t sure how he’d cope with a shirt and tie (he refused to wear one even for our wedding!), but he’d got used to it by the time the first day rolled around.
- Build independence
As a full time working mum trying to get two kids out the house by 7.15am each day, sometimes it was just easier to do certain things. But in the run-up to the first day of school I made an effort to encourage more responsibility. Things such as dressing himself, carrying his own bag, finding his own belongings at the end of the nursery day and yes, wiping his own bum. I also encouraged him to carry his own plate to the table. I even got him to use toilet cubicles on his own when we were out in public (I think that was scarier for me than him!). This all built him up, and made me more confident that he’d be ok doing these things at school.
- Get used to other kids
Having been in childcare since he was a baby, our son is well used to other kids. But they’re the same kids he’s been with for most of his life. The move to school meant new faces and personalities to get used to.
Soft play was really helpful in teaching him how to deal with strangers, either turning them into friends or coping with behaviour that he didn’t like. So far at school he sticks with his nursery friends, but they are very close so I’d expect that. He is learning new names and getting to know other children too though, and is confident enough to say hi when we see them outside of school too.
- Routine, routine, routine
I think this is key to any aspect of a young child’s life, they thrive on routine. Again, we had it easy with this one. We’ve been in a routine of getting up, fed, dressed and out the house for 7.15 every day since our son was tiny. But over the summer (and with a newborn) this routine slipped. In the weeks before school started I made an effort to impose structure to our day again. That has helped our mornings run smoothly – we haven’t been late once so far!
Routine also goes for what happens after school too. We use the walk home to unpack his day, get some fresh air and have a snack. Then we get homework out the way and make sure everything is ready for the next day when we get home. That means the evening is his to play as he wants.
new school kid on the block
I’ve gone from thinking he wasn’t ready, to wondering if the teachers are ready for him! Our son is a vibrant little boy who is always talking and wanting to know everything. We frequently describe him as “full on” because he doesn’t seem to have an off switch. He is confident, articulate and picks things up quickly, and school hasn’t intimidated or unsettled him. He has big ideas and the vocabulary to match. But he can be stubborn and determined, even in the face of adult opposition, so I wonder how he’ll get on having to sit quietly or do the prescribed work if there’s something he’d rather be doing!
I guess we’ll find out when parents’ evening rolls around!
Good luck to any other parents about to send their little one off to primary school. Each milestone takes them further away from the tiny babies they were, but see it as an exciting adventure. Think of all that they’ve got to look forward to!